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  • Brian Boone 2:30 pm on 2018/04/12 Permalink
    Tags: , , , ranking roald, , roald dahl, the classics   

    A Definitive Ranking of the Children’s Books of Roald Dahl 

    When it comes to novels written for kids featuring characters who are kids, Roald Dahl ranks among the best of the best, sharing the status of all-time great with the likes of Beverly Clearly, Judy Blume, and J.K. Rowling. The British author (1916–1990) wrote enough classics to keep a fifth grader busy for months, specializing in tales of often absurd adventure peopled with appealing characters dealing with extraordinary circumstances in believable ways. Dahl knew his audience so very well, and gave them what they wanted without ever patronizing them: a mixture of heart, action, drama, scariness, humor, and, of course, the fantastical. Here then is our highly scientific ranking, of Roald Dahl’s many books for children, from least best (but still wonderful) to most wonderful of all. (We didn’t include any of those silly ones he wrote for grownups here.)

    The Magic Finger (1964)
    Sometimes it takes a writer a while to find their voice. That’s certainly the case with Dahl’s The Magic Finger. It’s a well-meaning if didactic morality tale that serves as a sweet taste of the fun that’s to come. It concerns the Greggs, a family of duck hunters, and the girl next door who simply won’t have that. Unfortunately for the family of hunters, the girl has a magic finger, and when she gets fed up after one of their hunting trips, it acts up and turns the Greggs into ducks themselves.

    George’s Marvelous Medicine (1981)
    A sharp kid named George tries to get revenge on his mean grandmother by replacing her medicine with a concoction of his own making, a mixture of toiletries, floor polish, horseradish, gin, pet meds, antifreeze, and brown paint. He gives it to his grandma, and instead of, you know, killing her, it makes her grow into a giant. George’s parents get so excited, they have him feed it to their chickens. Another medicine shrinks the grandmother into nothingness, and…yeah, kids, don’t try this at home.

    Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator (1972)
    Did you know that there’s a sequel to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, one of the best novels ever written (which not surprisingly ranks very high on this list; see below)? It’s not quite as indelible as its predecessor—which relies heavily on the elements of surprises and the wonder of discovery, which are hard to hit twice in one world—but it’s definitely a curiosity and worth a read to get just a little more Willy Wonka in your life. It’s basically Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in space, which is…pretty darn hard to resist, now that we think about it.

    The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me (1985)
    Dahl always knew what kids wanted, from both life and books: candy. Lots and lots of candy. The story of Charlie and his Golden Ticket isn’t the only sweet tale Dahl ever wrote. This story is about a little boy who teams up with a giraffe and a pelican (the pelly) to start a window-cleaning company, which he parlays—along with some bouts of heroism—into a shot at running his own candy store. (And yes, the book itself is actually quite delicious.)

    Danny, the Champion of the World (1975)
    Probably Dahl’s most personal work is this tender and touching story of a boy and his widowed father that mixes in Dahl’s beloved “us vs. them” sensibility. Also, Dahl seems to have changed his tune about hunting, because the plot mostly concerns Danny and his dad hunting pheasants on land explicitly owned by someone who doesn’t allow it. There’s a lot of bird drugging and killing in this book, but also a lot of parental bonding, and it takes a fascinating look into life in a Roma caravan.

    The Twits (1980)
    Reportedly inspired by his deep hatred and mistrust of beards—Dahl would’ve despised Portland—The Twits is about one of those old couples who have been together so long they both hate each other and couldn’t live without each other. They’re gross, disgusting, ugly people filled with ugly thoughts and feelings who spend their time playing cruel pranks on each other and tormenting birds, until one day they’re finally outwitted by Muggle-Wump, a kind monkey and his family. It’s a gritty, almost Seussian fairy tale in which the good guys and bad guys are clearly defined, and all that’s supposed to happen does.

    The Enormous Crocodile (1978)
    While Dahl usually eschewed the traditional children’s book conceit of anthropomorphized animals to tell parables about human nature in favor of peopling his stories with people, he occasionally used animals, with all of their brutality and bluntness, to get his point across. Take The Enormous Crocodile, essentially a book about standing up to bullies and giving them a taste of their own medicine. The titular animal is a right nasty fellow, the kind of guy who eats children and brags about it. But his tormenting ways are about to be over, when the other animals conspire to trap him and then literally throw him into the sun. Yeah, that’s what you get, Enormous Crocodile!

    The Vicar of Nibbleswicke (1991)
    Has anything ever had a more British-sounding title than The Vicar of Nibbleswicke? Published in 1991, after Dahl’s death, the book had a noble purpose: to raise awareness and sympathy for people with dyslexia, and proceeds benefitted dyslexia-related charities. That said, the story itself is a sweet one, about a small-town reverend named Robert Lee who has a (fictional) kind of dyslexia that makes him say the most important word in every sentence backward, which leads to amusing comical misunderstandings. There’s a cure, however: walking backward.

    The Minpins (1991)
    This marks Dahl’s final published children’s book, going to print a few months after his death in November 1990. And it’s the book Dahl should have published long earlier, because it’s a straight-up fairy forest adventure we all knew he had in him. A proto-Spiderwick Chronicles, it’s about a little boy named Billy who is forbidden from hanging out in the Forest of Sin, which just so happens to be in the backyard, what with all of the Hornswogglers, Snozzwanglers, Whangdoodles, and other Dahltastically named creatures said to live back there. Billy goes, of course, especially since the actual Devil tricks him into it, promising scores of wild strawberries. What boy can say no to forest adventures and wild strawberries? Or an alliance with the fantastical Minpins?

    The BFG (1982)
    This book is as friendly, gentle, and playful as its title character—“BFG” stands for “big friendly giant.” It’s about how the things we ought to fear at first sight are nothing to fear at all, and how everybody has a bit of humanity in them, as well as a story to tell. Sophie is an orphan who late one night spots a giant, and follows him to his giant cave. She fears she’ll be eaten, but the BFG explains that he’s, like, the only giant who doesn’t eat people. A fast, tender, and unlikely friendship develops, one that fuels a story turn nobody saw coming: Sophie and the BFG get the Queen on board for a huge plan to catch all the bad giants.

    Esio Trot (1990)
    It’s like a romantic comedy meets Three’s Company…for kids! A tenant of a normal-seeming contemporary apartment building, lonely old Mr. Hoppy, is in love with downstairs neighbor Mrs. Silver, but she’s too focused on her pet tortoise, Alfie, for romance. Alfie won’t grow, and Mrs. Silver doesn’t know why…so Mr. Hoppy buys a series of tortoises of increasingly larger size to make Mrs. Silver happy. And, because this is a romance, these bizarre, outsized gestures actually work. Take note, kids: If you love somebody, buy them turtles. (BTW: “Esio Trot” is an anagram of “tortoise.”)

    James and the Giant Peach (1961)
    Where would children’s literature, especially British literature, be without the gift of orphans? So many orphans! It’s a nice literary device that gets a kid away from the confines of home and safety and on to doing things like, well, traveling the world inside a giant peach. After rhinos eat his parents (it happens), James goes to live with his mean aunts, until a Jack and the Beanstalk–type situation emerges, producing a house-sized peach. James foils the aunts’ plans to make a buck off the thing (as adults do) and heads inside it, where he meets a bunch of friendly insects. One of them cuts the peach away, and the whole gang is off and running, inside the peach, on a fantastical adventure.

    Fantastic Mr. Fox (1970)
    A story so cool, stylish, and timeless it was adapted smoothly into a cool, stylish, and timeless Wes Anderson movie. We humans may have an affinity for foxes because while they look like a cross between our beloved dogs and cats, and they’re as clever and crafty as we like to think we are. None is more clever and charismatic than Mr. Fox himself, a family man who provides by stealing from local farmers Boggis, Bunce, and Bean. The farmers devise a plan to starve him out, but Mr. Fox, like you, young reader, is far too clever to just give up.

    Matilda (1988)
    This is perhaps the most definitive Roald Dahl novel in that it’s about a pure-hearted, special child whose gifts go unnoticed by the evil and wretchedly awful adults around her…until she rises up in rebellion. Matilda Wormwood uses her superpowers to take on wicked headmistress Miss Trunchbull (not to mention her horrible family), finding the parental love she so needs and wants from an unlikely source.

    The Witches (1983)
    Part of Dahl’s enormous, enduring appeal to children is that he doesn’t shield them from the world—he doesn’t sugar-coat its evils, but rather uses metaphors to help kids understand all the bad that’s out to get them, which they of course find irresistible. Of course, it helps when his protagonists are tough, brave kids who get things done. This is the kind of story Dahl excels at telling, and The Witches is a perfect example. With some obvious parallels to history and politics, it focuses on one boy’s attempts to take down a truly evil international syndicate of child-hating, child-killing witches. Unlike other kids vs. adults tales in the Dahl canon, however, The Witches has a shocking, unfair ending. Hey, sometimes life is like that, kids.

    Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1964)
    Like Matilda, this one features a child in peril whose patience, perseverance, and steadfast commitment to being his true self serves allows him to get justice and rewards in the end. But Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is just a little bit better than Matilda because it’s such a feast for the brain. It’s one set piece after another when Charlie finally ditches his gray London life for the technicolor world of pure imagination of Willy Wonka’s mysterious, bizarre, and vaguely menacing chocolate factory. Both film adaptations do a good job visualizing the factory, but nothing can do it as well as the eye of a child’s mind.

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  • Jeff Somers 3:00 pm on 2017/10/04 Permalink
    Tags: , , answered prayers, , anthony trollope, , , , , , , , , , j. g. ballard, , joan weigall, , , , , , , , roald dahl, the adventures of huckleberry finn, the macdermots of ballycloran, , , , , through the looking glass, , why I want to f*ck ronald reagan   

    15 of the Most Infamous Deleted Chapters in History 

    Revision is a vital aspect of creation; all authors delete, re-write, and occasionally burn entire manuscripts with tears streaming down their faces. Most of the time, deleted chapters occur so early in the writing process that they’re not relevant—or interesting. They’re just the cost of doing literary business. Sometimes, though, the story behind excised material is almost as interesting as the finished version of the book it comes from. The fifteen chapters listed here didn’t make it into the published version of the book—but that hasn’t stopped them from being part of the conversation.

    Catch-22, by Joseph Heller
    Heller’s classic 1961 novel, one of the funniest, darkest, and most complex ever written, took about eight years to write—and remains the defining work of Heller’s career. Put simply, if you’re discussing Joseph Heller, you’re discussing Catch-22, and even Heller seemed to accept this towards the end of his life. Much of his late output was directly connected to his first novel, and in 2003 he published the collection Catch as Catch Can which contained two deleted chapters from Catch-22: “Love, Dad” and “Yossarian Survives” (both of which had been previously published). The chapters provide some background on Nately and Yossarian while offering some of Heller’s most savage mockery of the military—and both chapters work perfectly well as standalone stories, making them perhaps the rare examples of chapters deleted from books because they were too good.

    Dracula, by Bram Stoker
    Stoker’s novel is one of the most influential in all of history, but it originally ended a bit differently from the version you’re familiar with. A deleted chapter detailed Dracula’s castle literally falling apart as he dies. It’s not very long—a grace note, really—and there are several theories as to why Stoker excised it very close to its publication. Some people think he might have been envisioning a sequel and wanted to hedge his bets. Others think he might have worried about being accused of stealing the concept from Edgar Allan Poe. Whatever the reason, reading the chapter does change the tone of the novel just enough to make it significant.

    The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde
    Wilde’s only novel originally contained a great deal of homosexual imagery, sexual allusions, and other edgy stuff that made his publisher’s head explode. So his editor forced him to cut a great deal of this “objectionable” material. Even so, the book created a stir upon publication, as it still contained passages that outraged a lot of people, and so Wilde revised the book a second time in an effort to make it acceptable. Wilde’s reward was a novel everyone is still reading and, of course, a few years in jail simply for being a homosexual. In 2011 the uncensored version of the book was finally published with the deleted chapters restored, so you can now read the book in all its dirty glory.

    Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by Roald Dahl
    In the early versions of Dahl’s beloved book there were actually eight kids brought into Wonka’s factory, and they had some different adventures—including the original chapter 5, which brings the children and their parents into the Vanilla Fudge Room, where a literal mountain of fudge is worked on by Wonka’s servants with picks and hammers, sending boulders of fudge down to the floor where they’re grabbed by cranes and sent on wagons into a hole in the wall. Sounds delightful until two of the kids and their parents ignore Wonka’s warnings and ride the wagons to what they think will be fudge heaven. Instead, Wonka reveals that the fudge is tipped out of the wagons into a machine that pounds it thin then chops it up. Dahl’s publisher thought this was a bit too nasty for kids, and so the chapter was deleted and didn’t see the light of day until 2014.

    The Martian, by Andy Weir
    The Martian by Andy Weir went through a lot of revision. The original version posted on Weir’s website—still available online if you know where to look—is very different from the final version. A few years ago Weir went on Reddit for an unannounced, secret “Ask Me Anything” session and revealed the original epilogue of the story, which featured Mark Watney cursing at a child who asks him if he’d return to Mars if they asked him. It’s actually kind of a delightful ending, and one we wish they would have included in the movie.

    Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens
    The original ending of Dickens’ famous novel was kind of dark and sad: Pip and Estella meet years after the events of the novel, but instead of a bittersweet moment implying a future for the two, both are simply bitter, and they part on savage terms. Dickens liked this ending because he thought it was unexpected and original, but his Beta Readers disagreed, so he changed the chapter to the version we’re all familiar with. After publication he went back and revised the final line, coming up with the perfect “I saw no shadow of another parting from her.”

    Why I Want to F*ck Ronald Reagan, by J. G. Ballard
    In the late 1960s, Ronald Reagan was something new: one of the first “media politicians” who knew that how you said something was more important than what you said, as well as one of the first “far right” politicians in mainstream politics. Although a decade and a half from the presidency, he made an impact that J.G. Ballard found interesting, and he wrote a short work styled as an academic paper describing bizarre experiments to measure Reagan’s sexual appeal. It was meant to be challenging and confrontational—and it sure was. It was originally included in Ballard’s collection The Atrocity Exhibition, but the American publisher of the book actually destroyed the entire printing rather than let it loose on the country. Let that sink in: the publisher destroyed every copy of the book rather than publish this. If there’s a better reason to read it, we’re unaware.

    A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess
    It’s well-known that the last chapter of Burgess’ novel was deleted before it was published in the United States; the publisher thought the “softer” ending in which Alex starts to mature and see that his behavior in the earlier portions of the book was wrong would turn off American readers. Indeed, many still prefer the way the book ended in the truncated version, which is also the beat Stanley Kubrick’s classic film version ends on: Alex dreaming of violence, thinking “I was cured all right.”

    The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells
    Wells’ novel about a man who invents a time machine established not just one of the sturdiest sci-fi tropes of all time, but a template for the modern speculative novel. Wells’ publisher insisted he add a section showing mankind’s ultimate evolutionary fate, and Wells obliged under protest, writing a chapter in which the time traveler escapes the Morlocks by traveling into the distant future, where he encounters small mammals which he determines are the descendants of humanity. Wells never liked it and had it removed as soon as he was able, and while the story, which you can read under the standalone title “The Grey Man,” is interesting, the book is much better without it.

    Through the Looking Glass, by Lewis Carroll
    Lewis Carroll’s sequel to Alice in Wonderland is more Alice than Alice in many ways. The illustrator working on the book sent Carroll a note saying he wasn’t inspired by the “wasp chapter”, and suggested none-too-subtly that if Carroll were looking to cut the book down a bit, the Wasp part would be the place to start. No one knew what he was referring to, however—until 1976 when the missing “Wasp in a Wig” chapter was put up for auction. One problem, however: no one has ever been able to verify that this was actually written by Carroll. Reading it, the reason people have doubts is pretty clear: it’s awful. Either Carroll cut the one example of bad writing he ever managed…or he didn’t write it.

    Picnic at Hanging Rock, by Joan Weigall
    Weigall’s 1967 novel was a sensation at the time, despite the fact that it literally had no ending. The story of college students who disappear while visiting Hanging Rock in Australia was originally ended with a pretty crazy explanation of everything that happened, but Weigall’s publisher suggested the book might do better without the, um, crazy part and so the final chapter was deleted (you can read it here if you want), meaning that the story just stops, and no explanation is offered at all for the mystery. This actually fueled the book’s success, making it into a “must read” at the time. If the Internet had existed in 1967, this book would have broken it.

    The MacDermots of Ballycloran, by Anthony Trollope
    Trollope had very low expectations for his first novel, and these were borne out when it didn’t do very well. Although the novel has gained in reputation since its initial lackluster publication, you have to be careful to get the original 1847 version, because Trollope later hacked his book to death in an effort to…improve it, we guess? He deleted three chapters and changed a great deal of what makes the original novel interesting (mainly the Irish dialects, politics, and the character flaws). The revised version isn’t nearly as good, and the three missing chapters are, ironically, some of the best writing in the book.

    Answered Prayers, by Truman Capote
    Capote’s transformation from brilliant writer to alcoholic gadfly took about twenty years, and in that time he continuously accepted advances and signed contracts for Answered Prayers, a novel he never got around to finishing. Four chapters were published in magazines (the first, “La Côte Basque 1965,” was so obviously based on his real-life friends and acquaintances Capote pretty much lost every friend he had) and they’re pretty hefty, amounting to a novel’s worth of text if put together. But several other chapters have been referenced in Capote’s correspondence—and he claimed he’d written the final chapter first so he’d know where he was going—that have yet to turn up anywhere.

    The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
    Twain, never one to be typical, wasn’t satisfied to delete a mere chapter, instead opting to delete 665 manuscript pages, essentially an entire shadow version of his all-time classic novel. Twain paused work on the book for three years, and scholars have long argued over where exactly he broke off and what he changed when he returned to the book. The deleted chapters contain plenty of material not present in the final book, and have proved invaluable in trying to determine Twain’s intentions and process.

    Persuasion, by Jane Austen
    Austen was one of the most meticulous writers of all time, and put a lot of effort into revising her novels. Persuasion is one of the few in which we can compare early drafts to see how the novel developed, and Austen’s deleted chapters show a ruthless approach to improving the pacing of the plot and the creation of her characters. Assembling earlier versions of the novel show what her original inspiration was, how her ideas changed as she worked, and cast some light on the sausage-making underneath the charming and compelling narratives Austen created.

    Did we miss any famous deleted chapters?

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  • Jeff Somers 6:30 pm on 2017/06/05 Permalink
    Tags: , , , keep out, , roald dahl, since we fell,   

    5 Novels Whose Main Characters Are Shut-ins 

    Characters, as a rule, should possess agency. They must be capable of changing the course of the plot, of meeting conflict, or else they’re just window-dressing. Normally, this requires that they be mobile, moving from setting to setting as they pursue an agenda, flee danger, or face their enemies. But not always; while it’s a little tricky to pull off, it’s not unheard of for a literary character to never leave their house, something that’s increasingly plausible, since we live in a world where the internet has made never leaving the house is a realistic possibility. Literary shut-ins pose a special challenge for the writer, but when it works, it can be magical—just look at these five shut-ins from some terrific books.

    Since We Fell, by Dennis Lehane
    Lehane’s newest thriller focuses on Rachel Child, a successful television journalist raised by a manipulative mother who doesn’t realize just how damaged she is until an on-air nervous breakdown ends her career. In freefall, Rachel locks herself up in her house and never leaves. With time to think, she wonders about her father, whose identity her mother hid from her, and contacts a private detective to try to identify him. That detective, Brian Delacroix, becomes more than a hire for Rachel—he becomes, she thinks, her lover and salvation. When she begins to suspect he might not be everything he seems, the story really kicks into high gear, an Rachel proves to be a surprisingly dynamic character despite her isolated status.

    Bernadette Fox in Where’d You Go, Bernadette, by Maria Semple
    Bernadette Fox is a brilliant, difficult woman living in Seattle with her brilliant, neglectful husband and her brilliant, adorable daughter Bee. Bernadette despises the city, and never leaves the house. At first, Bernadette seems to be simply quirky; she’s obviously very bright and engaged in her community, and when Bee expresses a wish to visit Antarctica, Bernadette perversely throws herself into planning the trip with a gusto slowly revealed to be slightly unhinged. Bernadette’s manic manner, which includes several hilarious exchanges with her slightly befuddled virtual assistant, whom she relies on to carry out the simplest of everyday tasks, slowly builds to the breaking point, and Bernadette stops being a shut-in after all—leading to the extended third act of the novel that inverts everything that has gone before.

    Nero Wolfe in The Nero Wolfe series, by Rex Stout
    Nero Wolfe is one of the greatest fictional detectives ever created, a large man with refined tastes who almost never leaves his brownstone in Manhattan—he’s literally an armchair detective. Wolfe relies on his assistant, Archie Goodwin, for all the work done outside his home. Archie is everything Wolfe isn’t—young, handsome, and at ease in the world. Considering Wolfe solves his crimes in the years before the internet, before cell phones—heck, in an age when phones were usually kept in a closet and used relatively rarely—it’s even more incredible he does so simply by listening attentively and examining the physical evidence that can be transported to his house. What’s interesting about Wolfe’s shut-in status is that his house is almost a complete ecosystem catering to his expensive tastes, leading the reader to imagine that Wolfe is choosing to stay inside rather than suffering from any sort of crippling phobia.

    Willie Wonka in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by Roald Dahl
    Willie Wonka is one of the most famous shut-ins in literature, his status masked by his extravagant appearance, exuberant personality, and the sheer size and scale of the factory he never, ever leaves. Wonka seals himself up inside in order to preserve the security of his recipes and his candy-making secrets, but upon discovering a gray hair, he realizes he isn’t going to live forever, and thus needs a trusted heir to carry on his work. That is the impetus for the famous golden tickets, the subsequent factory tour, and the happy inheritance for good ol’ Charlie—never mind the implication that Charlie is now expected to live the rest of his life inside the factory as well, putting a perfectly Dahl-like sinister spin on the whole wish fulfillment premise.

    Ilya Ilyich Oblomov in Oblomov, by Ivan Goncharov
    It takes about 50 pages for Ilya Ilyich Oblomov to get out of bed and sit in a chair, exhausted by the effort. A rich landlord in the Russian Empire, Oblomov is intended to satirize the lazy, do-nothing lifestyle prized by many Russian aristocrats, and boy-howdy, does he ever. Coddled and indulged his entire life, Oblomov is so removed from the world, he can barely attend to his own interests, and winds up marrying a woman who allows him to enter a second childhood, wallowing in his bedroom and never dealing with any business he finds disagreeable, until he finally achieves his lifelong dream of eternal sleep…by dying in bed. Oblomov is a frustrating and fascinating character, not least because he never considers true change for the simple reason that he is, in fact, living his best life—he really wants to stay in bed and do nothing. Forever.


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  • Kat Rosenfield 3:15 pm on 2016/07/15 Permalink
    Tags: , children's classic, , , , , roald dahl   

    Ranking Every Roald Dahl Movie 

    This month, a very big kidlit-to-film adaptation came galloping into theaters: Steven Spielberg’s long-awaited take on Roald Dahl’s classic, The BFG. And thanks to a loyal script and Spielberg’s willingness to leave the signature darkness of Dahl’s stories pretty much intact, the big-screen version of The BFG is, by all accounts, a whizz-popping good time.

    But while Spielberg’s take on Dahl’s giant story is being very well-received, fans of the author’s work were understandably nervous going in—because previous adaptations of Dahl’s books have been decidedly hit or miss. Below, we’ve ranked them all, from the ones that left much to be desired to the nearly perfect cinematic triumphs.

    The Witches
    As a book, The Witches was magnificently creepy. As a film? Alas, nope. Despite Angelica Huston’s best efforts, the witches in the screen version came across as bumbling idiots rather than dreadful, formidable foes; the slapstick humor was overdone; and the whole thing capped off with a made-for-Hollywood ending that totally denied the bittersweet flavor of the book. But one thing does make The Witches potentially worth a rewatch: Mr. Carson of Downton Abbey makes a surprise appearance, in a brief role as a hotel chef with a mouse down his trousers.

    Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
    Tim Burton’s second outing as a Dahl adapter was, alas, the less successful of his efforts. Although the weird and wonderful visuals were…well, weird and wonderful, and the production hewed pretty closely to the original book, Johnny Depp’s unsettling take on Wonka was a sour note amidst all that delicious chocolate.

    You’ve got to love this movie for its A-plus casting—of the Trunchbull, particularly—and wildly entertaining take on the book’s forced cake-eating scene, both of which nearly made up for a script that didn’t quite capture the unique and oddly intellectual flavor of the original Matilda. Bonus points for Mara Wilson, who was not only a very capable Matilda, but grew up to be a lot like the character in some truly delightful ways.

    James and the Giant Peach
    Tim Burton was a producer on this film, and his signature claymation was the perfect vehicle for a retelling of Dahl’s twisted fantasy about a boy who goes inside the aforementioned giant peach and befriends the giant bugs who live inside it. Add in a score (complete with original songs) by Randy Newman, and you’ve got some solid entertainment, even if it’s only reasonably faithful to the book.

    Fantastic Mr. Fox
    Based on concept alone, Fantastic Mr. Fox is not just the best of the Dahl adaptations, but possibly one of the greatest movies ever made in the entire history of film. Oscar winners George Clooney and Meryl Streep as the heads of the titular Fox family; Bill Murray as a badger lawyer; a script cowritten by Noah Baumbach; and none other than Wes Anderson spearheading the effort? Be still our beating hipster hearts! But despite its charms—and it had a lot of charms—the film fell victim to the same fate of so many others on this list, falling shy of capturing the unique darkness at the heart of Roald Dahl’s original book. It was, however, still quite good.

    Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
    Forty years of doing Dahl onscreen, and you still can’t beat the original: The 1971 adaptation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Despite not adhering particularly closely to the source material—and being loathed by the author himself—this movie has everything that matters in a Roald Dahl adaptation, from the wildly imaginative visuals to the unrestrainedly harsh life lessons. But its reasons for placing at the top of this list can be summed up in two words: Gene Wilder. His performance perfectly captured the mercurial-bordering-on-malicious nature of the titular character in a way that remains unparalleled—and the image of him standing like Charon the ferryman, reciting slam poetry at the bow of that boat careening through a psychedelic tunnel, continues to both thrill and terrify us in equal measure.

  • Jeff Somers 8:03 pm on 2016/06/09 Permalink
    Tags: , curious george, , roald dahl, stranger danger, ,   

    8 Kids’ Book Characters Who are Basically Kidnappers 

    Ah, children’s literature, realm of innocent fun and magical beings who bring a sense of wonder and adventure to bedtimes everywhere. Assuming, of course, that your idea of innocent fun involves things like death, torture, monster attacks, and that most popular profession among characters in children’s books—kidnapping. The fact that many kids’ books sport seriously dark subtext isn’t news, but once you start thinking about it, it’s surprising how many of the characters most beloved by children are basically kidnappers. Sure, they’re whisking kids off on exciting adventures…but aren’t they also teaching generation after generation that kidnapping will 100 percent of the time lead to magic and fun, and never to being tied up at the bottom of a well? Consider the troubling implications of these eight books.

    Peter Pan in Peter Pan, by J.M. Barrie
    There’s a lot of darkness in Peter Pan. Barrie, who based the character somewhat on his brother David, who passed away at the age of 14, intentionally made Peter very much a typical child: selfish, self-centered, and occasionally cruel. There’s a clear implication that Peter kills off Lost Boys if they get too old, assuming they aren’t dead already, as it is also suggested they’re all abandoned infants Peter kidnaps after they’ve fallen from their carriages and remained unclaimed for seven days. Although the Darling children accompany Peter to Neverland voluntarily, he’s still very likely an epic kidnapper.

    Willy Wonka in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by Roald Dahl
    Roald Dahl’s books are filled with delicious sugary darkness, of course. Although the vile children in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory walk into the factory eagerly and are accompanied by parents, Willy Wonka might as well be a guy driving around in a van with blackout windows, offering free candy to all the kids in the neighborhood. In the movie adaptation, he even sings ironic songs about them after he dispatches them in gruesome, candy-themed ways. Where do all those naughty children turn up after they’ve been sucked into pipes, processed, shrunk, or otherwise tortured?

    The Big Friendly Giant in The BFG, by Roald Dahl
    Just to bang home the point that Roald Dahl hated children, consider the BFG, who is easily the nicest giant, and the least likely giant to eat a human child—yet he’s still a kidnapper. When little Sophie sees him, he panics and takes her with him, and only the fact that Sophie’s not all that unhappy to be kidnapped from her horrible life (and the fact that he’s the only giant who doesn’t routinely eat children) make it seem like fun, until you consider that most children see the grown-ups already around them as gigantic, leading to a far more horrifying interpretation of the story.

    Mrs. Trottle in The Secret of Platform 13, by Eva Ibbotson
    One of the great things about this classic children’s book is the inverted kidnapping—the magical prince is kidnapped from a magical world by a woman from ours, and the magical creatures have to come here looking for him. Mrs. Trottle’s crime is inspired by her desire to have a child, and as awful as she is (she makes her nanny’s son, Ben, miserable simply because he’s a much better kid than her stolen, adopted child), she spares no expense to give the prince (who she names Raymond) whatever he wants. Still, she’s a kidnapper, and chances are, Raymond wouldn’t have turned out nearly so bratty if he’d remained merely a magical prince.

    Miss Frizzle in The Magic School Bus, by Joanna Cole
    We would very much like to see the permission slips that Miss Frizzle sends home to parents. Except we’re fairly certain there are none, and that Miss Frizzle is essentially taking her charges on dangerous trips into exotic places, usually without asking if any of them actually want to go. At this point, we wouldn’t be surprised to discover that Miss Frizzle doesn’t even teach at the school, and just drives around in her school bus kidnapping children.

    Aslan in The Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S. Lewis
    Four kids vanish into an alternate universe and, from their perspective, live for decades, unable to contact their parents, friends, or anyone else. Sure, they live as kings and queens, but at some point, the whole thing becomes psychologically disturbing—especially when these monstrous children return home, middle-aged inside but suddenly physically 10 years old. Over the course of the seven Narnia books, Aslan kidnaps quite a number of children for various lengths of time and forces them to take on dangerous tasks he’d prefer not to do himself. In other words, what you’ve always suspected is quite true: Aslan is a monster, and the Chronicles are essentially all about Stockholm Syndrome.

    The Man in the Yellow Hat, in Curious George, by H.A. Rey
    The Man in the Yellow Hat doesn’t get a name in the original Curious George stories, but he did get one in the 2006 film version (Ted Shackleford). Named or not, he’s awful. George (who we’ll note is not a monkey, as he has no tail) is a gentle, cheerful soul…who is literally kidnapped from his jungle home by The Man without so much as a moment’s hesitation, informed he will now live in a zoo, and almost drowned—all within the first few pages of the first book. George’s antics are undoubtedly the desperate attempts of a miserable animal to understand what’s happened to him as he navigates an unnatural world he never asked for.

    The Cat in The Cat in the Hat, by Dr. Seuss
    The children never leave the house—true. But if some weirdo in a hat barged into your house when you’d thoughtfully left your children home alone completely unsupervised and “entertained” them for hours, you might not see it as an innocent jaunt, but rather as an in-home kidnapping. Dr. Seuss may be great for kids learning to read, but the moral of this story is, if strangers come to the house offering to take you on an adventure, by all means, open the door and invite them in.

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