Nine life lessons Roald Dahl taught us
Fantastic Mr Fox

Today marks the centenary of the birth of one of the world’s favourite children’s authors: Roald Dahl

Dahl was born on this day near Cardiff in 1916, and went on to pen 19 novels, countless short stories, many scripts for television, film and the stage, and a number of non-fiction books.

But it is his iconic children’s fiction which continues to capture imaginations the most, packing in entertaining, heartwarming stories – and valuable life lessons we could all glean a thing or two from.

Here are some of the best things Roald Dahl’s books have taught us.

It’s OK to be different

Perhaps the most obvious lesson gleaned from Dahl’s bibliography is that defying convention and standing out from the norm is something to be cherished.

We are talking about stories that featured eccentric chocolate magnates, children who yearned to read while their parents sat in front of the box (Matilda) and a boy with nothing in common with his neglectful family (James and the Giant Peach).

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

Reading is the ultimate hobby

As if Dahl’s books weren’t enough to make millions of children and adults want to pick up a book, a number of them speak explicitly to the joy their characters experience from flicking through the pages of a good read. Consider this quote from Matilda:

“The books transported her into new worlds and introduced her to amazing people who lived exciting lives. She went on olden-day sailing ships with Joseph Conrad. She went to Africa with Ernest Hemingway and to India with Rudyard Kipling.

“She travelled all over the world while sitting in her little room in an English village.”


An eye for an eye is not the best solution

Most stories involving rampaging, child-snatching giants would usually be resolved through the destruction of the evil beasts.

Not Dahl’s The BFG, which instead sees the titular giant talking to the Queen of England, and a diplomatic resolution to the whole ordeal.

Don’t judge a book by its cover

Of course, judging a Dahl book by its excellently illustrated, Quentin Blake cover would be a very wise thing to do, but this lesson pertains to making character based judgements.

Consider that some of Dahl’s most lovable characters are, on the surface, ugly beasts (The BFG, or the troupe of insects in James and the Giant Peach), and the author’s insistence that we look for the goodness inside abounds.

the bfg 2016 spielberg roald dahl adaptation movie

Believe in yourself

No need to be arrogant – but a little bit of self-confidence goes a long way.

The title hero of Fantastic Mr. Fox has confidence dripping from every pore, and he makes things happen for himself.

Fantastic Mr Fox

Make the most of your situation

Things don’t look good for many of Dahl’s characters at the start of their respective books.

Charlie lives among a cripplingly poor family before he finds his golden ticket, and Matilda suffers daily bullying and abuse from those closest to her. They and other characters do whatever the can to make the most of a bad time, and go out of their way to make lives better for themselves when it gets too much.

Those who abuse their power should be challenged

Dahl’s books also feature a running theme of vicious, nasty authority figures who abuse their positions, and ultimately come unstuck.

The obvious example is Miss Trunchbull in Matilda, but the local landowner in Danny the Champion of the World – Mr. Victor Hazell – also finds his comeuppance after abusing his status for too long.

Miss Trunchbull

Families can come in all shapes and sizes

Another key theme for Dahl, perhaps stemming from the fact he was raised by a single mother, is that his books often feature heroes who begin, or end up in, unconventional family units.

James finds comfort among a band of insect characters in James and the Giant Peach (having previously been kept locked away by his ‘real’ family), and Danny is raised by a single father in Danny Champion Of The World.

Danny champion of the world

Mischief is key

Above all else – and it is probably one of the main reasons why Dahl’s book have struck such a chord with kids and adults – is the overriding sense that we all need a little mischief in our lives.

Through their language, illustrations and everything in between, Dahl’s books perfectly encapsulate the rapscallion nature of childhood.


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[Main image: Getty]