One of the perks of living in the UK is the constant exposure to a wide range of Literary festivals and tributes to the country’s literary heroes. British people are incredibly proud -and rightly so- of their literary past and are constantly finding excuses to celebrate it in the most varied and creative ways, at the theatre, the library, the museum, television and even the streets and squares.
Last year, for example, when Alice in Wonderland celebrated 150 years since its first publication, London boomed with different tributes to Lewis Carroll’s famous book. My favourite tribute was an immersion walk through ‘wonderland’ itself inside the Waterloo vaults, where visitors had the opportunity to see -first hand- all the major characters performing their parts from the book and could even sit down to tea with the Mad Hatter himself! This year, celebrations are focusing on two authors in particular. One is the writer of all writers, William Shakespeare, who, of course, has never ceased being celebrated in this country. But just because this year marks the 400th anniversary of the author’s death, performances and exhibitions have increased exponentially. A Shakespeare bacchanalia you may call it, which paradoxically, doesn’t feel excessive at all in a country that venerates Literature so much.
The second author celebrated this year, in a smaller scale than Shakespeare but still with proper tributes across the country, is children’s author, Roald Dahl. This year marks the 100th year anniversary of his birth. I must confess I didn’t know anything about Dahl until my 7 year old son started reading his books at school. I grew up watching Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory but never realised it was based on a book. Surprisingly -or maybe not- after coming across his books for the first time, at 37!, I’ve suddenly turned into a big Roald Dahl fan. I suppose this is one of the many reasons why I love Literature so much: no matter how young or how old we are, books will always keep welcoming us into their cosy pages. It is never too late for a good book! and, luckily this includes children’s literature as well.
A few days ago, I took my son to a Roald Dahl exhibition at the Southbank Centre to complete a half-term assignment from school. I found the tour incredibly inspiring as a parent, as an amateur writer and as a consumer of Literature myself. Roald Dahl was an exceptional man who led an exceptional life. He declined an education at Oxbridge his mother had offered to pay because he wanted to take on a job in “faraway lands.” He did just that! and went on to work for Shell Oil in Kenya and Tanzania during the 1930‘s. With the outbreak of World War II, Dahl became a fighter pilot with the RAF, and after being injured in Lybia from a disastrous crash landing, he continued contributing towards the war effort as a pilot in Greece and later as an intelligence officer and diplomat in London. The writer had five children with American actress Patricia Neal and married a second time after his first marriage came to an end in 1983.
Apart from his fascinating career and life experiences, however, I find Dahl’s fictional world particularly touching and inspiring. Reading his stories with my son, I have not only discovered a varied range of fun and refreshing kids’ tales but a source of morals which I hope will keep resonating with children for generations to come. These include, the importance of treating animals with kindness, of respecting nature, of learning to love ourselves no matter our flaws and navigate awkwardness with humour. Also, whether he did it consciously or not, Dahl’s stories seem to be bonded by one common plea to their audience: “Be brave in the face of adversity and stand up against injustice. Success is not easy to attain, but as long as we are kind, we will always inevitably triumph.” What a lovely thing to say to children and to ask adults to remember! I think I’ll be filling up my bookshelves with Roald Dahl’s books over the next few months.
Check out Roald Dahl’s official website here