In honour of Roald Dahl Day, we pay homage to the scents that linger long after the book is closed.
There is a small polystyrene-clad replica of Roald Dahl’s writing room in a museum in Great Missenden. I found that if I positioned myself just so I could half-close my eyes and see the great author in his mother’s old chair with six sharp pencils at his right hand. I could smell his tobacco smoke and the dull, muddy scent of coffee dregs. Dahl spent two hours every morning in his purpose-built room. This was where he met the cunning Mr. Fox, the shy but brave Charlie of the Chocolate Factory and the repulsive characters of the Trunchbull, Aunt Sponge and Spiker and the Twits. It is incredible to think that such an inauspicious hut could house the magic and melodrama of over 30 books.
In Dahl’s first autobiography ‘Boy: Tales of a Childhood’ there is a scene that makes my children roar with laughter. The family is in Norway, holidaying, as they did every summer, in the Fjords. Dahl’s older sister has brought her boyfriend and he smokes a pipe. While the two lovers are taking a dip in the water, one of the younger siblings replaces the tobacco in his pipe with goat droppings. The family watches with great anticipation as the boyfriend lights his pipe and the scent of smouldering droppings fills the air. My son holds his nose at that point in the story as even the imagined smell becomes unbearable.
When James journeys into the thick, juicy flesh of a Giant Peach, we can taste the sweetness as he stuffs his face with fruit. When George creates his marvellous medicine, we catch a whiff of the brown, gloopy concoction and want to run away. The aroma of Willy Wonka’s chocolate river gets our taste buds tingling and we feel at the end of Fantastic Mr Fox that we are familiar with the dank, dark smells of his underworld.
‘There is great power in childhood
when one is open to magical
Dahl draws exquisite word pictures to entertain and inspire children and adults alike. Young people are the heroes of his stories. Young Danny is a champion, Matilda saves her school and a young English boy successfully takes on the Grand High Witch. Dahl deals in the disgusting. His Revolting Rhymes are full of words my children are not allowed to use and take outrageous twists and turns. His poetry is politically incorrect but hilarious and I am always pressed for ‘just one more’. He gets away with all of this, however, because the underlying message is one of hope. It is possible for a child who is overlooked, undervalued and disempowered to triumph. There is great power in childhood when one is open to magical possibilities: the ladybird can talk, a piece of chalk will write itself, pheasants can fall from the trees like leaves.
Anything is Possible
The cunning and creativity of his young characters in the face of great suffering is an inspiration. The worlds he created of edible wallpaper, growing potions, enormous crocodiles and friendly giants give children a license to imagine that anything is possible, if they can remain a child for as long as possible. In a world driving as all forward as fast as possible, this is a winner in my book.