Just finished Boy: tales of childhood by Roald Dahl last night. Like all of Dahl’s books it is a delight to read. Even an autobiography of his early life is a winner with this writer.
Dahl describes doing some early evaluation of Cadbury chocolates in the early 1930’s. At his school (Repton) the boys would periodically receive plain grey cardboard boxes with 11 new chocolate bar inventions and 1 well-known bar (as a control) in each. The box also contained a piece of paper with the numbers 1 through 12 with a column for a rating from 0-10 and another for comments. Dahl took these quite seriously and one of the comments that he recalls in this memoir is “Too subtle for the common palate”. Dahl also credits this early example of sensory science with his beginning to think about inventing rooms in Chocolate factories. Eventually, with this in mind, he wrote Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. This is one of my favourite stories. The power of early sensory science in a young person’s life (especially when chocolate is involved) cannot be underestimated.
Dahl’s response to difficult situations was often inventive and, in hindsight, very funny. In one case an elaborate plan involving a dead mouse and a jar of Gobstoppers in the sweet shop of a tyrannical woman had predictably painful yet hilarious consequences. Also humerous was another episode involving a pipe and wild goat droppings on a Norwegian island.
The book is full of examples of how truth is often stranger than fiction… if it is truth. This is Roald Dahl, after all. He was a master story teller. But I have the feeling it was truth even if the superb writing makes it seems larger than life. Although he died in 1990 this is one author who will doubtless remain popular for a long, long time. And deservedly so. One item I picked up from the book, and something I’ve read in another source, was that Dahl found the process of writing hellish and time-consuming. Here’s a quote:
The writer walks out of his workroom in a daze. He wants a drink. He needs it. It happens to be a fact that nearly every writer of fiction in the world drinks more whisky than is good for him. He does it to give himself faith, hope and courage. A person is a fool to become a writer. His only compensation is absolute freedom. He has no master except his own soul, and that, I am sure, is why he does it.