Roald Dahl's crafty Christmas.
Roald Dahl ends My Year, his book about the months of the year, in a typically mischievous mood. He takes us back to the excitement of his childhood and the joys of receiving presents at Christmas – but also the fun that can be had with a little ingenuity and imagination.
Aged around nine or ten, Roald received a Christmas gift of a Meccano set, and after much thought, came up with the plan of making a Meccano ‘chariot’. In true Dahl-esque style, he enthusiastically relates the details of this festive escapade.
Above: Photo of Roald aged about 10
In My Year he outlines the plans: First comes the sparky idea – to ‘make something with my new Meccano that had never been built before’ . Then comes the specifics – how, ‘filled with the enthusiasm that grips all great inventors’ he built and rigged the contraption, all in intricate detail, and finally the moment of glory – the perfect timing and execution resulting in a successful ‘bombing’ of two unfortunate passers-by with water. Roald’s plan had worked perfectly – but his beloved Meccano set was confiscated by his mother for the rest of the holidays…
This crafty ingenuity and a sharp eye for detail pops up in many of his books: Roald loved cunning plans and clever tricks – as did his Enormous Crocodile, who memorably made himself look like a coconut tree, a bench and a fairground ride in his dastardly efforts to gobble up children.
His heroes also are capable of great feats of genius and plotting. In Esio Trot, Mr Hoppy painstakingly constructed his amazing ‘Tortoise-Catcher’ to execute his plan to make Alfie the Tortoise appear to grow.
Above: the tortoise catcher from the BBC film, on display in the Museum.
As ever, Roald paid attention to the details, making carefully measured drawings of tortoises getting bigger and bigger in his drafts of the story and adding a note to Quentin Blake his illustrator, to make each tortoise’s expression different.
Above: image of tortoise sketches and Roald’s note to Quentin
There’s also Danny, the Champion Pheasant Catcher, coming up with a creative plan to nab all the birds from Victor Hazell’s wood the day before the Grand Pheasant Shoot. In Matilda, Lavender Brown’s meticulous planning and capturing of the newt for Miss Trunchbull’s water jug had explosive results.
And who could forget James’ simple yet beautifully realised plan to get the Giant Peach airborne by lassoing 502 seagulls?
As might be expected, Roald also loved his readers to be creative. His favourite Christmas cards were the ones children had made themselves; as he says in My Year: ‘whenever I get one of those I am deeply touched because I know the time and effort that has gone into making it’. In his Writing Hut here at the Museum is a faded card decorated with blobs of cotton wool made for him by one of his child readers, which he liked so much he kept it pinned to the wall.
Above: card sent to Roald Dahl by a child, found on the wall of his Writing Hut
So, while we would never approve of copying the young Roald’s devious plot to waterbomb people, getting crafty and inventive to make something personal to give someone this Christmas definitely gets our vote.
Why not visit the Roald Dahl Museum to find out more about Roald Dahl's childhood?