Three Questions for Roald Dahl
When I imagine meeting Roald Dahl, I think of the countryside. I picture the fjords of Norway or a quiet cobblestone road that leads to an English prep school. I think of summer breezes and the smell of chocolate and the eagerness and the tirelessness of youth.
Dahl would approach at a stroll, probably smoking, with a stern face but twinkling eyes. It goes without saying he’s an eye smiler because an eye smile is impossible to fake. Or maybe instead of strolling he’d pull up in a magnificent car. A great, shiny, roaring car that filled the horizon with the promise of magic and adventure.
“Hop in!” he’d say. “How far are you going? I’m stopping because I’ve been where you are and I always like to help a fellow out. If you’re not going anywhere, hop in anyway and I’ll give you a tour. There’s so much to see and so little time to see it.”
So I would hop in overwhelmed and silent, because in addition to being Roald Dahl, his physical appearance, tall, lean, fair, reminds me of my grandfather. My grandfather, the doctor who also cared for children, and whose hugs I still remember. Grandpa had the same mischievous nature as Dahl, and though he maintained a stern face, his eyes, too, tended to twinkle with the genuine laughter of the soul.
Marvelous question number 1.
“I have two daughters,” I would say, “Sofia who is six and Ariel who is four.”
“My protagonist from The BFG is named Sophie.”
“I know. Would you like to meet them?”
That would be my first question to Roald Dahl, for I’d like him to meet the children of a daddy who was raised on his stories. I’d like him to know that they were never left wanting for hugs or a home or a father who loved them. I’d like him to know that I treasure every minute with them and treat
them with a tenderness I didn’t know I had the capacity for.
“Hello children,” Dahl would say when I brought him home. “Now tell me, and it’s OK if you don’t know the answer, but have you had your measles vaccinations?”
I think my Sofia would probably speak up because she likes answering questions. Really she’s more like Matilda than Sophie from The BFG. My little Ariel, on the other hand, does remind me of Sophie because she’s so very brave. Anyway, Sofia would speak up and say, “Yes, we had our shots,
although I don’t like shots.”
“Well, that’s understandable,” Dahl would reply, “They’re rather unpleasant. But you must have them. You see, I had a daughter named Olivia…”
I think he would pause and measure his words as emotion caught him. But nothing more would need to be said. My daughters know the rest of the story, and they’re very gentle and recognize when another is in pain. They would reach forward and offer Dahl a hug, and he’d be renewed. It
would be time for my second question.
Marvelous question number 2.
“Do you know that your books were the first books I ever read to my children?”
Of course, he wouldn’t know the answer to this, but the point of this question is to convey information. Hearing it, he’d look to my little ones for confirmation, and then they would begin to eye smile, but they’d smile with their mouths and teeth as well because they are little and haven’t yet
learned the unfortunate adult habit of hiding mirth from the world.
“Oh yes,” and this time it would be Ariel speaking, “yes, we’ve read all your books, James and the Giant Peach…”
“And Charlie and the Chocolate Factory…” Sofia would interject.
“And The Twits!” Ariel would say, she just loves The Twits.
“And Danny, the Champion of the World,” Sofia would say.
By now, Dahl would be laughing and raising his hands, “Why that’s wonderful, fabulous, marvelous, fantastic!”
“For many years, they wouldn’t sit still for other books,” I’d offer, “but they were always hooked on yours.”
Marvelous question number 3.
By then, I think it’s very likely that my children would have bewitched Mr. Dahl because they have great loving hearts that you notice from a distance. But now, my time with the real-life Willy Wonka would be growing short, so I’d offer my last question.
“You know,” I’d say, “I’m a writer too.”
Which is not a question, but a statement, but it’s the kind of statement that I think would catch Dahl’s attention. He’d fix me with a sincere look, and there would be a focus and a sense of kinship like you rarely encounter.
A kindred spirit
“In your work,” I’d say, “you recognize the good in children where all other books seem to be overly critical. When you read these books as a child, you understand that somebody else has had the same experience as you. As a child, we have no power, and we try so hard to please those around us. In the face of unfairness, your work gives hope that there will be justice for the good, and that love will prevail in the end.”
“Why thank you, but you still haven’t asked a question.”
“Oh, I’m getting to that. I was wondering if you’d mind terribly…if I tried to write like you?”
Fanfare and celebration
My guess is that he would laugh at this, and perhaps grow excited, and throw his hands up and yell out something like, “whoopeeeee!” Or maybe he would hold us close, myself and my two little girls, and say, “My dear sir, and my dear girls, you’ve already succeeded, I congratulate you! Well done, bravo!”
With time running short, he’d wish us all good luck, and then dance off back to his car in a cloud of magic, blowing kisses and twinkling with his eyes. He’d roll down the window, and before lifting off, he’d honk his horn and cry:
“We are the music makers and we are the dreamers of dreams!”
My daughters and I would smile and wave as he lifted into the sky, on his way back to his home among the heavens. His car floating with sublime beauty, like a giant peach suspended by a thousand seagulls tethered to the stem by strands of spider’s silk.