Sarah Potter Writes

Pursued by the Muses of prose and poetry

A tribute to Roald Dahl: bad school reports versus literary genius

Portrait of Roald Dahl,1954 Apr. 20

From the age of 14, Roald Dahl‘s annual school reports bemoaned his inability to construct a grammatically correct sentence, let alone write a decent essay. Twelve years later, in 1942, when he was invalided out of the RAF, the writer C.S. Forester sought him out to write about his heroic and daring combat flying exploits. His first story, titled A Piece of Cake was published in the Saturday Evening Post, and many others followed in national magazines.
Once Dahl had run out of true stories, he started making them up. He enjoyed writing his children’s  stories the most, and the popularity of these were (and still are) down to his never patronising his audience. He acknowledged children’s ability to understand dark humour, involving rudeness, naughtiness, nastiness, and a fascination for the scatological. He also dared to show just how beastly adults can be to children.
Original 1943 cover of The Gremlins by Roald Dahl

Original 1943 cover of The Gremlins by Roald Dahl (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When my children were at primary school, they were given a reading list for the Summer holiday, which to their disgust banned all Roald Dahl books. …Why? Not because the stories were shocking or lacking in literary merit, but because his were the only novels the pupils would read, given a choice.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful, to create something as enthralling and entertaining as Roald Dahl’s novels, which continued to instil a love of reading in children long after one’s death? Like Dahl, I got bad school reports, but that’s where the similarity ends. I did achieve passable marks in English and I haven’t done anything heroic enough for someone as prestigious as C.S. Forester to seek me out. That won’t stop me aspiring to emulate such a literary genius as Roald Dahl.

English: The gravestone of author Roald Dahl i...

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9 thoughts on “A tribute to Roald Dahl: bad school reports versus literary genius

  1. I didn’t know any of this Sarah. Great post! Thanks for sharing!


  2. He is one of my favourites. I read his books aloud to my children and they read them again over the years. He had such a wonderful imagination.


    • Isn’t he fun to read aloud? I particularly enjoyed reading ‘James and the Giant Peach’ to my son. It called for a great dramatic rendering. Those ‘Revolting Rhymes’ were brilliant, too.

      My granddaughter recently got me to read ‘The Enormous Crocodile’ through three times in one session before she’d go to bed. An interesting route to the Land of Nod.


  3. i think most of my favorite writers treated children with the same attitude that they could handle reality and they also abhorred being talked down to. i love roald dahl and he’s one of my daughter’s favorite authors as well. great post!


    • Glad you liked the post:-)

      I quite agree with what you say–can’t stand it when people talk down to children, either in books or in real life. It doesn’t do them a favour to wrap them in cotton wool.


  4. Francina on said:

    I always loved his stories. Thank you for sharing this, Sarah!


  5. Pingback: Hogwarts School of Wizardry, I Wish! | sarahpotterwrites

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