It is not always the standard method to judge the greatness of an author but the number of copies that Roald Dahl’s books for children have sold can, possibly, be ascertained only after extensive research. Millions and millions could be an expression that comes close without trying to be accurate.
A sketch from the book depicting Dahl’s school uniform
But a lot about the author of Charlie and The Chocolate factory comes as a surprise in Roald Dahl’s Life In Stories written by Andrew Donkin. The book, published on the 100th anniversary of the author, is a biography that skillfully transcends categories of adult and children’s literature through illustrations and witty and imaginative language that ponders about the reactions and responses of Dahl to real situations he faced.
The narrative of a literary genius’s life can now be clubbed chiefly into two categories — child prodigies and the drifter, who sees the other side of life. Dahl, it turns out, was neither. He was fairly unremarkable as a student and till much later into his life would see no literary success.
In fact, in his youth he was passionate about flying aeroplanes, which made him a pilot during World War II. And later his involvement in the war got him to Washington where he wrote his first story, which funnily was a fictionalised account of his experience as a pilot, which he sold as truth.
Donkin points out how the different parts of the life of the author have influenced him as a writer. Like an incident involving a mean shop owner led to his conjuring of the character of the witch and his fondness for chocolate led to the chocolate factory.
The high point of this biography is the oft-hilarious Dahl’s secret diary as imagined by the author. It is through these letters that one is transported to another time and gets closer to the emotions of a boy in a stifling boarding school and later a writer who conquers the children of the world with his words.
Roald Dahl’s Life In Stories by Andrew Donkin published by Scholastic, Rs 250
Available At leading bookstores and e-stores