This review was written by Steven H. Silver.
Most adults, perhaps, best know Roald Dahl for being the author of “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” To be honest, most adults probably best know Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory from the Gene Wilder film based on Dahl’s book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Those same adults might be surprised to read the original book and find out how similar and different it is from Dahl’s original version.
The Roald Dahl Treasury is a fantastic book because it allows readers to discover exactly that. Moreover, it introduces the reader to the amazing worlds which flourished inside Dahl’s head with excerpts, letters and essays, most of which have previously appeared, but many of which are seeing the printed page for the first time.
To begin with Roald Dahl’s Chocolate factory, the treasury contains about twenty pages of excerpts from that book. Reading them gives a whole new feel to the story, much of it darker than the Wilder version. The rather innocuous song the Oompa Loopas sing when Veruca Salt falls down the garbage shoot in the movie becomes infinitely darker when the original poem is read.
This darkness, actually, is one of the things which makes Roald Dahl a wonderful children’s author. Unlike today’s politically correct world, Dahl was not afraid of writing horror, dark humor, or other things that many modern authors seem to feel children should be protected from. His writing is reminiscent of the Brothers Grimm or Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales. The original version of those stories are darker, but much more satisfying than the Disney or Golden Book versions. A case in point is what Dahl does when he gets his hands on Little Red Riding Hood or the Three Little Pigs (and for Hansel and Gretel, he provides a recipe for spare ribs).
Lest I give the impression that all of Dahl’s writings have a dark side, I would like to point out that several of the excerpts published in The Roald Dahl Treasury and light-hearted and humorous. The childhood memoir “Conkers!” is reminiscent of portions of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. It allows the adult reader to remember the inconsequential things which make childhood so memorable. For the younger reader, it gives them ideas of things to do. And for every reader is harkens back to a pre-electronic childhood.
Dahl also provides his own whimsical illustrations (an example of which can be found by looking at the cover image). The cartoonish nature of these drawings tends to lighten the mood of the darker extracts and enhance the humor of the lighter ones.
The Roald Dahl Treasury is a wonderful book for children of all ages and will allow readers to have a taste of a variety of Roald Dahl stories. Because many are extracts, it means the reader can track down the full books at their leisure and still enjoy the writing. Also because they are extracts, they are the perfect length of time for a bedtime story.