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"Even from his earliest days, he was a hateful little fuck."
June 3, 2011 2:20 PM   Subscribe

In everything good there is also something bad, and this was not only the theme Dahl took up in much of his work for both children and adults, but it was also true of him personally. By all accounts an arrogant and hateful man, Roald Dahl was an unfaithful husband, an arch misogynist, and an anti-Semite who openly sympathized with Adolf Hitler. Should his "macabre unpleasantness" diminish Dahl's status as one of the world's most beloved children's authors? Or was it that very darkness that gave his writing its unique and lasting appeal?

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posted by Zozo (174 comments total) 42 users marked this as a favorite

 
Could be neither. I feel like at some point you figure out how to separate the art you like from the artists who make it, or it gets damn near impossible to like art at all.

That said, off to read the article.
posted by penduluum at 2:23 PM on June 3, 2011 [9 favorites]


Should his "macabre unpleasantness" diminish Dahl's status as one of the world's most beloved children's authors?

God I hope not. Such wonderful books, they were my favorites as a child.
posted by Hoopo at 2:24 PM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


A similar question could be asked in this thread.
posted by tommasz at 2:28 PM on June 3, 2011


Great artist not great man, again.
posted by The Whelk at 2:30 PM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Great read. I only knew very little about him from the autobiographical parts of Henry Sugar.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:31 PM on June 3, 2011


I hear Mladic was very charming in person too. At some point it's about the things people do, not who they are.
posted by jaduncan at 2:32 PM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


The darkness in Roald Dahl's writing is one of the main reasons why they are just so good. The terrifying witches, the overbearing aunts, the extreme poverty of Charlie Bucket - caricatures, sure. But such wonderful caricatures and such wonderful extremes. Enid Blyton's childrens books are the kind of books that parents like to see their kids reading. Dahl's books are the kind of books that the kids want to read themselves.

Great article. I saw an TV program about Dahl recently and it barely touched on the stuff mentioned in the article, and it's interesting to get another perspective on him. Say what you like, he wrote some great books.
posted by BigCalm at 2:34 PM on June 3, 2011 [5 favorites]


Reads like a disjointed hit piece.
posted by orthogonality at 2:34 PM on June 3, 2011 [6 favorites]


I always figured the unpleasantness in his stories was just something to do with his Nordic roots. A lot of his stuff had a very Shock-Headed Peter vibe.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 2:36 PM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


I have no doubt that Dahl had a nasty side (to say the least), but this is a really nasty essay. What's the point of it: "You liked Charlie & the Chocolate Factory, but you should know that Dahl was a creep. Now: feel icky!"

There are interesting ways to write about highly flawed people. This is not one of them.
posted by feckless at 2:37 PM on June 3, 2011 [13 favorites]


I once listened to "Over to You" on audiobook while on a long, night time car drive and then finished it at the hotel I stopped at, listening to it in the dark, in a strange and unfamiliar room. It was amazing.
posted by Godspeed.You!Black.Emperor.Penguin at 2:40 PM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Heh. It's like the first comment in every other Lovecraft thread, but as an FPP.
posted by Artw at 2:43 PM on June 3, 2011 [28 favorites]


Agree that this is kind of a needlessly hateful piece.
Even from his earliest days, he was a hateful little fuck. He began one prep school essay...
I hope when I'm famous they don't dig out my grade school essays where I write about shooting African poachers until they are dead.
posted by muddgirl at 2:48 PM on June 3, 2011 [8 favorites]


Interesting to me what time and distance does for my consideration about this kind of information. With Lovecraft and Dahl my thoughts are generally a mix of amusement and frustration that people that brilliant could be such assholes. But with V.S. Naipaul or Orson Scott Card, I'm just like, "Nope. Sorry. Not gonna waste my time with you, sir."
posted by Navelgazer at 2:52 PM on June 3, 2011 [6 favorites]


He made good story. I like story.
He dick. He no come to my BBQ.
Keep story. Eff the a-hole.

Done and done.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 2:52 PM on June 3, 2011 [10 favorites]


Wickedness is soluble in art.
posted by auto-correct at 2:56 PM on June 3, 2011 [38 favorites]


With Lovecraft and Dahl my thoughts are generally a mix of amusement and frustration that people that brilliant could be such assholes. But with V.S. Naipaul or Orson Scott Card, I'm just like, "Nope. Sorry. Not gonna waste my time with you, sir."

More to the point, Lovecraft and Dahl are dead, and there is nothing left but their work. There is little point railing against the moral failings of long-dead authors, except where it creeps into their work. But Naipaul and Card are alive and could still see the errors of their ways.
posted by jedicus at 2:58 PM on June 3, 2011 [12 favorites]


Should his "macabre unpleasantness" diminish Dahl's status as one of the world's most beloved children's authors?

I hope not. If it does, my wife and I are in trouble for our automotive choices.
posted by The World Famous at 3:00 PM on June 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think it's a lot easier to separate the art from the artist when the artist is quietly dead. (This is leaving aside any artist whose death itself affects our perceptions of the artist's life and work, in one way or another.) If future historians or music archivists find something of great value in, say, the discography of Chris Brown, their students will be able to look analytically at his apparent propensity toward violence against women, to disregard it or speculate on how it factored into his artistic themes or whatever but basically to just not think about it a whole lot in a way that you can't do so much when right now the fucking tool is busy saying stupid shit about his "haters" on Twitter and throwing chairs through TV studio windows when interviewers won't kiss his ass and et cetera, infuriating the hell out of anyone with sense just by being him.

And so Roald Dahl. He's not here being a jackass right now, so it's all part of the legend, baby.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 3:11 PM on June 3, 2011 [5 favorites]


with...Orson Scott Card, I'm just like, "Nope. Sorry. Not gonna waste my time with you, sir."

Nothing he could write at this point in his life could make Ender's Game a waste of your time, not even another sequel.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 3:12 PM on June 3, 2011 [9 favorites]


I'm really going to have to hold my nose and read that at some point, for the sake of completeness if nothing else. I shan't be bothering with the sequels though.
posted by Artw at 3:16 PM on June 3, 2011


Literature is literature.
There's no need to hate on the books he wrote just because the author as a person sucked.

Oh, and Christine O'Donnell is not a witch.
posted by MHPlost at 3:18 PM on June 3, 2011


Wickedness is soluble in art.

For me insofar as it doesn't cross over into the art too much. I never noticed much of the attitudes and prejudices described in this article when reading Dahl's books. It doesn't seem necessary to know much about the author's nasty views to enjoy his work in this case.

I'd say the same for the attitudes of long dead artists whose views were prevalent at the time. I'm not going to recommend people avoid Shakespeare because of Merchant of Venice, even though someone writing that story today should be flogged.
posted by Hoopo at 3:19 PM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Nothing OSC could write now could make Ender's Game a waste of my time, but the idea that I would somehow be contributing to his riches, which would lead (in some miniscule way) to him being able to further promulgate his odious ideas, makes me reluctant to buy Ender's Game. I guess I'm saying, read it from a library?
posted by Fraxas at 3:19 PM on June 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


The weird thing for me is as much as he seems to have revelled in wickedness (with a lot more success in literature than in real life) his books come off as very moralistic. Greed, hypocrisy, stupidity, cruelty and the like usually end up punished, while the clever and good of heart are rewarded

(My Uncle Oswald though, yech, there's no excuse for that)
posted by villanelles at dawn at 3:19 PM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


"His least anti-semitic story"... that made me crack a smile. Over all, this article was vicious, and I don't feel at all that I know the man better.
posted by empath at 3:20 PM on June 3, 2011


Nothing he could write at this point in his life could make Ender's Game a waste of your time, not even another sequel.

I dunno. I kinda think Hitler was probably wrong, so the message of Ender's Game wasn't too appealing to me.
posted by kafziel at 3:21 PM on June 3, 2011 [7 favorites]


I was actually most surprised and disappointed by the fact that some of his best books (The BFG, Mathilda, etc.) were more or less co-written by his editor. I already knew he was mean, but I didn't know he was a lesser artist.
posted by Atrahasis at 3:22 PM on June 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


This is a really weird piece. There's no depth to it, no attempt at explaining Dahl, it's just a laundry list. It reads almost like a conversation where a jealous friend is trying to convince you not to be friends with a third friend, by slinging as much mud as possible at the wall and hoping some sticks:

Jealous friend: "Well, didya know, he called Africans 'niggers' when he was 14? And said they'd give you nice stuff?"

Me: "Yeah, but in a British prep school back then, the masters would beat you if you were out of line. I'm sure 'nigger' was, in that milieu, an accepted synonym for 'African'. And 'They will give you many valuable things.', how is that hateful exactly?"

JF: "Oh, well, did you know he was a man-whore, a cut-rate James Bond, for the FO? Yeah, he had lots of sex with powerful old women! Yiiiick, that's like a toasted cheese sammich!"

Me: "Well, so, what?"

JF: "Ok, but didya know his publishers say he was a real pain in the ass to work with?"

Me: "Well, so many writers have hat reputation. Maybe it means they care about their work."

JF: "Oh. OK. Well. But hey! He's an anti-Semite, and he liked Hitler!"

Me: "Well, that's not nice. What exactly did he say about teh Jews?"

JF: "Oh, oh, get this: he writes about a guy with a Jewish name hiding from bombs in his safe full of money! And he mocked the head of East London's B'Nai B'rith!"

Me: "Mocked him because he was Jewish, or because he disliked hat particular guy? What did he say?"

JF: "....uh.... not sure. But he visited Berchtesgaden after Hitler's defeat! Only a Nazi would do that!"

Me: "Like Easy Company?"

JF: "His friend hated Israel! And he hung around Communists, until he didn't! Then he deserted his friends because they were under scrutiny for being Communists!"

Me: "So I should hate him because he stuck with his anti-Israel friend, and because he disloyally disassociated form his Communist friends?"

JF: "And he's a misogynist! Look at how he wrote about women! And he got thrown out of a country club for screaming about the Jews! And his daughter got addicted to coke! Bad husband, anti-Semite, failure as a father!!"

Me: "Well, you can't defend that...."

JF: "Yeah! Now you're getting it! And he wrote a story about a pedo giant! And the giant was really a caricature of his wife, mocking her stroke!"

Me: "Well, maybe he was using his work to come to terms with the effects of her stroke?"

JF: "Nope, nope, he was mocking her! I KNOW HIS MIND. I KNOW HIS INTENTIONS. When he gave lots of money to hospitals toward the end of his life, that was purely a cynical attempt to get a knighthood!"

Me: "How can you be sure of what his intentions were?"

JF: "Because we already know he's a piece of shit. He wrote the word 'nigger' and he hates the Jews! So of course his charity was pure calculation!! He's a shit! He's such a shit that he even hated himself!"

Me: "How do you know that?"

JF: "I just know! I don't have to prove anything to you. Just trust me, he's just such a shit, he must have hated himself too! His stories stand out because they're hateful, and that ruined my childhood. Fuck fuck fuck him, he's a shit!"
posted by orthogonality at 3:23 PM on June 3, 2011 [64 favorites]


I kinda think Hitler was probably wrong, so the message of Ender's Game wasn't too appealing to me.

I also thought that Ender's Game was a tremendously vile piece of work. I didn't need to know anything else about OSC to decide he was probably an asshole.
posted by empath at 3:24 PM on June 3, 2011 [6 favorites]


The secret truth of literature is that a good editor is an awesome thing.
posted by Artw at 3:25 PM on June 3, 2011 [22 favorites]


I'm not convinced. The stuff about the BFG seems fanciful, the use of the n-word in a prep school essay in the 1920s should (at the very least) but put in some kind of context rather than dismissing him there and then as a "hateful little fuck", and where is the evidence for this statement He believed in a world government and he was extremely sympathetic to Hitler, Mussolini, and the entire Nazi cause? Also saying James and Giant Peach is the least "anti-Semitic book" is just silly. Less anti-Semitic than Danny, Champion of the World? How is Matilda more anti-Semitic? Even the oft-stated (in this essay at any rate) "hatred" of Jews is not really borne out by the evidence here.

I'm not saying he wasn't a shit, everyone knows the quote about Hitler, and his philandering is, of course, well documented. I'm just not sure that this essay tells us much new.
posted by ntrifle at 3:27 PM on June 3, 2011


Children's (and dark twisty short-story) writer turns out to be a bit of a fuck... what a twist!
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 3:27 PM on June 3, 2011


Children's (and dark twisty short-story) writer turns out to be a bit of a fuck... what a twist!

You know that guy who wrote Coraline? I heard he steals money form libraries.
posted by Hoopo at 3:29 PM on June 3, 2011 [30 favorites]


George Orwell had some enlightening thoughts on whether one could simultaneously be a terrible person and a great artist
posted by Blasdelb at 3:32 PM on June 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


And he's a secret Spaceologist!
posted by Artw at 3:33 PM on June 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


where is the evidence for this statement He believed in a world government and he was extremely sympathetic to Hitler, Mussolini, and the entire Nazi cause?

In the thirties, before we knew about the camps (and when anti-Semitism was much more acceptable), in the depths of the depression, lots of people thought that Fascism might be an answer.

I suspect that Dahl's "sympathy" for Hitler dates from that period. Again, this is a hit piece; the vagueness seems to me intentional, to paint as dark a picture as possible.
posted by orthogonality at 3:33 PM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Navelgazer: I think it helps that whatever horrible political ideas Lovecraft and Dahl had, their side lost. As much as racism is still an issue, it's gone from being something racists were once proud and positive about, to being something where they're scrambling to paint themselves as the victims of.

Card in particular is writing anti-gay works when gay rights in much of the world are still very much in the balance, and there's still a serious chance that DOMA for example might just keep shambling on in the law books until several supreme court justices die.
posted by Grimgrin at 3:35 PM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Personally, I'd like to see all of Dahls work re-typeset in Gill Sans just so our heads could assplode trying to work out who was the bigger fuck up, Roald Dahl or Eric Gill.
posted by tim_in_oz at 3:36 PM on June 3, 2011 [7 favorites]


"Nothing he could write at this point in his life could make Ender's Game a waste of your time, not even another sequel."

Ender's Game is Twilight for people who were picked on and told they were smart too many times. There I said it, and Orson Scott Card is still a hateful fascist pig.
posted by Blasdelb at 3:37 PM on June 3, 2011 [36 favorites]


Nothing he could write at this point in his life could make Ender's Game a waste of your time, not even another sequel.

Given how sharply the tone and quality of that series takes turn after the first book, you may not be entirely surprised to hear that Card may not have written Ender's Game.
posted by mhoye at 3:37 PM on June 3, 2011 [5 favorites]


I vote for Angus Scrimm to play him in the biopic.
posted by cazoo at 3:37 PM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


With Lovecraft and Dahl my thoughts are generally a mix of amusement and frustration that people that brilliant could be such assholes.

I'm pretty much the same. I'm going to allow some ugliness to skirt around the periphery of my intellectual life, if you can call it that, when that ugliness produces work of such magnificence. Dahl will always be one of my very favourite writers, despite his bastardry.

And I'm biased. In his lovely memoir Boy, he talks, if I am remembering correctly, about a school chum who kept a pet frog, and always cared for it, giving it water and insects (it was kept in a cigar box, I believe). Regardless of my reservations about keeping a frog in a box, Dahl's advice remains solid: "I learned to always be kind to small animals."
posted by tumid dahlia at 3:40 PM on June 3, 2011


Previously in Mefi hit pieces, David Foster Wallace: bandanna wearing hipster bastard who got the drug names wrong and liked shit music.
posted by benzenedream at 3:42 PM on June 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


By this time Dahl had placed his penis inside of too many people and word was starting to spread.

Dear god, stop the pain!
posted by Splunge at 3:43 PM on June 3, 2011


David Foster Wallace: bandanna wearing hipster bastard who got the drug names wrong and liked shit music.

Except Dahl wrote good books.
posted by usagizero at 3:46 PM on June 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


Wow, that's quite an attack. Would have been much, much better with a few clear citations for the more savage stories; it feels sloppy and I find myself not trusting it without knowing the specific sources.

Anyone else wondering about that weird exchange with Ian Rankin in the comments?
posted by mediareport at 3:46 PM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Dude you can not compare Eric Gill to like, human beings.
posted by The Whelk at 3:46 PM on June 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


More to the point, Lovecraft and Dahl are dead, and there is nothing left but their work.

Ayn Rand is dead too.

Every copy of Mein Kampf in print today comes with a foreword explaining what the terrible consequences of the views Hitler expounds in its pages. Perhaps the same principe should apply equally to the works of other authors who were reprehensible human beings in real life, with Atlas Shrugged, The Call of Cthulhu and Charlie And The Chocolate Factory bearing similar forewords detailing their authors' failings?
posted by acb at 3:49 PM on June 3, 2011


If I were to get rid of all the music, books, and innovations produced by insufferable fuckheads, I'd have very little music, books or innovations left.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 3:50 PM on June 3, 2011 [4 favorites]


Future versions of atlas shrugged would read WARNING THIS BOOK MADE LOTS OF PEOPLE INSUFFERABLE FOR MOST OF FRESHMAN YEAR
posted by The Whelk at 3:52 PM on June 3, 2011 [41 favorites]


I judge the art. I judge the artist. The two are separate. I don't understand people who conflate them. Sure, we may see how the person's traits influence and inform their art and that is a subject fit for consideration, but the art stands alone. The person stands alone. I love Wagner.
posted by Decani at 3:53 PM on June 3, 2011 [5 favorites]


I agree with the implication of the OP, that his children's books are successful because children love very nasty and horrible things, and very few authors since the brothers Grimm are giving them the real shit. Also his short stories for adults from the Henry Sugar period are totally great, again because of his amazing grasp of repellency.
posted by klapaucius at 3:53 PM on June 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


Dude you can not compare Eric Gill to like, human beings.

Eric Gill may have been a creepy sexual predator, but his contributions to typography were superb. Had he been jailed before he ever got to carve Gill Sans, though, it would have been justifiable, much in the way that the loss of Polanski's post-1970s works would have been had he received justice. In Gill's case, perhaps some other typographer would have extended Johnston's Underground signage, or perhaps we'd have been left to make do with Futura and such.
posted by acb at 3:54 PM on June 3, 2011


Beloved children's classic George's Marvellous Medicine is a book which is literally about a boy trying to "cure" his grandmother's personality by giving her a mixture of every poisonous household substance he can find. Eventually he creates a mixture that kills anyone who drinks it. Then the boy's father deliberately tricks his mother-in-law into drinking it, so she dies. Then the boy's parents celebrate.

Probably wouldn't get published today, is what I'm saying.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 3:56 PM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


A couple of years ago, I read The Irregulars: Roald Dahl and the British Spy Ring in Wartime Washington, thinking it woud blow the lid off the real Roald Dahl. Actually, all it did was leave me with the impression that he was kind of boring outside of his artistic life and that Ian Flemming was fucking awesome.
posted by COBRA! at 3:57 PM on June 3, 2011


What is this crap? Dahl was an allied war hero. The Nazis shot his plane down. He was big on Palestinian rights but that doesn't make him an anti Semite.
posted by w0mbat at 3:57 PM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


So if it were revealed that Hitler authored and illustrated a children's book, and it was actually thoroughly charming - something to rival, say, The Very Hungry Caterpillar - you'd all have no qualms about buying it for your kids?

Before you all go Godwining your little hearts out, I'm just trying to work out how far your 'I have no trouble separating art from artists' thing actually goes. I'm not saying that Dahl is Hitler. Take a deep breath.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 3:57 PM on June 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


Hey, I like Van Morrison, so....
posted by cccorlew at 3:58 PM on June 3, 2011


Ayn Rand is dead too.

Lovecraft and Dahl, unlike Rand and Hitler (there's something I never thought I'd type), did not advance philosophies or ideology or advocate any kind of social change. They were not political works. The ugly views of Lovecraft and Dahl have caused no harm largely because they are not visible in their work. I'm not sure why a blurb about Dahl's prejudice would be a relevant or necessary foreword to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
posted by Hoopo at 3:59 PM on June 3, 2011 [10 favorites]


Lovecraft and Dahl, unlike Rand and Hitler (there's something I never thought I'd type), did not advance philosophies or ideology or advocate any kind of social change.

Lovecraft's hysterically bigoted views are evident in many of his stories, with their "mongrelised half-breed sailors" worshipping loathsome blasphemies in hideous rituals and such. It has been a while since I read Dahl, so I don't know how much bigotry permeates his children's books. If any does, it is extremely worrisome.
posted by acb at 4:02 PM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm not saying that Dahl is Hitler

DID YOU JUST SAY THAT DAHL WAS HITL-oh wait you didn't.
posted by tumid dahlia at 4:02 PM on June 3, 2011 [5 favorites]


Hoopo's point is the critical one, I think. If the purpose or even just the effect of an author's work is to convert the reader to the author's way of thinking, then the author's way of thinking, worldview, etc. really do matter. Ayn Rand's books are terrible not just because, let's face it, they're terrible, but also because she was a terrible person trying, through her books, to convince others to be terrible in the same way she was. And, to make matters worse, sometimes her books actually accomplish that goal.
posted by The World Famous at 4:03 PM on June 3, 2011 [4 favorites]


So if it were revealed that Hitler authored and illustrated a children's book, and it was actually thoroughly charming - something to rival, say, The Very Hungry Caterpillar - you'd all have no qualms about buying it for your kids?

I'd buy it and hang it next to my John Wayne Gacy clown paintings.
posted by acb at 4:03 PM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


A couple of years ago, I read The Irregulars: Roald Dahl and the British Spy Ring in Wartime Washington

I read that too. It was terrible.
posted by tumid dahlia at 4:04 PM on June 3, 2011


I always really liked "The Sound Machine", even if it is kinda stupid.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 4:04 PM on June 3, 2011


The thing with Godwin's Law is that it points out that because Hitler is kind of an exceptional case he shouldn't be used in arguments where he doesn't belong. In short, no I wouldn't buy a children's book by Hitler but I still stand by the sentiment that the artist's views shouldn't necessarily reflect on the work.

Lovecraft's hysterically bigoted views are evident in many of his stories

I'M COLD BUSTED. I am not that familiar with Lovecraft TBH. Dahl though, I don't think this applies.
posted by Hoopo at 4:07 PM on June 3, 2011


By all accounts (...) an anti-Semite who openly sympathized with Adolf Hitler.

Some other accounts:
The Straight Dope Message Board: Was Dahl a Nazi?
i work for the publishing company that puts out his books. A jewish friend of mine said Dahl was a Nazi, but maybe he meant "anti-semetic." I was just intrigued when he mentioned this, because I know that Dahl fought in WWII.
Thanks for your input. He probably was just a bastard, which I have also heard.


Wikipedia:
Dahl stated he was anti-Israel rather than anti-Semitic, and he maintained friendships with a number of Jews, including philosopher Isaiah Berlin, who said, "I thought he might say anything. Could have been pro-Arab or pro-Jew. There was no consistent line."

The Independent:
Interviewed by The New Statesman, he said he detected "a trait in the Jewish character that does provoke a certain animosity... even a stinker like Hitler didn't just pick on them for no reason." It was, to be fair, a public display of the kind of rhetoric he'd employed for years at the dinner table to provoke a response. Behind his bluntness was a banked-up rage and frustration that he enjoyed releasing. "Explosions," he wrote, "are exciting."

Other authors mentioned in the Independent article:
- JM Barrie (child "stealer", "the sinister quality of his relations with children, which derived from the trauma of his brother's death, is just as alarming."),
- AA Milne ("found the company of children tiresome", disliked being called a "children's author")
- Enid Blyton ("The truth is," wrote [her daugher] Imogen later, "Enid Blyton was arrogant, insecure, pretentious, very skilled at putting difficult or unpleasant things out of her mind, and without a trace of maternal instinct.").
posted by iviken at 4:12 PM on June 3, 2011


Lovecraft's hysterically bigoted views are evident in many of his stories

Yeah, a guy in one of his stories had a cat called "Nigger-man", and I think that old HPL may have in real life.

Robert Bloch hangs a lampshade on it in either "Shambler from the Stars" or "Shadow from the Steeple" by naming Lovecraft's cat "Blackfella".
posted by Mister Moofoo at 4:12 PM on June 3, 2011


I came in here to make a joke based on Godwin's law regarding the eventual mentioning Eric Gill in this kind of debate. But someone already mentioned him.

For my money having a threesome with your daughter and pet alsatian is not soluble in designing a few fonts, some bookplates and a couple of highly derivative, dated sculptures.
posted by fire&wings at 4:13 PM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


So if it were revealed that Hitler authored and illustrated a children's book, and it was actually thoroughly charming - something to rival, say, The Very Hungry Caterpillar - you'd all have no qualms about buying it for your kids?

Like Goodnight Totenkopf?
Or One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Jew Fish?
Curious Cohen Goes to the Camp?
Die Katze im der Stahlhelm?
How the Eternal Jew Stole Christmas?
posted by orthogonality at 4:14 PM on June 3, 2011 [9 favorites]


I heard Hitler liked to paint. Would we hate him any less if he were any good at it?
posted by blue_beetle at 4:14 PM on June 3, 2011


With Lovecraft is sort of all fits in, though, in a weird sort of way. His books are basically ALL about xenophobic paranoia. For the most part that's supernatural or uncanny, but occasionally you'll get to a part where you're like, "oh, right, he was scared of everybody who wasn't like him." And then, for some reason, instead of revulsion, I respond as if he were one of my cats acting out, like, "Awww... who's a scared little racist?"

The fact that he named his cat "N***erman" might have a lot to do with that reaction, though.
posted by Navelgazer at 4:15 PM on June 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


Other authors mentioned in the Independent article:

Philip Larkin is another example. Known for his love of pornography and racist, far right views. Nothing can dim a star as bright as he however, he remains Britain's best loved modern poet, and rightly so.
posted by fire&wings at 4:16 PM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Don't ruin Roald Dahl for me. I dont care if he wore ladies knickers and stomped kitties with his nazi boots- My kids will be reading those wonderful, wonderful stories.
posted by AzzaMcKazza at 4:17 PM on June 3, 2011


Sympathize with the Nazis? Maybe. But at least he didn't tell a dickwolves joke.
posted by Justinian at 4:18 PM on June 3, 2011 [4 favorites]


I thi it would be way different if Lovecraft's heroes totally defeated the horrible alien things and then saved the world through pure, blinding whitness. No one wins in a Lovecrafft story, which seems to make it more palatabe.

And yeah, Lovecraft kept getting called out for this insane xenophobia in his own time. Dude was terrified of anytng not currently in Rhode Island.
posted by The Whelk at 4:19 PM on June 3, 2011 [4 favorites]


Heh. You guys Really shouldn't watch Dambusters if the cat name freaks you out that much.
posted by Artw at 4:20 PM on June 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


Yeah, a guy in one of his stories had a cat called "Nigger-man", and I think that old HPL may have in real life.

That wasn't exactly unexceptional.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 4:21 PM on June 3, 2011


blue_beetle: If he were any good at it he never would have been turned down for art school and might not have ever been Hitler, he'd have been a turn of the century painter with some now repugnant political ideas.

The Whelk: Actually I think he was terrified of anything more than 2 hours walking distance outside of downtown Providence.
posted by Grimgrin at 4:21 PM on June 3, 2011


In the thirties, before we knew about the camps (and when anti-Semitism was much more acceptable), in the depths of the depression, lots of people thought that Fascism might be an answer.

Dahl was ranting about Jews in 1983.
posted by acb at 4:22 PM on June 3, 2011


I was address the allegation of "sympathy for Hitler and one world government", both of which seemed more tenable in the 1930s
posted by orthogonality at 4:24 PM on June 3, 2011


One part of Dahl that really stuck with me was the almost the first time I remember going "whoa" at a book. It was the The Witches, which I loved, and the kid gets turned into a mouse and then he ...stays a mouse. I kept expecting okay, now he gets turned back, now there's a potion or spell or something but what do I get instead? A speech from his beloved grandmother on how he was a very brave boy but mice don't live as long as people but that was okay because that means he'll die before her so he'll never be alone and she'll give him all the stinky cheese he wants.

And that blew my mind cause bittersweet Grimm fairy tale much? It was the first time a narrative just took a full unexpected turn into the bushes and I understood why, cause otherwise it undercuts how dangerous and scary the Witches where.
posted by The Whelk at 4:25 PM on June 3, 2011 [12 favorites]


Grimgrin: he drew little cartoons of himself in 18th century garb! I thi things on the other side of the house were scary and forigen to Lovecraft.
posted by The Whelk at 4:27 PM on June 3, 2011


Dude was terrified of anytng not currently in Rhode Island.

On the flip side, he was cool with tons of shit in Rhode island that freaks normal people out.

Like Deep Ones.
posted by GuyZero at 4:36 PM on June 3, 2011 [4 favorites]


And frozen lemonade.
posted by The Whelk at 4:43 PM on June 3, 2011 [4 favorites]


This is why you should pay attention to the /art/, not the artist. I don't want to know about that asshole Dave Sim, and I don't want to know about the asshole Dahl.
posted by clvrmnky at 4:53 PM on June 3, 2011


GuyZero: Lovecraft was, literally, afraid of his own blood. His father died in an asylum after he went psychotic, most likely as a side effect from syphilis. That biographical detail makes "The Shadow over Innsmouth" rather more resonant for me.

Back on topic, the Wade-Dahl-Till Valve (thanks to QI for making me aware of it). He helped save lives with that bit of kit. Oddly the article doesn't seem to mention it.
posted by Grimgrin at 4:55 PM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Someone really needs to come out with a beverage line called Deep Ones Frozen Lemonade
posted by The World Famous at 5:01 PM on June 3, 2011 [5 favorites]


Assuming that the article is broadly factual, I think that Dahl was saved by amazing editing (often by the same jews he despised). Because almost nothing of his nasty opinions appears in his better books.

And that's why it is do much easier to separate the man and the art in his case; the heavy lifting was done before the books saw the light of day.
posted by Forktine at 5:02 PM on June 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


I once read that the original draft of Charlie And The Chocolate Factory was a much darker and nastier affair; there were ten children in it, each one with some horrible, fatal character flaw, and an unpleasant (but, in the author's words, poetically just) doom awaiting them. What I remember is that one of the children not in the final book was named Herpes Trout.
posted by acb at 5:05 PM on June 3, 2011


What about the possibility that the article reflects mainly on its author?
Envy, gossip, moral grandstanding.
posted by homerica at 5:06 PM on June 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


Assuming that the article is broadly factual, I think that Dahl was saved by amazing editing (often by the same jews he despised).

Maybe he just despised them because they were his editors.
posted by The World Famous at 5:07 PM on June 3, 2011


What I remember is that one of the children not in the final book was named Herpes Trout.

Weird, that's the name of the dog in the remake of "Dambusters".
posted by orthogonality at 5:11 PM on June 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


I once read that the original draft of Charlie And The Chocolate Factory was a much darker and nastier affair

The Oompa-Loompas were apparently originally described as "African pygmies".
posted by Hoopo at 5:11 PM on June 3, 2011


What I remember is that one of the children not in the final book was named Herpes Trout.

Ah yes, Kilgore's son.
posted by The World Famous at 5:16 PM on June 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


> Yeah, a guy in one of his stories had a cat called "Nigger-man", and I think that old HPL may have in real life.

Go take a walk through an old pet cemetery sometime.
posted by Decimask at 5:20 PM on June 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


The Oompa-Loompas were apparently originally described as "African pygmies".

This I don't understand. It almost seems more racist that the editors felt it was necessary to change them. Why can't the Oompa-Loompas be African pygmies? Would it have bothered people if they were Inuit giants or Chinese albinos?
posted by coolxcool=rad at 5:21 PM on June 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


This is is about Roald Dahl, not Stephen King.
posted by orthogonality at 5:23 PM on June 3, 2011


I think it might have to do with the fact they were kind of slaves, paid in food. The explanation given was that Wonka saved them from some kind of predatory beasts in their home land, so the implication is that were better off as his workers in the factory. There's a bit of colonial baggage there.
posted by Hoopo at 5:27 PM on June 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


My favorite Norwegian writer is Knut Hamsun. That guy gave his Nobel Prize medallion to Goebbels. His politics were despicable, but his early novels were awesome. I'm capable of separating the two.
posted by Dumsnill at 5:29 PM on June 3, 2011


This article is unadulterated frobscottle and reads like the author was forced to eat a few too many snozzcumbers as a child.
posted by WhitenoisE at 5:29 PM on June 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


DAMMIT. I keep missing the Dahl threads. What do I have to do to get recognised as MetaFilter's own Dahl expert (TM)? It's interesting the number of photographs used in that article that are also on my site. Hmmm.

Anyway, yeah, he was a complicated man. Pretty much anything you could say about him would be true. (I think Treglown used that line in his biography.) However, I've been inside his writing hut and seen the treasured letters from his fans. He wrote back just about every child who wrote him. He identified with children against grownups (and was pretty much a giant child himself). The Wade-Dahl-Till valve helped save thousands of lives. He wasn't all bad.

I used to get the occasional "Did Roald Dahl hate little kids?" or "Was Roald Dahl an anti-Semite?" email at my site. Here's the FAQ entry I eventually put up.

Stephen Roxburgh - Dahl's editor for many of his famous books, mentioned in the article - wrote me an email in 2000. He wrote:

"I'm just writing to say that as someone who knew him very well, I think the site is marvelous. Your treatment of Dahl--who was a fascinating and complex man as well as a great writer--is balanced and fair."

He doesn't seem to bear much of a grudge. I can't bring myself to write off Dahl for his bad qualities either.
posted by web-goddess at 5:30 PM on June 3, 2011 [31 favorites]


Ha! That site is where I just looked up that bit about the oompa loompas!
posted by Hoopo at 5:32 PM on June 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


For those wondering about the change to the Oompa-Loompas, I have more information here. Excerpt:
Dahl's editors "saw the story as essentially Victorian in character –– a 'very English fantasy'" so they disregarded any racist misgivings about the story. Indeed, when the book first appeared in the United States in 1964 it was regarded with only acclaim and enthusiasm. It wasn't until 1972, nearly a decade later, that a wide–ranging attack on the book was published by American writer Eleanor Cameron and the political agenda of the story finally began to be debated.

After Dahl and Cameron had many public back–and–forths in various American literary journals (over much more than just charges of racism - see the Horn Book's excellent virtual exhibit to read the letters for yourself), Dahl's publishers decided that "to those growing up in a racially mixed society, the Oompa–Loompas were no longer acceptable as originally written. The following year, to accompany its new sequel, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, a revised edition of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory appeared, in which the Oompa–Loompas had become dwarfish hippies with long 'golden–brown hair' and 'rosy–white' skin." [Jeremy Treglown's Roald Dahl: A Biography]
posted by web-goddess at 5:32 PM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


He wrote back just about every child who wrote him.

Is it recorded anywhere what his reply to Aliza and Tamar of San Francisco was? That would have been interesting.
posted by acb at 5:32 PM on June 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


I think it might have to do with the fact they were kind of slaves, paid in food.

I don't think I'll ever look at a "Will Work For Food" sign the same way again.
posted by The World Famous at 5:34 PM on June 3, 2011


I don't recall it off the top of my head, acb, but I'll check some of the biographies I have...
posted by web-goddess at 5:34 PM on June 3, 2011


Found something. In Treglown's biography (page 258), he mentions that it was April 1990 when an entire school class of small children in San Francisco wrote to him. The letter from Aliza and Tamar is quoted. There's also an endnote that says: "The letter was part of a project organised by Dinah Stroe, a teacher at Brandeis Hillel Day School, San Francisco, to whom, and to Vavi Toran, I am grateful for sending me copies of all the relevant material."

Treglown follows the letter with: "Dahl replied to their teacher, insisting that it was injustice he was against, not Jews. He was less conciliatory when he was telephoned by the Jewish Chronicle. "I'm an old hand at dealing with you buggers," he said. "No comment."
posted by web-goddess at 5:39 PM on June 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


> "I'm just writing to say that as someone who knew him very well, I think the site is marvelous. Your treatment of Dahl--who was a fascinating and complex man as well as a great writer--is balanced and fair."

That seems to jive well with what I know from my aunt, who had to put up with Dahl during his vacation to Hong Kong in 1989. The trip went from her doing a favor for friends at Penguin Books to becoming his handler and coordinating a book signing at her bookstore there (which got me this for Christmas).

One of her favorite stories is how he managed to throw a tantrum while in her Mini and got out mid traffic and started to walk. Since it was peak rush hour, in Hong Kong, the car wasn't moving anyway, but he got tired, and eventually walked back to the car to sit down.
posted by mrzarquon at 5:49 PM on June 3, 2011 [12 favorites]


I've got a golden bigot....
posted by ericbop at 6:17 PM on June 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


The Whelk: I loved your comment about The Witches, and I know what you mean. One of my favourite book reviews ever was the one Erica Jong wrote for the NYT. I suspect they asked her to review it thinking she'd hate it, given that she'd written works about witches and goddess worship. Instead her review is just lovely. The last bit:
"The Witches" is finally a love story – the story of a little boy who loves his grandmother so utterly (and she him) that they are looking forward to spending their last years few exterminating the witches of the world together. It is a curious sort of tale but an honest one, which deals with matters of crucial importance to children: smallness, the existence of evil in the world, mourning, separation, death. The witches I've written about are far more benevolent figures, yet perhaps that is the point of witches – they are projections of the human unconscious and so can have many incarnations.
posted by web-goddess at 6:18 PM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


On an interesting side-note, check out this piece by Deems Taylor (He's the only "real" person in "Fantasia" as well as one of the all time great writers about music). Can someone create something of lasting power and beauty and still be a complete asshole?

http://www.wwenglish.com/en/school/5/jd/6/8173.htm
posted by TDavis at 6:20 PM on June 3, 2011


Jesus christ, [citation needed] much?

"Roald Dahl was an anti-semite! And he liked Hitler"
"Really? Where are you getting that from?"
"This article that I wrote!"

Nobody who read Going Solo could believe that. What a load of unmitigated tripe.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:09 PM on June 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


I know very little about Dahl as a person -- it is certainly possible he was a horrible person, and also possible that his books were saved by good editing (something which is true of, say, Harry Potter 1-3) -- but that article was so absurdly biased that I cannot say I know more about him now than I did before I read it.
posted by jeather at 7:12 PM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Can someone create something of lasting power and beauty and still be a complete asshole?

I'm pretty sure brilliant artists being complete assholes is the norm, not the exception. I mean, there are exceptions, of course. But genius artist asshole is such a common trope that it's played out and boring by now.
posted by The World Famous at 7:12 PM on June 3, 2011


Something that is being missed i think with the language, is the case of "And then there were None", might want to check out the name changes. Do we hate Christie because it was originally, 'ten little niggers" then "ten little indians"?
posted by usagizero at 7:16 PM on June 3, 2011


I'm pretty sure brilliant artists being complete assholes is the norm, not the exception.

Dude, it's the norm of society, why should talented people be any different?
posted by jonmc at 7:18 PM on June 3, 2011 [5 favorites]


Very good point, jonmc.
posted by The World Famous at 7:19 PM on June 3, 2011


I am not defending anyone's racism, but there comes a point as a parent when you realize that there is just no way to shelter children from this kind of thing.

The Chronicles of Narnia are pretty racist and certainly anti-Muslim. (Read the first chapter or two of "The Horse and His Boy.")

Ma Ingalls is terribly racist throughout the "Little House" books.

I was given an old, perfect, lovely and valuable copy of "Little Black Sambo". If it had had it's original name ("The Tale of Little Babaji"), I would have kept it.

I loved "Danny, the Champion of the World" so much when I was kid that I read it until it fell to pieces, and then I kept the pieces in a shoebox under my bed, and reread it, over and over again, a page at a time.

Kids learn so much from art. They learn about good and bad in the world. I loved all these books as a child, and I don't feel like I suffered for having been exposed to literature by or about people with who had bad ideas.

Whatever else is true, Dahl's books are damn good, as are Lewis's and Wilder's. I can't speak for the authors or their ideas, but regardless their books are worth reading.

And since we seem to be embracing the Godwinning of this thread, Hitler loved his dog. I'm not going to stop loving my dog just because of that. But I am very relieved that Hitler didn't write "The Very Hungry Catterpillar".
posted by Leta at 7:21 PM on June 3, 2011 [4 favorites]


Not a surprise ... his stories revolted me long before I could begin to guess why.

Now I can. Some of the Grimm stories are ... grim, even sinister ... but there's no bullshit to the telling. It's reportage of the human condition in those times. Then there are authors who somehow manage (possibly with an instinct developed from long experience) to convey cunningly poisonous cruelty and disdain.
posted by Twang at 7:23 PM on June 3, 2011


Very good point, jonmc.

I should add that I count myself and just about everyone I know amongst the asshole multitudes, just to be honest.
posted by jonmc at 7:24 PM on June 3, 2011


I actually don't believe you can be a truly great artist and be an asshole. Being an asshole indicates a certain lack of wisdom; and a lack of wisdom is a flaw in an artist. In fact, I have a feeling that the old trope of "separate the artist from his work" is borne mostly out of a haste to rationalize our love of the work of certain people we know are flawed as human beings.

This is not to say that art can be dismissed in an ad hominem way. However, I think it does matter whether artists are good or bad people.
posted by koeselitz at 7:26 PM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


I actually don't believe you can be a truly great artist and be an asshole.

I'm just mentally running down a list of people I consider to be truly great artists and not very many of them are or were non-assholes. But maybe that's because most of the ones I think of first are musicians ;-)
posted by The World Famous at 7:29 PM on June 3, 2011


I heard Hitler liked to paint. Would we hate him any less if he were any good at it?

No, of course not. But we might enjoy the paintings.
posted by Songdog at 7:30 PM on June 3, 2011


But I am very relieved that Hitler didn't write "The Very Hungry Catterpillar".

He did write "The Very Hungry for Lebensraum Caterpillar" (subtitled, "The Großdeutsches Buttrerfly").

I am not defending anyone's racism, but there comes a point as a parent when you realize that there is just no way to shelter children from this kind of thing.

But seriously, as I've commented here before: racism is a bad thing that's very normal for humans. Only in the last 30 or 40 years has it become something (and only in the US and Western Europe, because of Negro slavery and German genocide) to be ashamed of.

Go anywhere else, and people will cheerfully and unselfconsciously tell you how inferior, stupid, ugly, and untrustworthy all their neighbors are. The one exception is in Islam, where everyone is supposed to be equal as submitters to Allah -- and even there, you get lots of in- and out-groups.
posted by orthogonality at 7:34 PM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


It was the The Witches, which I loved, and the kid gets turned into a mouse and then he ...stays a mouse.

I remember watching the film version of The Witches as a child and being impressed by how good a translation of the book it was - parts of it were extremely nasty - until the end, where a disaffected witch turns him back into a human. Lame-o.

I also read My Uncle Oswald when I was about 11, which was a confusing experience.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 7:36 PM on June 3, 2011


I think it does matter whether artists are good or bad people.

I don't know if you've read them, but would you agree that Hunger and Mysteries are great novels? Would you also agree that Knut Hamsun became a horrible human being? You can be a great artist and a shitty human being.
posted by Dumsnill at 7:36 PM on June 3, 2011


I judge the art. I judge the artist. The two are separate.

This reminds me of my old film studies seminar discussion of Triumph of the Will, with our patient Instructor calmly guiding the disentanglement of the artist and the art, the intention and the craft, the context and the implications...
posted by ovvl at 7:39 PM on June 3, 2011


Wikipedia:

Dahl saw his first aerial combat on 15 April 1941, while flying alone over the city of Chalcis. He attacked six Junkers Ju-88s that were bombing ships and shot one down. On 16 April in another air battle, he shot down another Ju-88.

On 20 April 1941, Dahl took part in the "Battle of Athens", alongside the highest-scoring British Commonwealth ace of World War II, Pat Pattle and Dahl's friend David Coke. Of 12 Hurricanes involved, five were shot down and four of their pilots killed, including Pattle. Greek observers on the ground counted 22 German aircraft downed, but because of the confusion of the aerial engagement, none of the pilots knew which plane they had shot down. Dahl described it as "an endless blur of enemy fighters whizzing towards me from every side".

In May, as the Germans were pressing on Athens, Dahl was evacuated to Egypt. His squadron was reassembled in Haifa. From there, Dahl flew sorties every day for a period of four weeks, shooting down a Vichy French Air Force Potez 63 on 8 June and another Ju-88 on 15 June, but he then began to get severe headaches that caused him to black out. He was invalided home to Britain


Dahl shot down more Ju-88s than Lars Van Trier did.
posted by ovvl at 7:43 PM on June 3, 2011


I feel like the only person who never got into Dahl, and as such I don't care whether or not he was a total dick/Nazi/whatever because I have no vested interest. I was just not interested in any of the stories, but I don't remember why they didn't interest me. Maybe I could vindicated for my childhood aversion: "Ah, ha! I knew there was a reason!"
posted by autoclavicle at 7:48 PM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


I hear Mladic was very charming in person too. At some point it's about the things people do, not who they are.

What? You can't seriously be suggesting, even remotely, that that Dahl's unpleasant behavior was some sort of moral equivalent to genocide?
posted by scody at 7:56 PM on June 3, 2011 [6 favorites]


So anyway, I'm a big fan of Sven Hassel.
posted by Artw at 7:56 PM on June 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


I never got into him either, other than the Wonka movie.
posted by orthogonality at 7:58 PM on June 3, 2011


I actually don't believe you can be a truly great artist and be an asshole.

I disagree. Take V.S. Naipaul again. It's his perceptiveness about the world and about people that makes him both so great as an artist and so successful as an asshole. He's a talented sadist who knows exactly how best to hurt the people around him, and how best to annoy people further afield. He's not unwise - he's just wicked. Some are.

Also, re the discussion higher up about people who somehow find themselves more willing to read Dahl than Naipaul, in spite of their both being jackasses: I'm pretty sure it's because you've already read Dahl and liked him and it's too late to save yourself the trouble. And I think it would be a shame if all the talk about What A Great Writer V.S. Naipaul, Nobel Prizewinner and Noted Curmudgeon Is were to give people the impression that his books were all thinky and troublesome reading. His early novels are comedies, and delightful, often black-hearted and occasionally tender: Miguel Street, The Mystic Masseur, The Suffrage of Elvira. (I linked to the Kindle versions of the first two, for the free excerpt.)
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 8:07 PM on June 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


What? You can't seriously be suggesting, even remotely, that that Dahl's unpleasant behavior was some sort of moral equivalent to genocide?

Rather I think he's suggesting that the way you act to people can be entirely seperate from what you're capable of doing. They're opposites a bit - Dahl is a dick but made art people like. Miladic is a "nice guy" who murdered thousands of people.
posted by RustyBrooks at 8:30 PM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


I take V.S. Naipaul everywhere, he always finds his way back.

No seriously, I don't even know what he supposedly did that makes him such a bad person but I tried to read one of his books once and found it utterly without merit. The textbook example of "Serious Literature" that has all the trappings and pretensions but isn't actually any good.
posted by drjimmy11 at 8:41 PM on June 3, 2011


I especially loved Matilda, and the BFG. I read and enjoyed Witches (although the idea of square feet with no toes seriously squicked me out), and Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator (through some mix-up I never did own a copy of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) and James and the Giant Peach, too. (I even read Boy, though at that age, I found it a little dull.) And I think it was clear to me, as a child, that Roald Dahl did not care very much for grown-ups; in his view, they were stupid, they did stupid and pointlessly mean things, and children were often much smarter than they were. Which meant that Roald Dahl's opinion matched mine, much of the time; he wrote books that matched the way the world looked from my height. I can't think of any other author that so perfectly captures a child's sense of the unfairness and injustice of the world.

I haven't re-read them in many years, but if there's one thing I'm sure of, it's that it doesn't matter if I'd like them now - those books were not written for grown-ups, and no re-reading of them now can undo the hours and hours of enjoyment they gave me then.

Now I am older, and taller, and instead of thinking that grown-ups are often stupid and pointlessly mean, I know they are, even me sometimes. I don't find it at all hard to imagine that Roald Dahl's particular flavor of misanthropy was necessary for him to write the books that he did; someone who liked grown-ups wouldn't and couldn't have written them. So not only can I and do I separate the artist from the work, but that I can even believe exactly the opposite from what koeselitz suggests - I think sometimes it's necessary for people to have the particular flaws they have, the particular bent and crooked ways they look at the world, in order to write the works they write. If art is a mirror, sometimes the most fascinating, eerie, magical reflections can result from warped funhouse mirrors.

(HP Lovecraft is another good example, as people have gotten at, I see, by suggesting that his xenophobia and paranoia are integral to his work. I will point out as a native Rhode Islander that this:
Dude was terrified of anytng not currently in Rhode Island.
neglects that he had serious concerns about everything in RI south of Warwick, as well. To be fair I've always found something a little "off" about some things in Narragansett, though, so it's not just him.)

posted by mstokes650 at 8:47 PM on June 3, 2011 [7 favorites]


So if it were revealed that Hitler authored and illustrated a children's book, and it was actually thoroughly charming - something to rival, say, The Very Hungry Caterpillar - you'd all have no qualms about buying it for your kids?

The Volkswagen Beetle remains Hitler's most beloved piece of art direction.
posted by Scoo at 9:01 PM on June 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


I also read My Uncle Oswald when I was about 11, which was a confusing experience.

Me too! I never found out what it was doing in my house. But, when I was eleven, I just figured that any book was fair game.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:02 PM on June 3, 2011


His thoughts were red thoughts: "But, when I was eleven, I just figured that any book was fair game."

As well you should.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 9:10 PM on June 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


Martin Bormann almost beat Slugworths' defenses.
posted by clavdivs at 9:19 PM on June 3, 2011


I was not impressed with the article, for one thing there was almost no evidence provided for any of the claims, but it was pretty interesting none the less.
posted by serazin at 9:41 PM on June 3, 2011


In criticizing Dahl about all his sleeping around "Dahl had placed his penis inside of too many people and word was starting to spread", he glosses over the fact that this was Dahl's job. Most of the women he slept with, including Clare Boothe Luce , were either anti-war or anti-British and England knew that it desperately needed America's help in the war.

My goodness, the Big Friendly Giant (BFG) is a pedophile because he collects children's dreams?
posted by eye of newt at 9:49 PM on June 3, 2011


However true the anecdotes are, the author of that piece seriously has a hate on for Dahl. His synopsis of the BFG (A novel about a pedophilic monster who abducts a young girl and forces her to stare at the phalluses of larger giants - seriously???) really emphasized that point for me. The author wants you to hate Dahl as much as he does, and that agenda seriously diminishes any value in the article.
posted by sandraregina at 10:11 PM on June 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


His early writing in the short story form was impacted by the political situation on the world stage. He believed in a world government and he was extremely sympathetic to Hitler, Mussolini, and the entire Nazi cause. His stories were filled with caricatures of greedy Jews.

Fuck that Nazi sympathizer. I'd rather my kids watch Inglorious Basterds.

"See...thats what happens when people do bad things. Do we do bad things? Noooooo. Do we do good things? YES!"
posted by hal_c_on at 10:20 PM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


I judge the art. I judge the artist. The two are separate. I don't understand people who conflate them. Sure, we may see how the person's traits influence and inform their art and that is a subject fit for consideration, but the art stands alone. The person stands alone. I love Wagner.

And separately, you hate Wagner's music?

Sorry. Couldn't resist :-)
posted by -harlequin- at 10:41 PM on June 3, 2011


I'm sure he did say some unfortunate things, but the evidence seems flimsy that he was a terrible person

Then, during an interview touching on the controversial review, Dahl told a reporter, "There's a trait in the Jewish character that does provoke animosity ... I mean there is always a reason why anti-anything crops up anywhere; even a stinker like Hitler didn't just pick on them for no reason."[44] Dahl stated he was anti-Israel rather than anti-Semitic, and he maintained friendships with a number of Jews, including philosopher Isaiah Berlin, who said, "I thought he might say anything. Could have been pro-Arab or pro-Jew. There was no consistent line."[44] - wikipedia

To me that reads like a mixed up person with a tendency to make ill considered comments rather than a bastard.

Then the article said he used the word nigger in the 1920's, and he was a bit of a ladies man. It's just trying to build a house of cards. I'm not saying what he did was right, but it's just trying to make the case that he was a terrible person and fails. Childrens author's should be full of rainbows and chocolate unicorns but they're not oh no what are we going to do.
posted by Not Supplied at 11:59 PM on June 3, 2011


In the article Dahl is cast as '[a]n unhappy and bullied little boy' who 'in adulthood [...] longed for the kind of dominance he never achieved as a child:' a neat point, but undermined by the fact that, while at Repton, Dahl did some bullying of his own—with Denton Welch being a notable victim (source).
posted by misteraitch at 12:19 AM on June 4, 2011


Something about the tone of the article and a few accusations in this thread bother me, too, when I think of Dahl as a man roughly the age of my own grandparents. They also lived in England, and my grandfather fought in the war and nearly died on more than one occasion. My grandmother, when I visited her again in the 1990s, definitely made a few remarks that were not OK, like how Manchester was such a nice place "before all the darkies came." I know I'm not alone having grandparents with attitudes like this. Many of your own parents grew up in a time of racial segregation, and they didn't all march with Martin Luther King. Some of these attitudes come from ignorance, some are anachronistic. My grandmother was a product of her time, like Roald Dahl was. I certainly wouldn't be comfortable with anyone summing up my grandmother's life and all the wonderful things she did stressing only a few racist, ignorant comments she made.

Beyond that, it strikes me as tremendously privileged of anyone of my generation to accuse a man who risked his life actually fighting against the Nazis of being a Nazi sympathizer, especially when all the incriminating evidence appears to have taken place in the years prior to the war when the full extent of Hitler's evil was not yet known.
posted by Hoopo at 12:21 AM on June 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


Is funny someone mentions him as being played by Angus Scrimm, because I have met Mr. Scrimm. The discussion here lists a loved author being a reprehensible prick, whilst the case of Mr. Scrimm was, in my experience, a reprehensible prick being an incredibly nice, warm and charming person.
posted by Samizdata at 1:12 AM on June 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you're not wanting to read Roald Dahl books... don't. Read The Phantom Toolbooth. There. Way better! Problem solved.

Or the Neverending Story. You can read that one too.

Every human on the planet should find themselves alone in their flat, we need to call it a flat, on a rainy Sunday with nothing at all to do. They have these two books. They read them. That is the perfect Sunday.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 1:27 AM on June 4, 2011


Blatantly not reading the whole thread, but I did wish to say that when I was wee and I actually read some Roald Dahl books, they really squicked me out. There was a mean-spiritedness that I perceived in them that really bothered me. The real world is mean-spirited enough. 8-year-old me was happier not reading things that rubbed that in her face.

That's not about him as a person, just about what I perceived in his writing. But it wouldn't shock me if Mr. Dahl and I would not turn out to be the best of buddies if we met in a bar at some point.
posted by Because at 2:28 AM on June 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Dahl's writing always disturbed me, full as it is of grotesque torture and body horror. I'm not a fan.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 2:58 AM on June 4, 2011


Stephen Fry loves Wagner.
posted by acb at 3:22 AM on June 4, 2011


fearfulsymmetry: "Yeah, a guy in one of his stories had a cat called "Nigger-man", and I think that old HPL may have in real life.

That wasn't exactly unexceptional.
"

From the Wikipedia link:

Richard Todd, along with Jonathan Falconer, author of a book about the film, were interviewed on BBC Radio 4's Today programme in 2005 about the name of the dog and whether any remake of the film should retain the name.[8] Todd, in a pre-recorded interview, said:

With political correctness which is a new concept of a way of life in this country and I think all over the world it didn't exist when we made the original film so Nigger was Nigger, but nowadays you can't say that sort of thing.[8][9]

In response to being asked whether the name should be censored in a remake, Falconer said:

No. I think it's a question of historical accuracy here … the film and obviously the events are very much part of the time they were made in and took part in and so I think tinkering with the historical accuracy of the film and of the story is a very dangerous and slippery slope to start down.[8][10]

In response to being asked whether he thought people would accept this as historical accuracy, Falconer said:

Well they ought to. If they are being objective about it then I think they should accept it as historical accuracy, but I can understand why some people may find it offensive.[8][10]

In the same interview, George Baker, who also acted in the film, in response to being asked whether any opinion had been expressed on the name at the time that the film was made, said:

No, none at all. Political correctness wasn't even invented, and an awful lot of black dogs were called Nigger.[8][11]

Peter Jackson, producer of the remake that later began, said in 2006 that "It is not our intention to offend people. But really you are in a no-win, damned-if-you-do-and-damned-if-you-don't scenario: If you change it, everyone's going to whinge and whine about political correctness. And if you don't change it, obviously you are offending a lot of people inadvertently. … We haven't made any decisions about what we'll do."[4][12] Stephen Fry, writer for the remake, was asked to provide several alternative names for the dog, and came up with several suggestions. Executive producer David Frost rejected them all, saying "Guy sometimes used to call his dog Nigsy, so I think that's what we will call it. Stephen has been coming up with other names, but this is the one I want."[4][13] Jackson's assistant contradicted this a week later, however, saying "To stay true to the story, you can't just change [the name]. We have not made any decisions yet. The script is still being written; and that decision will be made closer to the time."[4]


Reminds me of the recent editing of Huck Finn.

In my personal opinion, the works are snapshots of the time. I don't believe that editing what was fact does anyone a service. Just a comment on the derail. Carry on.
posted by Splunge at 3:38 AM on June 4, 2011


Every copy of Mein Kampf in print today comes with a foreword explaining what the terrible consequences of the views Hitler expounds in its pages. Perhaps the same principe should apply equally to the works of other authors who were reprehensible human beings in real life, with Atlas Shrugged, The Call of Cthulhu and Charlie And The Chocolate Factory bearing similar forewords detailing their authors' failings?

Hmm. So far as I can tell, the primary thrust of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is that being well-mannered can take you a lot further in life than gluttony, greed, or an addiction to TV. I suppose one ought to warn children that, alas, being the greedy pig child of wealthy parents is actually a life advantage it's difficult to lose, no matter how hard you try, but I would prefer to leave them with some pleasant delusions of childhood, myself.

This is why you should pay attention to the /art/, not the artist. I don't want to know about that asshole Dave Sim, and I don't want to know about the asshole Dahl.

Given Dave Sim's rabid hatred of women is kind of hard not to notice in his work, it doesn't seem like the most apt comparison.
posted by rodgerd at 4:34 AM on June 4, 2011


I actually joined Metafilter to post this comment, after years of lurking. So that might give you some idea of how I feel about Dahl and his books.

I read Matilda when I was in second grade, at a time when I was reading absolutely everything I could get my hands on, a process that continued until I hit puberty (and noticed that I had missed a lot of valuable socialization because I was busy reading, but that's another story). Matilda completely blew my tiny mind. She was so smart, and so good, and she loved books even more than I did, and she ran circles around the terrible grown-ups around her. "The Reader of Books," as a chapter, probably had a greater influence on me than any single chapter in any work of fiction I've ever read. Dahl's vision of a brilliant little girl who loves books, who is guided by the wise voices of authors speaking to her across the ages, left a deep and indelible impression on me.

I loved the rest of his books (and I think it's worth remembering that the good children in Dahls' books, for all the terrible things and people they encounter, always end up being cared for by kind and loving people or insects: for all the Trunchbulls of the world, he wants us to know that there are still Miss Honeys out there), but Matilda was special to me. Whatever unpleasantness he may have been responsible for in his personal life (and I doubt that it was anything like as bad as this hit piece makes it out to be), he never let so much ugliness into his books that it was drowned out by the good in them.

Also, I was maybe nine before I admitted to myself that I probably couldn't get Matilda's superpowers if I just read enough books. That was a rough day.
posted by nonasuch at 5:26 AM on June 4, 2011 [13 favorites]


Dave Sim's rabid hatred of women is kind of hard not to notice in his work

Actually, that's not as clear cut as it might seem - although in prose pieces interspersed throughout the book (which I'm assuming is what you're talking about and which sadly do seem to come directly from the personality of the author) an overtly misogynistic thesis is (unconvincingly) prosecuted, within the story itself, the female characters are better formed and presented than in a lot of "acceptable" fiction and I think even comic-relief caricatures (such as Sophia) or ostensible villains (such as the real Cirin, though not so much the usurper) are sympathetically and intelligently portrayed. What comes through very strongly to me as important isn't so much Sim's hatred of women (which is, obviously, vocal later on in the book), but a tremendous self-loathing, which he directs at Cerebus (who represents him in the book). Sections such as Jaka's Story or Going Home or Guys are much subtler and intelligent than Sim's own representation of himself, and the offending prose passages, although shocking and unpleasant, form a much smaller part of the book than one might imagine from its reputation.

It's much more complicated and interesting than the Dave Sim == Asshole critique would suggest, though Sim's genuine assholeness, his inability to leave it out of the body of the text, and his appalling post-Cerebus vanity ultimately render the book as a curious piece of outsider art rather than an outstanding piece of fantasy, which for a very long time is what it seemed to be.
posted by Grangousier at 5:38 AM on June 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


(Or rather, shorter - if you were reading Cerebus up through Jaka's Story, you might not notice that Sim hated women at all, in fact it was perfectly rational to get the opposite impression).
posted by Grangousier at 5:40 AM on June 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


I named my cat after the character Matilda.[1] The book was excellent -- far better than the movie, which was not bad -- and I really do not remember any anti-Semitism or misogyny in it. Yes, Miss Trunchbull was an evil character, but Matilda wasn't, nor Miss Honey, and those were the three main characters. (The misogyny in many of his short stories for adults was there, but not in all of them. I still don't remember anti-Semitism.)


[2] Of course, my other cat is named after a convicted felon.
posted by jeather at 5:50 AM on June 4, 2011


Y'know, even when I was young (third or fourth grade), Roald Dahl's books made me uncomfortable in a way I couldn't quite define. I was such the stereotypical bookish little nerd, but when I read stuff like Matilda that explicitly glorified the brilliant child who defeats the evil and stupid adults, I reacted not with joyous recognition of my internal struggles, but with cynical disbelief, both that the children could win and that the adults were really that terrible; it felt like a cop-out, an easy solution, to say that grown-ups were just wrong, period. The end of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory made me unutterably sad, with the only way to happiness being just to flee and never look back.

It wasn't until much later that I was able to understand and articulate the fundamental darkness and pessimism that runs through those books, and I still feel very ambivalently toward them even as artifacts. I don't know that I would give them to my child to read; there are other books that are equally well-made that don't have that streak of viciousness. I mean, I always say that there is no such thing as too much cynicism, but Dahl's stuff seems to tilt over into full-fledged nihilism at times. While I can't say I regret reading the books, exactly, I can say that they bothered and upset me in a not-entirely-helpful way, so much so that I actively avoided him after the first three or four books I read and had to review them as an adult to understand why.
posted by Scattercat at 5:52 AM on June 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


This article seriously reads as if it was written by a jilted lover.

Kids aren't dumb, there is darkness in their worlds, pretending there isn't and tsk-tsking the darkness in Dahl's books as "not for kids" does a disservice to everyone.
posted by gjc at 5:58 AM on June 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


I agree that this is too hateful a piece to take very seriously. It's also incredibly uneven in tone. I've noticed, as an adult, the colonial baggage that characters like the Oompa Loompas carry, but as a child, the overwhelming thing I took away from all Dahl's books, was that in a usually nasty world, there is still room for the good, the right, and the wondrous. It surprises me that anyone can miss that.

Also, while he is without question an excellent writer, Rushdie *is* an insufferable opportunist; I can't say whether he is a dangerous one.
posted by bardophile at 6:01 AM on June 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Perhaps it's time for an updated version of HPL's The Rats In The Walls with the narrator's cat renamed to Hipster-Man?
posted by acb at 6:39 AM on June 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


w0mbat: What is this crap? Dahl was an allied war hero. The Nazis shot his plane down. He was big on Palestinian rights but that doesn't make him an anti Semite.
But the Nazis didn't shoot his plane down. He got hopelessly lost on a routine ferry flight and crashed when he ran out of petrol. As for his alleged "heroism," well, he was a serial confabulator throughout his life. Why should his own accounts of his wartime experiences have been exempt from this?
ovvl (quoting Wikipedia): Dahl saw his first aerial combat on 15 April 1941, while flying alone over the city of Chalcis. He attacked six Junkers Ju-88s that were bombing ships and shot one down. On 16 April in another air battle, he shot down another Ju-88.
OK. But the source for that is Dahl's own Going Solo, which is a member of that rather shabby genre, the old man's self-aggrandizing war memoir. Let's look at Dahl's account of that supposed first combat, shall we? Dahl, the naive yet brave ingenue, flying alone, encounters a flock of Ju88s. Applying the lessons from the crash course in deflection shooting he received the previous night from a Battle of Britain veteran, he succeeds in shooting one down. (The crew conveniently bail out, saving him from the taint of bloodlust.) He goes on to claim four more planes, a sum that just so happens to make him an "ace." Sounds like a boys' adventure story, doesn't it? Which, in fact, it probably is. Aviation historians Christopher Shores and Brian Cull attempted to verify Dahl's claims, but found that there was no matching loss in the German records. Similarly, if Dahl made a claim for it to his own squadron's intelligence officer, that claim has not survived.

Similarly, Shores and Cull show that the second bomber Dahl claims to have shot down was in fact downed by anti-aircraft fire from a merchant ship, though Dahl was probably flying close to it at the time. So, I don't think that the author's claims that Dahl's stories about his wartime exploits were "ludicrous" are that far out of line.
posted by Sonny Jim at 6:44 AM on June 4, 2011 [5 favorites]


I should add that I count myself and just about everyone I know amongst the asshole multitudes, just to be honest.

It would be a better world if everyone realized that they were part of the asshole multitudes.
posted by eriko at 8:37 AM on June 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Similarly, Shores and Cull show that the second bomber Dahl claims to have shot down was in fact downed by anti-aircraft fire from a merchant ship, though Dahl was probably flying close to it at the time

This is by no means uncommon. When you had multiple combatants in play, and you had weapons that wouldn't instantly destroy an aircraft, pretty much anybody who shot at a downed aircraft in the last minute before it went down would claim that they shot the plane down.

Look at all the people who claimed to have shot down Manfred von Richthofen. Current best guess is some AA Machine Gunner, but given the weapons of the time, it's just as possible that he was brought down by the "Golden BB" -- some infantry guy on the ground, annoyed at the planes, shoots vaguely at one of them and somehow manages to hit something vital and down the plane. In this case, the something vital was von Richthofen himself.
posted by eriko at 8:57 AM on June 4, 2011


It's important to teach kids a sense of history: "people believed different things in the past." As a kid I enjoyed E. Nesbit (who was highly progressive for her time -- a Fabian socialist) and H. G. Wells, but I understood (in part because I read reprints of the original editions of Nesbit that looked old-fashioned, with the original typeface and illustrations) that these authors had written a long time ago, and that such views are now out of date. It took me longer to unpack the British nostalgia in Nesbit's historical time-travel books, such as The House of Arden and Harding's Luck, her most Marty Sue novels.

It bothers me much more to find xenophobic views reappearing in J. K. Rowling (e.g., the depiction of Snape as almost a stereotype Jew/Arab in appearance, or of the foreign schools and wizards, or the house-elves).

It also bothers me to find such views in Dahl because younger children are going to be reading Dahl (I was ten or twelve when reading Nesbit) and Dahl is so timeless.

FWIW, I am American. Are "archaic" social views somehow more acceptable in the UK, or thought to be more acceptable by Americans? I don't believe the former, but I would readily believe the latter, that some Americans think of Great Britain as some kind of heritage nostalgia trip and expect to find colonialist Oompa-Loompas along with treacle pudding and Bath buns and "God Save the Queen."
posted by bad grammar at 4:27 PM on June 4, 2011


I had a teacher in 3rd grade who read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to our class. She parceled the chapters out carefully, the way Charlie parceled out his birthday chocolate. Never before had I been so utterly gripped by a book, and I requested a hardcover copy for my next birthday. It was the beginning of a love affair with books that has lasted since, and for that fact alone I am willing to forgive Dahl his many, many failings. But then, I did not have to live with the man.

The walls of museums are hung with the work of many unpleasant, even insane, artists. Does their origin make them less beautiful? I often wonder what, if any, great artwork we will see once every personality disorder, psychosis and bad mood has been drugged away. Would a contented Van Gogh have bothered to paint? Would a relaxed and happy Roald Dahl have written things others wished to read?
posted by kinnakeet at 7:26 PM on June 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


From Saki (the king of dyspeptic stories whose premature death condemned General Haig, Kaiser Wilhelm and the like to the lowest depths of literary Hell, there forever forced to read Tom Clancy and Dan Brown)

"Once upon a time," began the bachelor, "there was a little girl called Bertha, who was extra-ordinarily good."

The children's momentarily-aroused interest began at once to flicker; all stories seemed dreadfully alike, no matter who told them.

"She did all that she was told, she was always truthful, she kept her clothes clean, ate milk puddings as though they were jam tarts, learned her lessons perfectly, and was polite in her manners."

"Was she pretty?" asked the bigger of the small girls.

"Not as pretty as any of you," said the bachelor, "but she was horribly good."

There was a wave of reaction in favour of the story; the word horrible in connection with goodness was a novelty that commended itself. It seemed to introduce a ring of truth that was absent from the aunt's tales of infant life.

posted by atrazine at 6:24 AM on June 5, 2011


Perhaps we could not mix artists being unpleasant -- which, in this discussion and the one about Naipaul seem to be code for racist and misogynist -- and being mentally ill? Being an asshole is one thing; being sick is another. You can be just one, or neither, or both.

A contented van Gogh -- if contented is the right word -- might have painted, and painted more as he wouldn't have committed suicide. Maybe they would have been better, or worse, or just different. I'm never entirely sure that art should trump happiness -- had artists like van Gogh, or Plath, or Sexton, etc, been given the choice, would they have taken sanity at the risk (but not certainty) that they would have stopped writing? Not everyone would have, but I think some people would.
posted by jeather at 7:51 AM on June 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


I always liked the dark streak in Dahl's books. It seemed more honest than Blyton or The Babysitter's Club. Perhaps it depends on the kind of adults you had to deal with as a child.
posted by harriet vane at 12:38 AM on June 6, 2011


OnTheLastCastle: "Or the Neverending Story. You can read that one too."

Dunno. Never been able to finish that one.
posted by Samizdata at 8:00 AM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


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