The sweet scents of rural life infuse this collection of Roald Dahl's country stories, but there is always something unexpected lurking in the undergrowth...
Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life brings together seven of Roald Dahl's short stories set in and around the Buckinghamshire countryside where Roald lived. The collection was first published in 1989, but all of the stories were originally written in the late 1940s. They are based on Roald's experiences with his friend Claud, a man who lived in the nearby town of Amersham. Claud was an experienced poacher and shared Roald's passion for "gambling in small amounts on horses and greyhounds."
From troublesome cows to rat-infested hayricks to maggot farming, Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life brings the tales of everyday country folk and their strange passions wonderfully to life. And many of the characters that feature in this collection went on to inspire and appear in other stories: there's Parson's Pleasure, which features an antiques dealer and bogus clergyman called Boggis, later the name of one of the farmers in Fantastic Mr Fox. And Danny's dad, the filling-shop owner with some ingenious methods for catching pheasants from Danny the Champion of the World, makes an early appearance inThe Champion of the World.
The seven stories in the collection are:
The Big Friendly Giant is unlike other giants. For a start, he doesn't like to eat people and it's not long before he becomes orphan Sophie's very best friend.
The BFG was written in 1982. The idea for the story had begun several years before, with a sentence scribbled in one of Roald Dahl's Ideas Books - exercise books he used to write down some of the thoughts that came to him and were sometimes later turned into stories. Just like The BFG.
The idea of a giant who captured dreams and kept them in bottles for children to enjoy while they were asleep was one Roald had been thinking about for some time. In Danny the Champion of the World, he was the character in a bedtime story Danny's father told him. And Roald had even told the story of The Big Friendly Giant to his own children, climbing up on a ladder outside his daughters' bedroom and using a bamboo cane to pretend to blow happy dreams in through their window.
In The BFG, the dream-hunting giant takes orphan Sophie - named after Roald's first grandchild - back to his cave in Giant Country, where he lives surrounded by nine other fearsome giants who spend every night guzzling down humans. Or, as the giants call them, human beans.The BFG speaks in quite a turned-around way, but we always understand him. His language is called gobblefunk. He tells Sophie:
"Words...is oh such a twitch-tickling problem to me all my life. So you must simply try to be patient and stop squibbling. As I am telling you before, I know exactly what words I am wanting to say, but somehow or other they is always getting squiff-squiddled around."
Roald wrote down a whole list of words The BFG might use, including "whoppsy-whiffling" and "squeakpip". This list of words and the Ideas Books are now housed in the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre in Roald's home town of Great Missenden - and the Museum is also just down the road from a house that inspired the orphanage The BFG snatches Sophie from in the story.
The BFG won the Federation of Children's Book Groups Award in 1982. In 1989 it was turned into an animated film featuring the voice of David Jason. More than 30 years later, The BFG remains a much-loved character. And of all his stories, Roald Dahl said that The BFG was probably his own favourite.
The unadulterated childhood - sad and funny, macabre and delightful - that inspired Britain's favourite storyteller, Boy speaks of an age which vanished with the coming of the Second World War.
Boy: Tales of Childhood, published in 1984, is a funny, insightful and at times grotesque glimpse into the early life of Roald Dahl. In it, he tells us about his experiences at school in England, the idyllic paradise of summer holidays in Norway, and the pleasures and pains of the local sweetshop in Llandaff, Wales.
The story of how Roald came to write Boy is almost a tale in itself. It started with The Witches. In an early draft of that book, which has an unnamed young boy with a Norwegian grandmother as its narrator, there were three chapters that went into great detail about the boy's childhood. These chapters were actually drawn from Roald's own memories. So the boy in The Witches had a lot in common with his author.
An editor called Stephen Roxburgh was working with Roald at the time, and he thought that those three chapters belonged somewhere else. He suggested to Roald that he might like to re-use them in a book about his own early childhood. Roald did not want to write an autobiography but he thought that this was a very good idea. As he said himself in the introduction to Boy: "This is not an autobiography. I would never write a history of myself. On the other hand, throughout my young days at school and just afterwards a number of things happened to me that I have never forgotten."
And so, a year after The Witches, along came Boy, with its tales of boazers, goat's tobacco and the dreaded Mrs Pratchett.
Nobody has seen Willy Wonka - or inside his amazing chocolate factory - for years. When he announces plans to invite the winners of five Golden Tickets hidden inside the wrappers of chocolate bars to visit his factory, the whole world is after those tickets!
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is perhaps Roald Dahl’s best-known story. The story of Charlie Bucket, the five Golden Tickets, the Oompa-Loompas and the amazing Mr Willy Wonka has become firmly embedded in our culture since it was first published in 1964. Conservative estimates suggest the original book has sold over 20 million copies worldwide; it is now available in 55 languages.
Roald Dahl began working on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in 1961 shortly after finishing James and the Giant Peach, but its origins can be traced all the way back to Roald's own childhood. In Boy he tells us how, while at school in England, he and his fellow Repton students were engaged as 'taste testers' for a chocolate company - something that seems to have started him thinking about chocolate factories and inventing rooms long before Mr Wonka was on the scene. But when he came to write Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the story went through several drafts - for example, at first Charlie was one of ten children to enter the factory. Roald re-drafted three or four times until the story as we now know it was released in 1964.
Since its release Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which Roald dedicated to his son Theo, has proved to be one of the most enduring children’s books of all time. The story has reached all corners of the world and even unearthed a real-life Willy Wonka, who sent Roald a letter in 1971 - the year the first film adaptation of the book was released.
Roald wrote the screenplay for the film release of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, starring Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka. It was a process that came with some difficulties but the film went on to become a classic, with its now-iconic depictions of many of the story's key elements, from Golden Tickets to Everlasting Gobstoppers. In 2005, 15 years after Roald’s death, renowned filmmaker Tim Burton released his own adaptation of the book. His Charlie and the Chocolate Factory starred Johnny Depp as Willy Wonka. In 2010 The Golden Ticket - an opera based on the story, composed by Peter Ash with libretto by Donald Sturrock - premiered in St. Louis, Missouri, USA. And, in 2013, a new musical production opened in London’s West End, directed by Sam Mendes and starring Douglas Hodge as Mr Wonka.
In 2014 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory celebrates its 50th anniversary. As part of the many events planned to mark this special occasion, author Lucy Mangan will be taking a look at how the story of Charlie has become a story itself in a new book that will take us all inside the Chocolate Factory, published in September 2014.
Willy Wonka has asked Charlie and the rest of the Bucket family to live with him. Now, moments after Charlie and the Chocolate Factory ended, we rejoin the adventure as the Great Glass Elevator blasts into outer space...
Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator is the sequel to one of the best-loved stories in children's literature. Published eight years after Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in 1972, it continues the story of Charlie Bucket, his family and the amazing Mr Willy Wonka. The book was dedicated to Roald's daughters Tessa, Ophelia and Lucy.
At first, Roald Dahl thought the word 'elevator' was too American, but the British word 'lift' seemed too boring. 'Air machine' was considered, but 'elevator' came out top in the end, although it is called a lift in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
The most fantasmagorical musical entertainment in the history of everything!
Released in 1968, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is a musical film adaptation loosely based on Ian Fleming's children's book of the same name. It was the second of Fleming's books Roald Dahl had adapted after working on the James Bond film You Only Live Twice - or the third, if you also count the fact that Fleming had given Roald the idea for the short story Lamb to the Slaughter.
Roald and director Ken Hughes worked on the script for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Albert "Cubby" Broccoli - with whom Roald had also worked with on You Only Live Twice - produced the film. Much of the action was filmed in Turville, a small English village in the Buckinghamshire countryside, not far from Roald's home in Great Missenden.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang tells the story of two children, Jeremy and Jemima Potts. They live with their widowed father, inventor Caractacus Potts. On a day when they should be in school they meet Truly Scrumptious, the daughter of major confectionery-maker Lord Scrumptious and owner of a motorcar which the Potts' nickname Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Later, Caractacus tells them a story about a fictional country called Vulgaria and its evil rulers, Baron and Baroness Bomburst, who have imprisoned all Vulgaria's children and want to steal Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. In the story, Baron Bomburst kidnaps the Potts' children's grandfather, mistakenly believing he is the magical car's inventor. Jeremy, Jemima, Truly and Caractacus travel to Vulgaria to rescue him but when they arrive, Jeremy and Jemima fall foul of the Baron's evil Child Catcher, played in the film by Robert Helpmann.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is now an established favourite, recognised as a classic family film. The character of the Child Catcher does not appear in Fleming's original book and is usually recognised as Roald's creation. A sinister and frightening figure, he is often described as one of the most terrifying movie villains more than 40 years after the film's release.
Roald Dahl's Cookbook, liberally spiced with lively anecdotes, recreates the many wonderful meals that have been enjoyed by the Dahl family and their friends around the farmhouse table at Gipsy House.
Originally published in 1991 as Memories with Food at Gipsy House, Roald Dahl's Cookbook was written during the last year of Roald's life. He and his wife, Felicity "Liccy" Dahl, put the book together. It includes hundreds of recipes created by Liccy, Roald, their family and friends, and several cooks who worked with the Dahl family over the years.
But Roald Dahl's Cookbook is not just a recipe book. It is a real insight into the Dahl's family life with photos, illustrations by Quentin Blake, and, of course, wonderful stories. There's Roald's long chapter on chocolate, including a potted history of what he called the "seven glorious years" of chocolate revolution. There's a tribute to his mother, Sofie Magdalene Hesselberg. And there are tales told by Roald's wife and his children that give us just a little taste of what life in the Dahl family was like.
After his death Liccy Dahl set up the Roald Dahl Foundation, now known as Roald Dahl's Marvellous Children's Charity, in Roald's memory. All the royalties from Roald Dahl's Cookbook go to the charity, which works to make life better for seriously ill children.
Danny lives with his dad in a caravan at the edge of the wood. He thinks his dad is the best father in the world. But Danny doesn't know everything, and even his brilliant dad has secrets...
Like Fantastic Mr Fox, Danny, the Champion of the World was partially inspired by the Buckinghamshire countryside where Roald Dahl lived, from the filling station Danny's dad runs - based on the now-abandoned Red Pump Garage on Great Missenden High Street - to the woods where his dad gets trapped trying to poach pheasants belonging to Mr Victor Hazell. There are other real-life inspirations, too - the caravan Danny and his dad live in is based upon a real Romany gipsy caravan Roald acquired in the 1960s that was used as a playroom for the Dahl children. The book is dedicated to the whole family: Roald's then-wife, Patricia Neal, and his children Tessa, Theo, Ophelia and Lucy.
Danny, the Champion of the World, published in 1975, also features characters that make an appearance in other Roald Dahl stories, some older and some that were then yet-to-be written. Danny's dad, for example, first pops up in some of Roald's short stories for adults written as far back as the 1940s, and later published in the 1989 collection Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life. There was even one short story called The Champion of the World.
There are other interesting similarities - and differences. In Danny, the Champion of the World, Danny's father is called William (a name we first hear him called by local doctor and fellow pheasant-enthusiast Doc Spencer), but in the short stories that led to the creation of his character, he is called Gordon. A Mr Hazel (with one 'l' as opposed to two) also appears in some of the stories in the Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life collection. And perhaps most interestingly, the character of the BFG makes his first appearance in Danny, the Champion of the World in a bedtime story told to Danny by his father.
A 1989 film version of Danny, the Champion of the World starred Jeremy Irons as Danny's dad. In this version, he is named William Smith and the film's action takes place in 1955, as opposed to the original book's 1970s setting. Other than these changes, the film follows the book's plot closely.
The Dirty Beasts are truly horrid. There's the rumbling Tummy Beast, a not-as-stupid-as-he-looks pig, and the oh-so-vile Crocky-Wock the crocodile...
Dirty Beasts was published in 1983 and, with Revolting Rhymes, is another of Roald Dahl's classic collections of comic verse for children. In the nine poems included there are a host of wicked creatures getting up to some extraordinary things...
In 2012 the London Philharmonic Orchestra commissioned composer and conductor Benjamin Wallfisch to compose new orchestral works based on three of the poems included in Dirty Beasts. The world premiere of the pieces - The Anteater, The Porcupine and The Toad and the Snail - takes place in spring 2014.
The nine poems included in Dirty Beasts are:
Crocodiles are such greedy creatures - and their favourite lunchtime snack happens to be a juicy child or two! The Enormous Crocodile isn't as smart as he thinks though, so he had better watch out...
As a young man, Roald Dahl lived in Africa. Not only did he have to avoid hungry crocodiles, but also marauding monkeys and deadly snakes. These experiences remained with him, and he remembered them when he came to write The Enormous Crocodile many years later.
The Enormous Crocodile was first published in 1978. It was the first book Roald wrote for younger children, and it was also the first of his stories to be illustrated by Quentin Blake - marking the beginning of a now legendary partnership.
Saying things backwards can make magic happen. Just ask Mr Hoppy and Mrs Silver! Esio Trot is the story of a very shy man and a very kind woman, and a small tortoise called Alfie who brings them together.
Esio Trot is a story about shy Mr Hoppy and his love for his neighbour, Mrs Silver. It was one of Roald Dahl's last stories and is dedicated to two of his grandchildren, Clover and Luke.
In the story Mrs Silver has a tortoise called Alfie who she loves very much. By 1990, when Esio Trot was published, it was no longer possible to buy a tortoise in a local pet-shop due to a law that had been passed in order to protect the tortoises. Roald explained all this in the introduction to the story, saying: "The things you are going to read about in this story all happened in the days when anyone could go out and buy a nice little tortoise from a pet-shop."
Esio Trot was a favourite of Roald's principal illustrator Quentin Blake and in 2013 a new audio version of the story was released - with Quentin as the narrator.