Top dads in Roald Dahl books

Posted by
The Roald Dahl Museum
Posted on
10:00am, 17th June
Danny, Fantastic Mr Fox, George, Matilda, The BFG
Page from Roald Dahl Archive

As Father’s day approaches we thought we'd take a look at the role of fathers in Roald Dahl’s books

Their characters and parenting vary from brilliant to awful. The dads that feature in Roald Dahl’s work, from Matilda to Danny the Champion of the World, always bring entertainment, be it as an adventurous, daring father or a terrible, foul one who eventually gets his due.

Roald Dahl descibed Danny the Champion of the World as a "story about a father and his son, and the love they have for each other''. Throughout the book we see their relationship change but always remain a caring and trusting one. Roald Dahl wrote Danny's dad to be the best dad he could be: "My father, without the slightest doubt, was the most marvellous and exciting father any boy ever had".

Roald Dahl sadly lost his father when he was only three years old, but had five children of his own and he thought making your child's life exciting, interesting and magical was a crucial role of every parent. There are obvious similarities between the character of Danny's father William in Danny the Champion of the World and its author. The book is set in Buckinghamshire, where Roald Dahl lived, they share a love of great storytelling, the caravan Roald Dahl had in his garden inspired Danny's home and the fire balloons he created with his children are recreated in the book. 

Danny through the course of the book comes to understand through his father, that "grown ups are complicated creatures, full of quirks and secrets" and they come to rely upon one another and work together. 

This support between a child and his parent often occurs in Roald Dahl's books. George’s dad in George's Marvellous Medicine is similar in his encouragement of his son and his escapades, "a kind father to George" though somewhat excitable, they too end up working together to try and recreate the magical medicine. Mr Kranky expresses his pride for his young son "It's a pleasure dear fellow, to watch you work!".

For Fantastic Mr Fox, his children’s safety is the most important thing. "What fine children I have," he thinks, "they are starving to death and they haven't had a drink for three days, but they are still undefeated. I must not let them down." They overcome their hopeless situation together, ending in a celebration the father and his children helped to achieve.

Not all fathers are portrayed as such wonderful personalities and characters. Unfortunately we also have Mr. Wormwood, here is an example of how a father shouldn’t be. In the first draft of Matilda (or ‘The Miracle Child’ as it was original titled) her father was a normal yet despairing father, coping with his difficult daughter Matilda the "wickedest child in the world". As Roald Dahl revised the book Matilda became nicer and her father more grotesque. So, the Mr. Wormwood we have in the version we all know is a beastly father, the opposite of Danny’s. He is critical and never inspires or recognises Matilda’s brilliance, "Matilda longed for her parents to be good and loving and understanding and honourable and intelligent. The fact they were none of these things was something she had to put up with". Matilda eventually escapes her parents and find a more maternal figure in her teacher Miss Honey.

Through William's storytelling in Danny the Champion of the World we are introduced to the BFG, a paternal figure for the orphaned Sophie, who "loved him as she would a father". Like Danny and his father they help and listen to and learn from one another. Roald Dahl first imagined the story whilst creating bedtime stories for his children and they recalled that he even climbed up to their window afterwards to blow dreams through a bamboo cane into their room. Many of his books started this way, as stories he created for his children.   

The final page of Danny the Champion of the World has a message to children who read the book:

When you grow up and have children of your own do please remember something important, a stodgy parent is no fun at all.  What a child wants and deserves is a parent who is SPARKY.

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