"It’s a funny thing about mothers and fathers. Even when their own child is the most disgusting little blister you could ever imagine, they still think that he or she is wonderful."
As UK Mother’s Day approaches, here at Roald Dahl HQ we have been thinking about the tremendous part that mothers play in their children’s lives. Roald Dahl’s mother encouraged him to write, and she became his first reader through the imaginative letters he sent her. But Roald Dahl’s books also remind us that it’s a day to celebrate unconventional mother-figures too.
Matilda, who was perched on a tall stool at the kitchen table, ate her bread and jam slowly. She did so love these afternoons with Miss Honey. She felt completely comfortable in her presence, and the two of them talked to each other more or less as equals.
Matilda loves playing pranks, but these are usually on her uncaring parents. The first person to truly understand Matilda and her talent is actually her teacher, Miss Honey. Miss Honey encourages Matilda to explore her interests and unfolding powers. In return, Matilda harnesses these powers for good and eventually both she and Miss Honey find the loving family they have both been looking for in each other.
She looked up at James, and she smiled, and James smiled back at her. They sat down on the deck together, both of them chewing away happily.
After James’s parents are run over by a rhinocerous in London zoo, and he escapes his horrid aunts, he develops a very sweet relationship with the Ladybird. She cares from him, encourages his grand ideas to get the peach out of trouble, and keeps everyone in line when the other insects are causing mayhem!
'You stay where you is in my pocket, huggybee,’ he said. ‘We is doing this lovely bit of buckswashling both together.’
Sophie never knew her parents, but she and the BFG look after one another. He coins affectionate nicknames for her like ‘my little huggybee’ and promises to look after her in scary and dangerous Giant Country. In return, Sophie teaches him to read, and by the end of the book the BFG becomes like both a father and a mother to her.
I think that all the love he had felt for my mother when she was alive he now lavished upon me. During my early years, I never had a moment’s unhappiness or illness.
Danny loses his mother at a young age, and so his father became both Mum and Dad to Danny. He washed him, fed him, changed his nappies and did all the other million things parents do for their children, while also being the sole breadwinner! As Danny grows up, he and his father become even closer, and he helps his father with just about everything, including a fantastic new poaching trick!
When she and I were together we spoke in either Norwegian or in English. It didn’t matter which. We were equally fluent in both languages, and I have to admit that I felt closer to her than to my mother.
Grandma is certainly a brave and formiddable character. A retired witchophile, it's her warnings to her grandson that keep him alert to the dangers posed by the Witches. When his brush with The Grand High Witch leaves him forever changed - she doesn't flinch and her love for him doesn’t change at all.
It is generally believed that the boy’s grandmother is heavily modelled on Roald’s own mother, who was fiercely protective, marching to his teacher’s house in anger after Roald had been given the cane.
Fearless, brave and by many accounts very funny, Roald described his own mother as ‘the single largest influence on my life’. He invites the readers of Boy to consider how despite being widowed at a young age and living in a foreign country with five young children, Sofie Magdalene remained a figure of strength. Despite these challenges, she encouraged her children to do whatever they loved and so they all grew up with a strong sense of independence and adventure. Their bond was unshakeable and after she passed away, Roald discovered that she had kept every single letter that she ever wrote to him, letters which can now be read in the collection Love from Boy.
It is lovely to think that many of the talents that Roald Dahl’s mother helped him develop are ones that quietly contributed his best-loved children's novels.
Maybe you have a mother, or an aunt or a grandmother you want to acknowledge this Mother’s Day, or maybe you have someone else, who doesn’t seem like a traditional Mum, but is the best mother you could ask for! So let's say a big thank you to them all!