Roald Dahl's reflections on October

Posted by
Tilly Burn, Archive Assistant at the Roald Dahl Museum
Posted on
8:00am, 11th October
Twisted trees in Great Missenden

Trees, glorious trees!

October for Roald Dahl is the wonderful mid-point in autumn, where trees are bending under the weight of apples, pears and plums. In the October chapter for My Year Roald not only describes his fruit trees, but all kinds of trees you can view in a typical English hedgerow and divulges a bit of his nature knowledge:

They say that the more different trees you can count in a hedge, the older the hedge is.

When growing up Roald climbed his fair share of trees. As a child he clambered up trees to rescue footballs, and he didn’t stop climbing when he was an adult. In 1938 when he was 22 Roald moved to Dar-Es-Salaam in Tanzania to work for Shell oil. He had to do some work whilst he was there, but that didn’t stop him from making grand plans for the trees outside this house.

In one letter home to his Mama, Sofie Magdalene, in 1939 he describes a “marvellous” baobab tree he found. Despite the enormous branches of the tree – some with a circumference as big as Sofie’s dining-room table – Roald had plans. In the letter he explains that he’s going to build a little house in the boughs, and throw parties there after sundown. 

A hand written letter

Above: a letter Roald Dahl wrote home in 1939.

This treehouse, and others he must have built or played in as a child, was probably the inspiration for the treehouse the Boy builds in his back garden in The Witches, along with his friend Timmy. The Boy describes the treehouse he builds in his conker tree, “like being in a big green cave”. The Boy meets his very first witch from this treehouse and manages to scramble to safety to avoid being caught.

Roald had a huge orchard of around 5 acres around the back of his house, and he could see these fruit trees through the window of his Writing Hut. This orchard was a great inspiration to him, providing him with the spark he needed to write his very first children’s book – James and the Giant Peach.

there’s a lot of apple trees around here, and fruit trees and, and you can watch them in through the summer growing bigger and bigger from tiny little apples to bigger ones and bigger – and, and it seemed to me an obvious thought, I mean what would happen if it didn’t stop growing?

Apple trees grow beautiful blossoms in spring, and they might have inspired the flowers of the tinkle-tinkle tree. These pink and purple flowers are the only things a Geraneous Giraffe, like the one in The Giraffe and the Pelly and me, can eat. Roald would definitely have planted one if he could.

He didn’t feed a giraffe, but he did feed the local children. In My Year, Roald writes about how children used to come and pick as much fruit as they wanted every year. Sadly, children were no longer coming to pick apples by 1990 when Roald wrote My Year.

So, if you want to make Roald happy you should climb trees and pick fruit, although you should probably get permission first!

Go on a My Year walk