The Dark Side of Roald Dahl

The beloved author may have held offensive views, but we can still find redeeming messages in his books

BY: Interview with Kris Rasmussen


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Was Dahl's personal background a factor in your decision to do the project?

Yes, because I knew that there was an interesting angle to examine that hadn't been done in this kind of book before. But it could have been a reason for my publisher, which is an independent Christian publishing house, to avoid the book, because up until this point they have really have only examined the themes in relatively overtly Christian work. But Tyndale wanted to do it and gave me a lot of freedom in writing the book, even though I warned them about Dahl's history.

Can you give an example of how you intertwine Scripture and Wonka?

I look at the tension between hunger and satisfaction quite a bit in the book. Augustus, Veruca, Mike Teavee, and all of the other people trying to win the Golden Ticket are trying to fill themselves up with something, but none of them acts very happy or fulfilled. They only want more. and more. and more. From a Biblical perspective, that is certainly a dilemma we see in our society today--trying to fill a spiritual hunger with more material things, or with status or success--and still feeling empty.

I also write about how the first four Golden Ticket winners are actually symbolic of four of the proverbial seven deadly sins--gluttony, envy, pride, sloth. This comes through even stronger in Tim Burton's adaptation of Charlie, in my opinion. He plays that up quite a bit.

Back to Roald Dahl: Do you think parents or teachers should bring up this tension between the man and his work and discuss it with kids or teens?

As an educator myself, I think with younger children--say fifth grade or younger--it is not such a good idea. I think it is okay to let them enjoy the story for whatever they find on their own in it. We don't need to go out of our way to ruin any illusions.

However, with teenagers and pre-teens, I think this is a great opportunity to help them enjoy a story while also developing their discernment. It's okay to revisit a story they loved as a child and get something new out of it. We should encourage that. By introducing facts about Dahl into a discussion, for example, teens who are bombarded with media every day can learn to ask questions about the people behind the creation of that media--books, movies, whatever it is--so they can begin to make their own decisions about what they should read or watch.

In the case of discussing Dahl and his work, I think there is an opportunity for all of us to acknowledge the dark places that exist in the human heart, but not to dismiss the humanity because of it and not to ignore the possibilities for God's truth to break through in spite of the darkness.

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