On the Blinding, Sometimes Terrifying Literary Magic of Roald Dahl

When have I not loved Roald Dahl? Pretty much never, is the answer. And yet, this is the most clobbering collection of stories of his I’ve ever heard. Deeply, sometimes darkly, compelling stories, read with nearly supernatural prowess by Andrew Scott.

One takeaway for me: this modern multimedia world we live in is smeared full of manufactured stories about brand-name characters: Luke, Leia, Harry, Hermione, etc.

Dahl doesn’t need these constructs. In fact, I can’t think of a single Roald Dahl story that has a sequel. Maybe you can.

He grabs you with seemingly run-of-the-mill humans (only not), placed in extraordinary, unforgettable situations. Truly engaging for any age, these stories are intense, to be sure. “The Swan” in particular, is hella dark; almost more than one can stand (and I’d be lying if I said Lucy and I didn’t both privately wring our hands over the abject cruelty of the antagonists, furtively glancing to the dark back seat of our car, only to see our eight year old daughter utterly rapt, as we zoomed along a nighttime highway.

As my concern rose, I reassured myself with one thing I felt like I know about Roald Dahl, having read so many of his stories over many years: when it comes to protagonists — I don’t care if it’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, or The Witches, or James and the Giant Peach or Matilda, he may heap shocking cruelty and misery on his protagonists, but they always win. Just when you are certain they will not.

And that is why Roald Dahl is likely my favorite storyteller ever. I cannot recommend The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More highly enough for car listening, for a family. But be warned: It will challenge you, and maybe even shock you. You will become invested in his characters — the good ones and the bad ones. And the bad ones can be very bad. But right after the dizzying crescendo of each, you will probably think what we did: Damn, that was an incredible story.

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