Today is Roald Dahl Day — he was born on September 13, 1916 — and what everyone is remembering are his magnificent children's stories. As a children's author, he was clearly the greatest genius who has ever tried the form. He wrote nearly a dozen classics that have entertained several generations. For parents, they are a godsend — sharply written, mordantly hilarious, and engrossing. And there are so many of them like that: Matilda, James and the Giant Peach, Fantastic Mr. Fox, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Returning to these books in adulthood is one of the great pleasures of having kids.
Much less well-known are Roald Dahl's stories for adults, which are equally sublime. There are several reasons Dahl's adult work never exploded like his children's stories. For one, he was the world's unluckiest writer, having supportive editors dying on him and kids with heart problems who needed to be cared for. And for another, their style wasn't very fashionable. They are "twist of the tale" stories — in the tradition of Saki, O. Henry, Rudyard Kipling, and Robert Louis Stevenson. As he was writing them, literary fiction was turning away from such plot tricks and indeed from any affect at all. He was the master of an archaic form.
But that doesn't mean they can't be enjoyed now. Maybe his greatest story of all, "The Landlady," is available free online. Since the man has his day today, why not waste this afternoon the best way you can, with his warm and brilliant and beguiling nastiness?
For added entertainment, read about Dahl was a real-life, James Bond-style spy.