21 February 2021 476 Views

Stop Dissing Roald Dahl!

by James Murphy

There is a new tv movie about one of our greatest writers. I have not seen it. I will therefore not review it. But..

Revisionism can be great when it is considered, investigative history. Not so good when it’s yet another look at a once revered figure, whose cultural contributions require some sort of retrospective reinvention. So it is with Roald Dahl.

Now, I would never review something I have not watched. That would be irrational, immature and at odds with even the amateur nature of a blog, let alone any kind of professional writing. 

I also love Keeley Hawes, cast as Dahl’s wife. But does she have to be in EVERYTHING? Answer: no. Though I dare say she’s a great Doctor Who in waiting. By contrast, I have far fewer reserves of respect for the man they cast as Dahl. Roald would be amused from beyond the grave. That said: each to their own. 

A kind of media double standard is at work. Netflix even wants an entire shared universe of Roald properties for a new, animated series? Fine. Done before but fine.

It’s a BIT at odds with the other side of the climate though. Dahl’s estate had to issue a kind of apology for perceived anti-Semitism. I do not believe he was a racist. Or even a sexist.

It would be nice if just one movie /show / article were to focus on what he achieved, rather than the drawbacks to his methods in doing so. 

The man fought Nazis. HE FLEW PLANES IN ACTION. What we forget, as with the attacks of late on Churchill, is that in order to fight, let alone win that war? Compromises of language and ethos had to be forged.

One could say something observational about a group and however repellent that sentiment, even then, the fact is that, if you opposed the ultimate iteration of evil (Nazis) and were willing to die for that principle?

Then what you ‘said’ was indeed cancelled by the risk invested in what you did.

See also: Ian Fleming and countless other military personnel who articulated a creative side in the aftermath of war. Fairy Tales for a then new idiom of survival. A childlike sense of mischief in service of a great ideal and in reaction to the most brutal evils ever seen by humanity. That same ethic of weaponised darkness to protect the light is present in most of Dahl’s sometimes adolescent offerings.

They remain however morality tales and consistently compelling. Which is why, no doubt, our now more careful age wishes to still draw upon the imagery, whilst simultaneously shooting down the talent and layered ethics from which the work was born.

To be clear, I am not saying that racist, sexist or homophobic comments can be justified by their context. Even then, some must have known it was not ok? But equally, if was the idiom of the time and one had to function within said system, somehow?

And if that same logic did not lead to the moral syllogisms of today (bad comment = nazi = instant cancellation?), then there is a case for letting it pass and simply enjoying the work, relative to its timeless moral motifs and eternal imagery. Especially if one is continuing to copy it and profit from the enterprise.

It’s about being fair. Same way it would be unfair to review something one had not watched, so I haven’t. 😉 

ps: when will they adapt MY UNCLE OSWALD?! It’s Dahl’s best and worst at once. 



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