One of the first books I ever remember reading was Roald Dahl's "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory". If you look past is sugary exterior, there's a grimness at the heart of the book - and I still argue there's never been a better anti-hero than Willy Wonka himself, who I recognised as a child as not quite a hero, but neither a villain too.
Wonka exists between the simple "black and white" of normal fictional children's characters. Unlike Peter Pan, he's not a clear cut hero - but he's no monster like Captain Hook either. That fascinated me as a child; because Dahl wasn't talking down to his audience, pretending the world's a clear cut place. He encouraged us, as readers (and children) to see past all that, and opened our eyes to a new world of possibility.
As I said, Dahl's books are incredibly dark - and share a similiar black humour to Grimm's Faery Tales. Even now, watching his "Tales of the Unexpected" series it's easy to see that Dahl both adored and hated this world. Before Tim Burton brought gothic style to the mainstream of the 1980s and 90s, Dahl got there first.
If you've ever read a Rhoal Dahl book you'll know what I mean. As a child, they are some of the darkest things you could ever possibly read - but it works, because they're brilliant too. As an adult they lose none of their charm, so if you've never picked up a Dahl book I'd encourage you to do so, even now at such an adult age.
The reason for this post is simple; I was reading a piece of Dahl's auto-biographical short story "Lucky Break" earlier today, and it caught my imagination in a way that few books have done since my childhood. Dahl has a way with words, and lived an extraordinary life. If ever I have the opportunity I'd love to tell the story of Rhoal Dahl during the 1939 - 1945 war years, as he journed from East Africa to Washington D.C to meet up with D. S Forrestor. An extraordianry life indeed (and I believe I could do the story justice)
Rhoal Dahl everybody; more than just a children's author.