Lessons from Roald Dahl

Like many I grew up reading the fantastical, hilarious and often disgusting works of Roald Dahl and with the release of the new BFG adaptation and 100th anniversary I got to thinking how his stories influenced my young self and the lessons I learnt and have taken forward. Here are some thoughts on the teachings we may not have picked up reading the stories the first time.

Little is important and powerful

One of Dahls biggest characters both in the literal and figurative sense is the BFG, however despite this he is a `runt` to the other giants, then there is Sophie, BFG is unable to stand up to the other giants until this comparatively tiny little girl comes up with a plan to defeat them and gives him the confidence and self-belief to carry it out.

In The Witches the Grand High Witch, and in fact every witch in the world, are defeated not just by two small boys but two small boys that have been turned into tiny mice!

Matilda, at the very beginning, feels powerless against her parent’s cruelty and neglect but she soon sees there are always things you can do to improve your situation, there is a fantastic line in the musical stage show of Matilda which goes “you mustn’t let a little thing like little stop you”

Different is good and those that are different have much to teach us

There are times when everyone feels they don’t belong and equally there are times when we haven’t perhaps treated those that are different as well as we should.  Everyone has something to teach us and those that look at the world differently from us probably have the most to teach. Willy Wonka did not live within the expectations of society, he was thought of as unusual and eccentric yet all of the children who won golden tickets learnt valuable lessons from him. Matilda did not fit in with her family yet even her teacher learnt from her. By dismissing those that are different we could be missing out on valuable and fulfilling friendships, James in James and Giant Peach again suffered at the hands of his cruel aunts but found friendship and love – from a group of bugs.

Independence is Important – but we need friends

Many adults in Dahl’s books are cruel and this leads to the children becoming very independent, James, Matilda and the unnamed boy from The Witches all learn to be strong on their own and take control of the circumstances…however life becomes greatly improved when they have their friends, teachers and granny on their side.

Dreams can come true

There are too many examples of dreams coming true in these stories to mention but one line from Charlie and Chocolate Factory always stayed with me, when Charlie hears of the golden tickets he feels he has no chance of winning, because he doesn’t get chocolate often and is poor, but he is told “You’ve got more chance Charlie, because you want it more” teaching us never to give up hope and never give up on our dreams because the seemingly impossible can happen.

Two Wrongs Don’t Make a Right

Or as The BFG puts it “One right is not making two lefts” The BFG and Sophie defeat the other giants not my violent means but through diplomatic talks with the Queen and careful planning. There are examples all through the books where violence could have been used against enemies but a better option is always found. The exception to this is possibly Matilda who initially reacts to the bad treatment from her parents with small acts of revenge against them but she does realise that although satisfying at the time this does not improve her situation and perhaps makes it worse it the long run.

There so many more things to learn from Roald Dahl but not enough space here, if there’s anything particular that as stuck with you, we’d love to hear about it in the comments below but for now here are some final quotes to get you thinking.

“If you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sun beams and you will always look lovely” – The Twits

“Those who don’t believe in magic you will never find it” – The Minpins

“Reading felt like coming home” – Matilda

“A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men” – Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator”


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