“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you, because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.”
Author Roald Dahl wrote those words in his last children’s book, “The Minpins”, published in 1991.
I can’t help but think that Dahl is simply a part of childhood – at least he was for my generation.
Growing up, I knew beyond any doubt that Wonka chocolate was the tastiest sweet; that The Trunchbull, was the most terrifying teacher; and that crocodile tongues were the most powerful magic.
Strangely, I didn’t read much Dahl growing up. I watched the movies – namely “Matilda,” “James and the Giant Peach,” and “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.”
But it wasn’t until college that I stumbled upon his books and fell in love with his quirky characters and fantastic tales.
But, like any good writer, Dahl didn’t simply tell a story. He told us about our world: the good and the bad, the wondrous and the ugly.
Because Dahl certainly saw both.
According to the official Dahl website, he was born Sept. 13, 1916 in Wales during the midst of World War I.
As an adult, Dahl traveled to Africa, working for Shell Oil. But when World War II broke out he enlisted in the Royal Air Force (RAF). His time in the air force included a crash in Libya.
Following his time in the war, Dahl began work on “The Gremlins,” a story based on RAF folklore. It eventually grabbed the attention of Walt Disney and was published in 1943. Dahl even visited the White House, as former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt used to read “The Gremlins” to her grandchildren.
It wasn’t until 1961 that Dahl’s first famous work – “James and the Giant Peach” – was published.
The ‘60s, however, were a turbulent and often sad time for the author. That decade saw the death of his eldest daughter and his mother. Also during that time his wife suffered a series of strokes.
Of course, that is just a very brief summary of some of Dahl’s life.
The website continues to outline both professional and personal milestones for Dahl – book publications, movie adaptations, births of grandchildren – until the author’s death in November 1990. He was 74 years old.
It seems strange in some ways that someone who penned such whimsical stories could have had been so acquainted with war and personal tragedy. But, perhaps, that isn’t strange at all.
Because happiness cannot live without sadness – one is the root, hidden in the dark underground; the other, the leaves that glisten in the sun. Those same leaves will, of course, one day fade and fall, feeding the roots below so that new leaves – new happiness – can grow.
All of life is a cycle, and our joys and sorrows are simply one part of that. And those who have felt both – truly and deeply – are often able to better understand the value of a smile, of a bit of wonder, and of these two simple words: “What if?”
What if a little girl could use a rare, telekinetic talent to overthrow a tyrannical principal?
What if a mythical giant could be friendly?
What if kids could tour a magical chocolate factory?
Though, like I said earlier, there are other “what-ifs,” too.
For instance, in “Matilda” (my personal favorite), you ask: “What if we could stand up for what we know is right?”
To quote from the musical inspired by that book: “Even if you’re little, you can do a lot, / You mustn’t let a little thing like ‘little’ stop you.”
But that is just one example. Each of Dahl’s books have some hidden truth in them, some lesson that seems obvious as a child, but precious and sacred as an adult.
After all, I think Dahl might have imparted the best lesson of all in “The Witches.” He wrote, “It doesn’t matter who you are or what you look like, so long as somebody loves you.”
Truer words were never spoken. Thank you, Mr. Dahl, for giving them – and so many wonderful stories – to us.
Reach Sarah Allen at 937-393-3456, ext. 1680, or on Twitter @SarahAllenHTG.