The Ten Best Roald Dahl Books
All of his books are great (obviously!), but some are just less great than others…
10. Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator (1972)
This was originally intended as the meaty filling in a Charlie trilogy, though sadly the third book, Charlie in the White House, remains incomplete, due to Roald Dahl dying before he could finish it. That’s the thing about death – always gets in the way of a good ending. So, as it stands, Charlie’s saga stalls after a trip to space in a silly see-through spaceship.
9. The Twits (1980)
Really, this is one for the Roald Dahl completists only, existing more as a twisted Jeremy Beadle, fantasy prank show, as Mr and Mrs Twit attempt to sabotage one another’s lives at every turn. That said, cultural significance can be found in Mr Twit’s gargantuan beard and his passion for beer – he’s essentially a hipster prototype.
8. Danny, the Champion of the World (1975)
If you’ve read Dahl’s short stories, you’ll know his flights of fancy can take you almost anywhere, from the mundane to the ridiculous in the flap of a wing. This book straddles those twin worlds, with a modest rural life punctured by an animal trap, when Danny’s dad is out poaching for pheasant. What follows is a strange and curious act of revenge, animal drugging and redemption.
7. George’s Marvellous Medicine (1981)
Certainly his most irresponsible book, as a young lad attempts to poison his granny with his weird homemade moonshine – a concoction fashioned from curry powder, shampoo, deodorant, gin, antifreeze and other bits you might find in Tescos. After drinking the drink the old bat grows to the size of a house.
6. Fantastic Mr Fox (1970)
One of only two books by Dahl with an animal as the main protagonist, this is a gripping rollercoaster ride where foxes attempt to outwit farmers. Very much painted as a devilish leading man, Mr Fox was ultimately, and fittingly, played by his Royal Highness George Clooney in a subsequent movie. Whisper it, but the film is possibly better than the book.
5. The BFG (1982)
Diehard Dahl fans will tell you that the “Big Friendly Giant” was first referenced in Danny, the Champion of the World some seven years earlier. A solid outing from the wordsman, it features a little lass called Sophie getting kidnapped from an orphanage by a 24ft monster. But it’s cool don’t worry, turns out he’s one of those nice monsters you rarely hear about.
4. Matilda (1988)
Despite a few subsequent outings, you could argue that this was the great man’s last truly excellent book. A fable that values intelligence and learning above all things, Matilda counteracts the crippling emptiness weighed upon her by her neglectful parents by developing telekinetic powers. In short, a far less horrific version of Carrie.
3. The Witches (1983)
It’s a tricky sell, having The Witches so high up on the list, because it’s one that splits the consensus right down the middle. On the one hand, it’s Dahl at his gothic best, a darkly comic tale of a young lad trapped at an international conference of evil women. On the other, he’s basically saying that underneath all the make-up and nice clothes, glamourous women are just spiky-faced old crones with claws for fingers. Seems a bit off. Especially these days.
2. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1964)
The fact it’s been the subject of two big Hollywood movies is testament to the power of Charlie Bucket’s plight. A poor, kind-hearted blonde boy, living in such squalid conditions that all four grandparents share the same bed while he kips on the floor with his parents, the Chocolate Factory is his only way out. His hope for a bright new tomorrow. A fact made all the more poignant and powerful when your research reveals that Dahl had intended for the main character to be black at a time of huge civil unrest. Lore has it that his cowardly agent put paid to the idea for fear of alienating his quietly racist readership.
1. James and the Giant Peach (1961)
One of his first, and almost definitely his finest. A young lad is sent to live with his cruel and abusive aunties after his parents are killed by an escaped rhino, and after growing a giant peach in the garden (long story), he murders the old cows and goes on a dazzling transatlantic adventure inside the impressive stone-fruit. It’s nail-biting, uplifting, and a triumph of the human spirit.