Tidbit #7 - A Letter to Dad

by Roald Dahl

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Tidbit #7 - A Letter to Dad

Unread postby Liz » Tue Feb 08, 2005 10:52 am

"Once upon a time, childhood was made of magic..."

The Sunday Times, April 23, 2000

Tessa Dahl, in a letter to her dead father Roald, bemoans a world where nothing is left to the imagination.


Dear Dad,

Nobody could call me conventional. Nobody could call me a prude. It takes a lot to shock me. But you would've been stupified by the film I saw last week. Called 'Kevin and Perry Go Large,' starring Harry Enfield as a body fluid-obsessed teenager, you would have been horrified. There was no subtlety, no entrancement, no mystery at all, merely straining flies and long, stiff kebab-shaped things popping into your face.

Nothing was left to the imagination. How different from your insistence always to respect the audience and allow them to travel into their world and weave a story in their own language. It seems nowadays that teenagers are not allowed the luxury of self-translations. From all that I saw, the writers and directors did not want to risk the chance that their teenage audience might have resourceful ingenuity – or, indeed, minds. I realised that my children, Clover and Luke, and all the other teenagers of today are force-fed filth. I remember innuendo. Titillation, suggestion and naughtiness left us room to make our own discoveries in our own time. We did not have smut rammed down our throats. When I was growing up you taught me about using my imagination. When I was older and beginning to write children's books, you lectured me often about respecting my readers, wanting me to have "sparkly thoughts" and the ability to intertwine my own ideas. You felt the same about your young readers and taught them to use their imaginations with your books, such as Chitty Chitty Bang Bang* and Willy Wonka.
When I was a teenager I had a pretty rocky time, but that was nobody's fault. A horrible succession of tragedies rather deprived me of a full chance to indulge my adolescence. Yet I had been given a wonderful launching pad. Brought up as the first child to hear James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Magic Finger and Fantastic Mr Fox, I was immunised against the predictable.

I awoke one morning to see my name written across our lawn. As I gazed in awe of the unbelievable, you told me the fairies had done it in the night (much later I discovered it was you who had sprayed your treasured grass with weed killer). But you did not overprotect me. If the local fire station alarm sounded, we would follow the fire engine to its destination. Real-life drama was interlaced with phantasmal scenarios. We were taught to understand and therefore to empathise by thinking what it could or would be like to be them.

As I grew older you would pick out an oblivious couple or harmless family who were eating in the same restaurant as us and have me spin the tale of their involvements and relationships, later inviting the subjects over to tell us the truth.

We had enough harsh tests in our family life. You know how awful it was for me when I was only 10 to watch my much-worshipped older sister die of the measles that she caught from me. And then I witnessed my little brother enduring relentless brain surgery for massive injuries caused by the pram I was pushing with my nanny being hit by a rogue taxi. If that were not enough, my beautiful mother had a near-fatal stroke while bathing me, which left her terribly harmed. I needed to learn the art of escaping and you, my dear father, were my mentor.

It was much later that my life became so unbearable that I forgot how to slip away from the reality. For some it may be hard to understand, but when you died I was left feeling like, I suppose, the rabbit in the hat would if the conjuror disappeared. Events started to gain momentum and I forgot about the secrets and could not find the magic. In trying to cope with the huge abyss that surrounded me when you died, my grief drowned the spark you had lit. Suddenly my mind became the enemy, an arid desert replacing the lush jungle of imagination. As a result of this I disappeared from circulation for quite a long time.

It was my own time machine. When I returned, I discovered that the influences on our children had changed enormously since you died. information is freely available. Nothing is left to be unearthed. The internet will give away any little secret that would have been hidden in the most unlikely place. My children have mobile phones and the most lewd text messages are sent. I am no longer the only parent who has been or is a drug addict; Clover has a belly button ring, her best friend a pierced tongue.

My eldest daughter, Sophie, is clearly a product of your grand-parenting. Not one second of your storytelling was wasted. Hers is now a glow which she keeps stoked with her humour, love of wizardry and what we always called her "posey apple stories." From her tiniest made-up tales to her O-level essays, everyone had to have glorious, happy existences.

Luckily I have come back with a good grip on just how much information our children need. Clover and Luke are already brimming with adventures and inventions. I believe that if you had not nurtured my imagination then I would have found it impossible to return to being a parent. I would not have the strength to ban South Park cartoons and films such as 'There's Something About Mary.'

You showed me subtlety. You taught me that less is more and that my job as a parent is to allow my children their childhoods. We must tease and be clever, not be obvious and clumsy. In Boy, you wrote of the innocent yet hysterical fun of filling a relative's pipe with goat dung instead of Player's Navy Cut. Today, the least you would have done is stuffed body fluids or rubbish into his crack pipe.

Now I am well, I shall continue to keep the spark flickering for the children and be there to help them scale reality with a smooth knapsack of fantasy.

Of course, the fact that I am writing to you now might cause some to question my own grip on reality. But because of you I have been lucky enough to find the magic again.

Love, Tessa


*LIZ NOTE: I just wanted to point out that, the way Tessa has written this, it appears that she's attributing Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the novel, to her dad. However, he merely wrote the screenplay. Ian Flemming wrote the novel.

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Tessa Dahl
You can't judge a book by its cover.

The only thing that matters is the ending. It's the most important part of the story.

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DeppInTheHeartOfTexas
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Unread postby DeppInTheHeartOfTexas » Tue Feb 08, 2005 11:30 am

Now I am well, I shall continue to keep the spark flickering for the children and be there to help them scale reality with a smooth knapsack of fantasy.


What a great thought. That was a very interesting letter. It is one thing to read about his life in the bio but an entirely different thing to read it from his daughter's perspective. What a difficult time she has had!
Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming -
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Unread postby es » Tue Feb 08, 2005 11:52 am

that brought me almost to tears.
a difficelt childhood ,thank heavens for our imagination.
to deal with all those losses for a child and coming out as a strong adult.
and the beautiful memories about the gras very beautiful,
es

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Unread postby suec » Tue Feb 08, 2005 2:34 pm

What a cracking tidbit. I like the part about sparkly thoughts - a lovely way to put it. Great that there was that focus despite such sadness in the family. Sounds familiar, doesn't it? I agree with her points about having things rammed down throats too much and nothing left to the imagination sometimes too.
"Luck... inspiration... both only really happen to you when you empty your heart of ambition, purpose, and plan; when you give yourself, completely, to the golden, fate-filled moment."

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Unread postby peanut » Tue Feb 08, 2005 2:51 pm

Thanks for that Liz...Tessa clearly got a bit of the writing gene from her dad (and a lot more...she looks so much like him). I had to hold back tears at a few parts. I agreed with what she said...being a writer myself, I totally concur with her reflectiosn on the loss of subtlety and imagination in today's children (and society in general).

and yes suec: Sparkly thoughts is indeed a very lovely way to phrase it.

Again thanks for sharing that with us Liz; it was very moving.
"Be who you are & say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter & those who matter don't mind." --- Dr. Seuss

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Unread postby lizbet » Tue Feb 08, 2005 5:09 pm

this isn't just a tidbit - wow - its not even a morsal - its a mouthful - so much to think of as we're reading /re-reading CATCF - there really are many many dark layers in Dahl's life that can't help but come through in his writings as they've come through in his daughter's life and her writings too - it really does help to put the book in context of the author's life -
trying to live in "a profound state of ignorance"

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Unread postby Still-Rather-Timid » Tue Feb 08, 2005 10:23 pm

I think Tessa looks a lot like her mother, too.

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Unread postby DeppInTheHeartOfTexas » Tue Feb 08, 2005 11:31 pm

I agree srt, look at them together...

Image Image
Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming -

Wow! What a ride!

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Unread postby Liz » Tue Feb 08, 2005 11:53 pm

DeppInTheHeartOfTexas wrote:I agree srt, look at them together...

Image Image


That makes three of us. In case you are interested, here are some books by Tessa Dahl:

http://www.alibris.com/search/books/aut ... l,%20Tessa
You can't judge a book by its cover.

The only thing that matters is the ending. It's the most important part of the story.

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Unread postby truelymadlydepply » Wed Feb 09, 2005 5:26 am

DeppInTheHeartOfTexas wrote:I agree srt, look at them together...

Image Image


yes the family resemblane is so strong, sophie looks so much like her mum too
a newspaper here had a great article written by Tessa a couple of years ago about her tummy tuck operation after she had recovered from her addiction, it was so well written - it wasnt just about her tummy tuck experience though that was interestingly written but all about her observations on motherhood and beauty and aging
and written with an intense spirituality, wish i had kept a copy of the article
"One time he, (Marlon Brando), says to me: 'How many films do you do a year?' I said, 'I dunno. Two or three.' He says, 'You've got to watch yourself. We've only got so many faces in our pocket.' "

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Unread postby Liz » Wed Feb 09, 2005 11:00 am

truelymadlydepply wrote:
DeppInTheHeartOfTexas wrote:I agree srt, look at them together...

Image Image


yes the family resemblane is so strong, sophie looks so much like her mum too
a newspaper here had a great article written by Tessa a couple of years ago about her tummy tuck operation after she had recovered from her addiction, it was so well written - it wasnt just about her tummy tuck experience though that was interestingly written but all about her observations on motherhood and beauty and aging
and written with an intense spirituality, wish i had kept a copy of the article


An interesting interview with Sophie Dahl:

http://www.geocities.com/FashionAvenue/1011/intet.htm


Image
You can't judge a book by its cover.

The only thing that matters is the ending. It's the most important part of the story.


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