The Wit & Wisdom of Roald Dahl

Recently I went to Barnes and Noble and wandered the Children’s section like I used to when I was little. I would sit in these brightly lit corners for what felt like days, discovering my favorite books. Books like Ella Enchanted and Inkheart. I went back recently and stumbled upon a shelf of multicolored Roald Dahl books and bought them all. Some, like Matilda, I had read before. Others, like The BFG, I had only heard about. I loved descending into this crazy world and sifting through the whimsy and the unexpected and sometimes, as in the case of The Witches, the downright terrifying, to unearth some rather funny life lessons. Some of my favorite quotes and moments:

“When a man grows hair all over his face it is impossible to tell what he really looks like…Perhaps that’s why he does it. He’d rather you didn’t know.”

Source: The Twits. The lesson? Bearded men are sometimes not to be trusted.

“If a person has ugly thoughts, it begins to show on the face…A person who has good thoughts can never be ugly. You can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.”


Source: The Twits. Beauty always comes from the inside, not the outside.

“‘It is very unfair the way we Spiders are treated,’ Miss Spider went on. Why, only last week your own horrible Aunt Sponge flushed my poor dear father down the plug-hole in the bathtub.’”

Source: James and the Giant Peach. It is very bad luck to kill a spider.

“She decided that every time her father or her mother was beastly to her, she would get her own back in some way or another. A small victory or two would help her to tolerate their idiocies and would stop her from going crazy.”


Source: Matilda. Lesson: Punishing your parents is sometimes necessary to keep them in line. I know that every time our parents kept me from eating dessert before dinner, I dreamed of pulling pranks like Matilda did on her parents. Only when they deserved it, of course!

“The books transported her into new worlds and introduced her to amazing people who lived exciting lives. She went on olden-day sailing ships with Joseph Conrad. She went to Africa with Ernest Hemingway and to India with Rudyard Kipling. She travelled all over the world while sitting in her little room in an English village.”

Source: Matilda. Lesson: Reading is the fastest, cheapest way to travel, and it makes you smart to boot. Matilda taught me to love books and made me fall in love with the power of stories. Also: traveling by book is also cheap (though not as cheap as by peach).

“She kept her eyes steadily on the glass, and now the power was concentrating itself in one small part of each eye and growing stronger and stronger and it felt as though millions of tiny little invisible arms with hands on them were shooting out of her eyes towards the glass she was staring at.”


Source: Matilda. Lesson: Fierce intelligence will quickly turn into a superpower, and you’ll never have to get up to get a snack again. While Matilda uses her amazing powers to help her teacher Miss Honey reclaim her house from the evil Miss Trunchbull, all I wanted as a kid was to make a box of Cheez-Its fly toward me from the kitchen (Hell, I still want that). The lesson here is that practicing telekinesis is always a good idea.

“And at the same time, his long bony body rose up out of the bed and his bowl of soup went flying into the face of Grandma Josephine, and in one fantastic leap, this old fellow of ninety-six and a half, who hadn’t been out of bed these last twenty years, jumped onto the floor and started doing a dance of victory in his pajamas.”


Source: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Lesson: Chocolate is the world’s most powerful motivator, and can lead to ninety-year-old men leaping out of bed for the first time in twenty years. Really, if you can’t get out of bed and work for it, you really don’t deserve all that chocolate anyway.

“I want one. All I’ve got at home is two dogs and four cats and six bunny rabbits and two parakeets and three canaries and a green parrot and a turtle and a bowl of goldfish and a cage of white mice and a silly old hamster! I want a squirrel!”    

Source: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Lesson: Being a spoiled brat will cost you a career as an expert chocolatier.

Guys, this is serious. A lifetime’s supply of chocolate is at stake. Throw in a great glass elevator that can take you all over the world for free, and you had better make sure to be a nice, honest little child. Your wealthy, well-traveled adult self will thank you for it. Also, don’t swim in the chocolate river, it’s a trap.


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  • I had to do research when I was in grad school for teaching on the history of banned books in schools. Did you know James and the Giant Peach used to be banned?!

    • That’s absurd! Do you know why?

      • There’s a list of things but I think it was mostly because of mystical and magic inferences.

        • Yeah because God forbid children use their imaginations!

  • Okay, I’m heading out right now to buy whatever Roald Dahl books I don’t have. For some reason, James and the Giant Peach has wandered off my bookshelves. So has Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. They must be in cahoots with each other.
    I love Roald Dahl. Matilda was one of my favorites growing up, and I adore James and the Giant Peach. There’s an homage to that story in my middle grade fantasy series. I need to descend back into the Dahl universe for inspiration and amazement, but mostly… for FUN!
    Thanks for a great post!

  • LOVE Roald Dahl!! I saw a first-edition copy of James and the Giant Peach at the library where I work. Behind glass, of course 🙂
    “traveling by book is also cheap (though not as cheap as by peach)” – hehe