The 5 Best Roald Dahl Books of All Time

By Kim Snaith on at

Today's National Roald Dahl Day (how cool would it be to have your own national day?) and to celebrate, we're looking at the author's five best, most phizz-whizzing books of all time.

Grab yer frobscottle and your snozzcumbers and join in as we celebrate one of the most popular children's authors of all time. And don't pretend you don't still love his books even now, because you know you do. I'm nearly 30 and I do. No shame.

Illustration: Quentin Blake, The Vicar of Nibbleswicke

The Vicar of Nibbleswicke

The Vicar of Nibbleswicke is largely underrated, but it really shouldn't be. It's a shorter story, and one of the last that Dahl wrote before he died in 1990. Telling the story of Reverend Robert Lee, who has a strange condition that makes him say some words back to front, The Vicar of Nibbleswicke was written in support of The Dyslexia Institute. All rights to the book were also auctioned off, with funds being donated to the charity.

So not only is it something that's charitable, it's also incredibly funny, too. The Reverend regularly says common words backwards — he doesn't pray to God, he prays to dog. And rather than sip a drink, he'll pis it. Reading this as a young child, seeing the word 'pis' regularly feature was hilarious, let me tell you.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

It may be one of the most prolific of Roald Dahl's books, but that's for good reason. With two major films being made of it and a written sequel, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory might be the most well-known of all Dahl's works. It tells the story of a little Charlie Bucket, a boy growing up in a poor household shared with his parents and two sets of grandparents, who wins a very rare golden ticket to see inside of a very secret — and very magical — chocolate factory. Oooh!

I don't need to tell you what happens, because unless you've been living under a rock all your life, I'm sure  you've encountered Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in one form or another. And if you haven't, what's wrong with you? Get to it!

Despite being over 50 years old, it's a story that doesn't get old. While both film interpretations of the story have been great in their own ways, neither of them have quite managed to capture the magic that came from the book.

The Witches, Warner Bros.

The Witches

Of all the hundreds and thousands of stories about witches, Roald Dahl's version has to be the best. It tells the story of a boy who goes on holiday to Bournemouth with his grandmother — and encounters a convention of real-life, scary witches while he's there. And witches hate children. So he's in trouble.

The story itself is inspired by old Norweigan folk tales that Dahl's family used to tell him as a child. Witches — horrible, warty and disfigured — disguise themselves as normal-looking women, but you can spot them by their square shoes — real witches have no toes!

Like most of Roald Dahl's most popular stories, The Witches has been turned into a film. The adaptation, from way back in 1990, starred Anjelica Huston as the Grand High Witch, and as a kid, it was one of my favourite films. Who am I kidding? It still is.

Illustration: Quentin Blake, Boy

Boy

Boy is Roald Dahl's autobiographical memoir of his childhood, and despite not having any fantastical element to it, it has to be one of the most magical stories he's ever written. It's fantastic to see what events of his childhood shaped and inspired the stories he went on to write.

Interestingly enough, the beginnings of Boy started with an early draft of The Witches. In his first draft of the The Witches, Dahl went into much more detail about the young protagonist's childhood and the stories about witches he was told from his Grandma — all of which were based on his own childhood. Dahl's editor at the time suggested that some of that content be reused in another book, perhaps one about his own life. And so, Boy was born.

Set between the years 1922 and 1936, Boy is a fantastic look at the past, telling real stories of a name we're so familiar with that it's hard he to imagine he ever had a normal childhood. And despite being born 101 years ago, it's a childhood that we can still, somehow, relate to.

Matilda, TriStar Pictures

Matilda

There's no way Matilda was going anywhere else than number one. I love Matilda. Everybody should. It tells the story of a young girl — a child prodigy — raised by ignorant parents who'd rather her rot in front of a TV screen than be educated by books. It isn't until she goes to school that Matilda realises just how special she is. She may have been reading Dahl's Chickens — sorry, Charles Dickens — since she was three, but there's something much more extraordinary about her, too. She's got magical powers.

Unsurprisingly, Matilda was made into a film back in 1996, and it's also more recently become a hit stageplay. As good as both are, the book is unbeatable — and I have to admit I've recently enjoyed the audiobook version of it. It's narrated by Kate Winslet, and forget about Titanic or Revolutionary Road, her reading of Matilda has to be some of her best work. She does a cockney accent like you couldn't believe.


Honourable mentions:

  • Danny, the Champion of the World is a great story that focuses on father and son relationships
  • Let George's Marvellous Medicine be a reminder to you of what can happen when a young child is left unsupervised...
  • The BFG is brilliant, if only for its delightful made-up language
  • Esio Trot, because tortoises aren't given the limelight often enough

Cover image: copyright Michael Dyer/Quentin Blake, courtesy of roalddahl.com