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British novelist Roald Dahl influence in literature is undeniable, having birthed some of the most iconic characters in history, from the eccentric chocolatier Willy Wonka and telekinetic Matilda to the cunning Mr. Fox. Throughout his life, his more than 30 works set an imaginative backdrop for children across the globe to tap into their own creativity, now immortalized in a slew of films based on his stories in the years since his passing.
For Roald Dahl Story Day, in celebration of the author’s own birthday on Sept. 13, here are the best Roald Dahl books that have made it to the big-screen.
“The BFG,” which was made into an animated film in 1986 and later a live adaptation directed by Steven Spielberg in 2016, packs some of Dahl’s most impressive wordplay in its pages. The heartwarming story, which follows an orphan girl who befriends a big, friendly giant isn’t without some of the author’s more disturbing imagery (such as giants munching on humans like popcorn), but is doubled up with enough whimsical fantasy to make up for it. Plus, the BFG’s language Gobblefunk includes some of Dahl’s best nonsense terms (“telly-telly bumkum box”: television, “delumptious”: delicious, “swizzfiggling”: deceiving).
‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’
One of Roald Dahl’s most influential works came to life with Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka in the beloved 1971 adaptation, soon to be played by Timothee Chalamet in the 2023 film, which just like the original story, follows a young Charlie Bucket as he tours the chocolatier’s mysterious factory alongside a group of fellow, very eccentric contest winners. Once there, all of the wonderful weirdness packed in Dahl’s head makes its way onto the page (and screen), from the iconic oompa loompas to magical candies such as Everlasting Gobstoppers and Snozzberries — all part of Willy Wonka’s master plan to teach about the dangers of greed and narcissism.
Nothing is a better showcase for Dahl’s twisted sense of humor than Dahl’s 1982’s “Revolting Rhymes,” which includes singsong retellings of six famous fairy tales, such as “Cinderella,” “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” “Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” “Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf” and “The Three Little Bears.” But instead of their famous fairytale endings, Dahl offers his own more gruesome retellings, such as Jack’s greedy mother being eaten by a giant in “Jack and the Beanstalk.”
‘Fantastic Mr. Fox’
George Clooney and Meryl Streep star in the 2009 live-action adaptation, directed by Wes Anderson, in which Mr. Fox gives into his animalistic instincts when he steals food to provide for his family. The thin volume is rich in messaging as readers are propelled into a captivating story that covers everything from Farmer Bean’s addiction to alcoholic cider to the blurred ethical lines surrounding greed.
‘James and the Giant Peach’
Henry Selick’s musical fantasy film is based on Dahl’s novel of the same name, following the orphaned James as he makes his out of the oppressive and sadistic home run by his domineering aunts Spiker and Sponge. The fantasy comes when he eats his way through a colossal peach where he finds human-sized anthropomorphic insects, such as Mr. Grasshopper, Mr. Centipede and Ms. Spider, who help make his escape to New York City.
‘Danny, the Champion of the World’
Like “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” “Danny, the Champion of the World” was partly inspired by Dahl’s upbringing in the Buckingham countryside, giving way to a fanciful setting that that unlike the eerie surroundings of Wonka’s chocolate factory and Mr. Fox’s murderous farmland, couldn’t be more inviting. The 1975 book, adapted for the screen in 1989, centers on a young boy Danny who lives in a Gypsy caravan with his family as they make a living fixing cars and poaching pheasants.
An ode to intellect and curiosity, “Matilda” is a must-read for any imaginative kid looking for an outlet that tells them it’s okay to fight back against the indignities put forth by the adults around them. Mara Wilson stars as the titular role in the 1996 film, directed by and also starring as the secondary villain, Danny Devito. The story comes to life when Matilda realizes her telekinetic powers, using them to fight back agains the wrath of her parents, principal and bullies.
“The Witches” might be one of Dahl’s most memorable books, if not for the captivating and horrific witches that prey on innocent children, but also the elegant facades they put on to hide their evil intentions. The book has inspired two movie adaptations including a recent translation by Anne Hathwaway and the classic 1990s version with icon Anjelica Huston.