Thursday, July 10, 2014


The writer of The Sandman and Books of Magic wrote this sloppy defense (?) of the British-Norwegian author in response to another writer's argument* why it's important to read even the works of bigoted book writers:

Oh really, he didn't? Because according to this article (via CIF Watch), Dahl said something very horrific in the early 80s:
Anti-Dahlism has been further fuelled by a 1994 unauthorized biography, by the British writer Jeremy Treglown, which presents a complicated, domineering, and sometimes disagreeable man. Dahl was “a war hero, a connoisseur, a philanthropist and a devoted family man who had to confront an appalling succession of tragedies,” Treglown writes. “He was also . . . a fantasist, an anti-Semite, a bully and a self-publicizing trouble-maker.” When his first wife, the actress Patricia Neal, suffered a severe stroke at the age of thirty-nine, he adopted a cruel-to-be-kind strategy—bullying, goading, and sometimes humiliating her into acting again. He was prone to eruptions of pique. In 1981, Robert Gottlieb, who was at the time the editorial director of Knopf, Dahl’s American publisher, severed ties with Dahl, citing his “abusiveness” to the staff. More than once, Dahl offered up anti-Semitic remarks; in 1983, he told a journalist that “there’s a trait in the Jewish character that does provoke animosity . . . I mean there is always a reason why anti-anything crops up anywhere; even a stinker like Hitler didn’t just pick on them for no reason.” (Such noxious sentiments, it must be said, cannot be found in his work for children.) And, in 1989, Dahl, who had no trouble waxing indignant about attempts to ban his own work, denounced Salman Rushdie as “a dangerous opportunist” after the fatwa was issued against him. [...]
As biased as the New Yorker may have been in Dahl's favor, they do admit he said something very repulsive, and even if he ostensibly didn't support Hitler/the Nazis in their attacks on Britain, he did condone their anti-semitism. And that, in itself, is a form of support. As this also notes, he was soft on Islamofascism too.

Now maybe Dahl's anti-semitism and racism (and tolerance for Islamofascism) didn't show up in his own books (according to one account I read years ago, that's because one of his editors persuaded him to refrain), but he did rely on a lot of alarming cruelty and repellent sense of humor in his works. I was foolish enough to read some of his junk in my youth, like James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory/Great Glass Elevator, and The Witches, and in retrospect, they were some of most slovenly excuses for children's adventures I ever read. I think one of the worst has to be The Big Friendly Giant (BFG for short), because if there's any tale Dahl told where his politics seeped in, that was it: when the BFG and the little girl are in Buckingham Palace, already introduced to the Queen of England and discussing the menace of the other 9 man-eating giants, the military says they'll mow them down with weapons, but the Queen balks at this idea, saying "I do not believe in murder". Without taking into account that's just what the other creepy giants were doing. It's a classically stupid argument that wiping out a formidably evil entity is literally committing the exact same sin as the murderous entity itself. Thinking about that now, I almost feel like using an exclamation by one of the giants after capture: "I is bopmuggered", because it could describe what I feel after reading some of Dahl's work: that my soul was mugged.

And Gaiman thinks this is someone who needs defending? I don't think so. Even if Dahl's racism didn't turn up in his books per se, he still had a very revolting vision of both parents and children, with women possibly hurt even more than the men in some of his stories. Just because there's a leading lady in The Witches (the grandmother of the unnamed protagonist), doesn't exonerate it from the bizarre misogyny it embodies. (Side note: I also hated the illustrations by Quentin Blake). Truly, what is there to learn from Dahl's works when he exhibited such a pretentious, downbeat take on life, tainted with nastiness? I hesitate to think of what his tales would be like if they were adapted into comics. There are authors with repellent views whose works may still be important reads. But Dahl, with all his sick ideas for storytelling, wasn't one of them. I think Gaiman would do better not to say something that only comes off as embarrassingly dumb.

* The list in that article unfortunately also puts Orson Scott Card on it.

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