Thursday, 28 January 2010

Icon #39 Roald Dahl

For this weeks icon theme @nessalouise chose the most iconic author.  Suggestions flew in this morning at a rate of knots and it was obvious it was going to be hard to choose.

Late today it was announced that JD Sallinger had passed away.  I read Catcher in the Rye years ago and loved it but that was all I ever read of his.

Roald Dahl is not the icon simply because I've read a lot of his books but because as a child it was Dahl and Tolkien that got me reading.  I can't remember what I read first of Roald Dahl's.  Maybe it was The BFG maybe, it was Danny Champion of the World but it could easily have been Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  Whichever it was, those stories have stuck in the memory for a long time.


He's not my favourite author but what he did give me was a love of books and a love of fantasy fiction that wasn't based in a serious world.  Sure there's analogy aplenty in his books but as a kid you don't see that, you just fall in love with the characters.

I expect that my first contact with Dahl was sometime around 1978 when The Enormous Crocodile came out.  I remember we had a copy at home, or was there one at school?  It's a long time ago folks forgive me.

Dahl's books, at least the editions that I grew up with, all contained the art work of Quentin Blake and the stories, combined with those almost child like pictures, were iconic for me as a kid.  You saw a Roald Dahl book and you knew what it was and what kind of tale you were likely to find within instantly.

My favourite Dahl book though is Danny Champion of the World which weirdly doesn't contain any of that art work or any fantasy.  There's no giants or witches here.  I guess latterly a story of young guy and his father against the world was always going to seem poignant to me and I have a vague recollection of my father telling me he thought I'd like it.  And it is a wonderful tale of poaching pheasant.  No kidding.  That relationship that Danny had with his father was one I was envious of I think, by the end of the book they seem almost like equals.

I think as a kid, growing up, the books felt vaguely naughty.  Like there were bits of the book we shouldn't really be reading, a mischievous, 'If only mum knew what was in this book,' feeling that of course was completely unmerited.

But that's the genius of Dahl for me, he understood, perfectly, how to write for children in a way that never felt patronising but was always entertaining.

'Two hours of leaves writing this writer completely drained. For those two hours he has been in a different place, with different people.' - Roald Dahl.

Tonight's post is dedicated to (this is gonna be a long list) @fionaflaherty, @butterflygrrrl, @fatmanslimming, @ianmcshane, @lmlc, @twosoups and @innerpenguin.

@davielegend gets a mention for going hell for leather with suggestions this morning and even after I told him my fave author, not tweeting who it was.  Good lad.

And now for something different.  @KJCollard asked if she could write her own Icon piece this week and I of course said yes.

So here is an alternate icon post by @KJCollard.

Icon #39 Anne Rice
Anne Rice was born Howard Allen O’Brien, named after her father.  On her first day of school, the nun asked her name.  She replied ‘Anne’, and has been called by that ever since.

I feel it is safe to say that if there had been on Anne Rice, there would not have been Sookie Stackhouse, Vampire Diaries, or the Twilight series.  It could be argued that there would be no Anne Rice without Bram Stoker, and no Bram Stoker without folklore.  All of this may be true, but Anne did something amazing in 1973 when she penned Interview with the Vampire.  She took terrifying mythology and legend and made vampires something sexy, alluring. Desirable.  Published in 1976, it was the first of her Vampire Chronicles.  It romanticized devils and blurred the black and white lines of morality.  In 1994 this book was adapted for the big screen.  Although the movie was grossly miscast, relying on big names for the draw, it succeeded in catapulting the book onto the best sellers list.

Anne also entertained us with witches.  The lives of the Mayfair Witches were introduced in The Witching Hour in 1990.  A series of three books, this story uses her personal home in New Orleans as the centerpiece.  She even ties the Vampire Chronicles to the Mayfair Legacy in Merrick, Blackwood Farm, and Blood Canticle.

But for everyone who believes Anne is all vamps and witches is sorely mistaken.  In The Feast of All Saints she follows the 19th century New Orleans gens de couleur libre, or Free People of Colour.  A Cry to Heaven details the life of the castrati.  Servant of the Bones tells the tale of the genii, Azriel.  With each of these books she continues to prove her history chops with stunning detail and accuracy.

And then there’s the other side of Anne Rice.  She’s done erotica work as Anne Rampling and A. N. Roquelaure.  The book Exit to Eden and the Sleeping Beauty Trilogy take you to the beautiful and violent world of Dominants and submissives. These writings are not for the homophobic or casual reader.

Anne has reinvented herself recently and has thrown herself in the religious front.  I’ve started reading the first of this series, Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt. I’m waiting until I’ve finished reading it to give it proper consideration.

Anne tells stories as richly detailed and as deliciously described as any I’ve read.  Where J.K. Rowling reads easily, like a cheeseburger and a Coke, Anne’s complexities read like a center cut fillet and a big fat Shiraz.  These books are meant to be savored.

Anne’s books have sold nearly 100 million copies.  Although this sets no records, it does make her one of the most widely read authors in modern history, and cements her status as an iconic author.