Why I Hope My Kids Never Read Roald DahlRoundup
tags: racism, literature, antisemitism, Roald Dahl
David M. Perry is a journalist and historian and co-author of The Bright Ages: A New History of Medieval Europe. He is a senior academic adviser in the history department of the University of Minnesota.
As a nerdy Jewish kid in Indiana and Tennessee in the late 1970s and 1980s, I had far better relationships with books than I did with other kids. If I liked a book, I read it again, and again and again.
And so it was with Roald Dahl's "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory." Dahl's protagonists Charlie and later James (of the "Giant Peach") both provided early models for how to find a better way through a hostile world where I always felt like an outsider.
Given that personal history, the announcement that Netflix has acquired Dahl's entire catalog and plans a robust lineup of multimedia adaptations ought to feel like good news.
Except I have no plans to recommend them to my kids. I'm not interested in what Netflix has planned, nor was I in any of the Dahl films that have come out in the last decades. In fact, although surely my children have read some of his books in school and seen some of the films, at no time have I suggested that they read Dahl.
Seeing his work still celebrated fills me with sadness, leaving me caught between attachment to something that mattered to me as a boy and commitment to the principles that, I hope, make me the man I am today.
Because I know that Roald Dahl hated Jewish people like me.
There are cases where it's complicated to ascribe modern values to figures from the past and as a reader, my feelings, my emotions, are just not going to be consistent. I don't share C.S. Lewis' religious views and his treatment of his character Susan, who he wrote as choosing sex and lipstick over Narnia, has always irked me (and many others). J.R.R. Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy is, I'm sad to say, bound up in long histories of racism.
But my childhood copies of their books still occupy my shelves, some missing covers and pages, and I bought new copies for my kids and tried -- with mixed success -- to share my love of those stories with them. It's hardly new for readers of one generation to struggle with the views of authors from another.
But Dahl is different. He passed away in 1990, only 31 years ago. And we know he was an anti-Semite because he said so. In 1983, for example, he suggested that Jews allowed themselves to be massacred by the Nazis and that "There is a trait in the Jewish character that does provoke animosity ... there's always a reason why anti-anything crops up anywhere; even a stinker like Hitler didn't just pick on them for no reason." He said, "American Jewish bankers...dominated" the US government. In 1990, months before his death, he summed it all up by saying, "I'm certainly anti-Israel, and I have become anti-Semitic."
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