I first discovered Roald Dahl in the library of my primary school. It was not a library with shelves and shelves of books, looking all impressive, and promising an adventure for a seven-year-old. I remembered it as a rather modest one: it did not amass a vast array of books though it had been around for very long. Yet, it was there where I acquired the love for reading.
Roald Dahl was one of those amongst the library’s collections. Quite like any child, I took to him almost instantly. I remembered that I wanted to be transformed into all of his characters all at once. Matilda’s intelligence was something I grew covetous of; and to live the rest of my life as a mouse like the boy in The Witches was one of my childhood daydreams. The most absurd idea that I had, was the wish that I were an orphan so that the BFG (the big friendly giant) could come and take me away to his land.
I managed to grow out of these strange fantasies, fortunately.
However, Roald Dahl did not leave me─he left an ineffaceable imprint on my life. His works retained their places as delectable reads which I revisit time and again. They are like comfort food─nostalgic and assuring with their familiarity.
When I had a one-week break while transitioning from my previous company to the current one, I found myself checking out Matilda, Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, and The BFG at the library. The little kid in me wanted to reminisce about her childhood heroes.
There was, however, a change in the way I saw the heroes who had grown up with me. I was not as absorbed by the stories as I was accustomed to as a child. As my eyes moved across the pages, questions started looming on my mind: while I tried to re-live the adventures with Matilda, Charlie and the BFG, I was, at the same time, shanghaied along the way by the many nagging questions that demanded my attention.
It was hard to brush off the questions that kept coming. Soon, there was a volley of them, which I could not ignore. I started asking, why aren’t the giants in The BFG females? Doesn’t Matilda, a repressed heroine, belong to the bourgeois? And doesn’t her lady teacher, who is often patronised by the principal, belong to the proletariats?
Without doubt, my perceptions of these childhood heroes have changed. I am now seeing them in a different light because of the theoretical information that I have now acquired from my BA English course. The vision with which I am looking at them has magnified.
Naturally, with the presence of these questions, one begins to question the intention of the author: does Roald Dahl, when he created the world of giants in The BFG, approve of a patriarchal society? Does Roald Dahl, through his characterisations in Matilda, support the idea of the proletariats triumphing in class struggle?
There are, of course, no specific answers to these questions. One’s theory often differs from another. Perhaps, for everyone to finally arrive at an indisputable agreement with the author’s intention is akin to North and South Korea uniting as a country again.
A few months ago, there was a lot of tension in the literary scene here in Singapore. The Singapore National Library decided to pulp a few books from its collection, deeming them to be not “pro-family”. One of those was Peter Parnell’s and Justin Richardson’s And Tango Makes Three. Evasive though the reason might seem, it was understood that these books were removed because of their homosexual contents. It was also understood that the intention to pulp the books was to censure the authors and their works. This instantly provoked a furore, resulting in both local and foreign authors’ withdrawing from the Singapore Writers Festival.
Personally, I can think of only one reason for this saga: to have caused such a huge response means that the writers have done what every writer in this world aims to do with words─to evoke emotions and thoughts in his readers.
“[…] for every word of a great poet has been elaborated with curious care and is of value to the whole, and cannot be ignored,” says Alexander W. Crawford. In this instance, it is undeniable that the writers of And Tango Makes Three were not ignored. I believe, this is what a good writer aims to achieve, by writing good literature that can never be just read and forgotten. Good literature rouses the emotions in us, and embeds questions in our minds.
I have come to believe that we should let art do what it does best by liberating it, because it is through this liberation that we are granted the adventures our hearts desire to see.
Tiffany is studying the BA English in Singapore.