|Followed by||Going Solo|
Boy: Tales of Childhood (1984) is an autobiographical book by British writer Roald Dahl. It describes his life from birth until leaving school, focusing on living conditions in Britain in the 1920s and 1930s, the public school system at the time, and how his childhood experiences led him to writing as a career. It ends with his first job, working for Royal Dutch Shell. His autobiography continues in the book Going Solo. An expanded edition titled More About Boy was published in 2008, featuring the full original text and illustrations with additional stories, letters, and photographs.
Key points in the story
Roald Dahl's father Harald Dahl and mother Sophie Heidelberg were Norwegians who lived in Cardiff, Wales. Harald and his brother Oscar split up and went their separate ways, Oscar going to La Rochelle. While Harald had lost an arm from complications after fracturing it: a doctor was summoned, but was drunk on arrival and mistook the injury for a dislocated shoulder which really hurt at the time. His attempt to relocate the shoulder caused further damage to the fractured arm, necessitating an amputation. According to Dahl, his only serious problem was not being able to cut the top off a boiled egg.
Harald Dahl had two children by his first wife, Marie, who died shortly after the birth of their second child. He then married Sofie Magdalene Hesselberg, Roald's mother. Harald was considerably older than Sofie; he was born in 1863 and she was born in 1885. By the time Roald Dahl was born in 1916, his father was 53 years old.
When Roald was three years old, his seven-year-old sister Astri died of an infection from a burst appendix. Only weeks later, Roald's father died of pneumonia. As narrator, Dahl suggests his father died of grief from the loss of his daughter. Roald's mother was forced to choose between moving the family to Norway with her relatives or relocating to a smaller house in Wales to continue the children's education in the United Kingdom, which is what the husband wanted.
Roald started at the Elm Tree House Primary School in Cardiff when he was 6 years old. He was there for a year, but has few memories of his time there because it was so long ago.
Roald writes about different confectionery, his love of sweets, his fascination with the local sweet shop and in particular about the free samples of Cadbury chocolate bars given to him and his schoolmates for when he was a student at Repton School. Young Dahl dreamt of working as an inventor for Cadbury, an idea he has said later inspired Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Some of the sweets sold at Mrs Pratchett's sweet shop were: Lemon sherbets, pear drops and liquorice boot laces.
Great mouse plot of 1924
From the age of eight, Dahl attended Llandaff Cathedral School in Cardiff. He and his friends had a grudge against the local sweet-shop owner, Mrs Pratchett, a sour, elderly widow who gave no thought to hygiene (and described by Dahl's biographer, Donald Sturrock, as "a comic distillation of the two witchlike sisters who, it seems, ran the shop in real life"). They played a prank on her by placing a dead mouse in a gobstopper jar while his friend Thwaites distracted her by buying sweets. They were caned by the headmaster as a punishment.
Mrs Pratchett, who attended the canings, was not satisfied after the first stroke was delivered and insisted the headmaster should cane much harder which he did: six of the hardest strokes he could muster while Mrs Pratchet beamed with great delight as each boy suffered their punishment.
St Peter's School, Weston-super-Mare
Roald attended St Peter's School, a boarding school in Weston-super-Mare from 1925, when he was nine, to 1929. He describes having received six strokes of the cane after being accused of cheating at his classwork. In the essay about the life of a penny, he claims that he still has the essay and that he had been doing well until the nib of his pen broke - fountain pens were not accepted. He had to ask his classmate for another one, when Captain Hardcastle heard him and accused him of cheating. Many of the events he describes involved the matron. She once sprinkled soap shavings into Tweedie's mouth to stop his snoring. She also sent a six-year-old boy, who allegedly had thrown a sponge across the dormitory, to the headmaster. Still in his pyjamas and dressing gown, the little boy then received six strokes of the cane. Wragg, a boy in Roald's dormitory, sprinkled sugar over the corridor floor so they could hear that the matron was coming when she walked upon it. When the boy's friends refused to turn him in, the whole school was punished by the headmaster who confiscated the keys to their tuck boxes containing food parcels which the pupils had received from their families. At the end he returns home to his family for Christmas.
Repton and Shell Oil Company
After St Peter's, Roald's mother entered him for either Marlborough or Repton, but he chose Repton because it was easier to pronounce. It is soon revealed Marlborough might have been a better choice: life at Repton was a living Hell. The prefects, named Boazers as per school tradition, were utmost sadists and patrolled the school like secret police. The headmaster, Dahl describes an occasion when his friend received several brutal strokes of the cane from the headmaster as punishment for misbehaviour. According to Dahl, this headmaster was Geoffrey Francis Fisher, who later became Archbishop of Canterbury and Bishop of London in 1939. However, according to Dahl's biographer, Jeremy Treglown, Dahl's memory was in error: the beating took place in May 1933, a year after Fisher had left Repton. The headmaster concerned was in fact John Traill Christie, Fisher's successor.
Despite this infernal school, Dahl did make friends with the Maths professor and a boy named Michael. Even one of the Boazers, Wilberforce, took a liking to Dahl, despite this being punishment for Dahl's tardiness, Wilberforce was impressed by how Dahl warmed his lavatory seat that he hired him as his personal lavatory warmer. Dahl also excelled in sports and photography, something he says impressed various masters at the school.
After school, Dahl worked for Shell, despite the headmaster trying to dissuade him because of his lack of responsibility. Dahl was nonetheless entered into the business and toured Britain in the job. He became a businessman in London and was content. However, he took a trip across Newfoundland which he says "was not much of a country" with some other boys and a man who had travelled to Antarctica with Scott. He then assigned to go to Africa, but declined Egypt because it was "too dusty." The manager instead selected Dahl for East Africa, delighting him. Roald Dahl sets off to Africa, now a young man, and unbeknownst to him, Adolf Hitler has become chancellor of Germany and will soon split the world in two.
- "More About Boy".
- Sturrock, p. 48
- Treglown, p. 21