|Followed by||Going Solo|
Boy: Tales of Childhood (1984) is the first 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.
Key points in the story
Roald Dahl's father Harald Dahl and mother Sofie Hesselberg were Norwegians who lived in Cardiff, Wales. Harald and his brother Oscar split up and went their separate ways, Oscar going to La Rochelle. 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. His attempt to relocate the shoulder caused further damage to the fractured arm, necessitating its amputation.
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 complications after an appendectomy. 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.
Roald started at the Elmtree House Primary School when he was six years old. He was there for a year, but has few memories of his time there because he hated everything about it.
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 evaluation when he was a student at Repton. Young Dahl dreamt of working as an inventor for Cadbury, an idea he has said later inspired Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Great mouse plot of 1924
From the age of seven, Roald 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, while Mrs. Pratchett watched. She was overjoyed they were hit so hard. Dahl remembers it thoroughly.
Mrs Pratchet who attended the canings wasn't 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 whilst Mrs Pratchet beamed with great delight as each boy suffered each stroke in sheer agony.
St Peters 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 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 boy was then caned. 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.
At the age of 13, in 1929, Roald moved to Repton School in Derbyshire. He was given a choice between Repton and Marlborough and chose Repton because its name was easier to pronounce. He tells of the fagging duties he had to perform for "Boazers" (prefects), such as warming up a Boazer's toilet seat in winter by sitting on it. He states that he read entire works of Charles Dickens while sitting on the toilet seat.
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 crowned the Queen in 1953. 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.
In popular culture
- In the 1998 romantic comedy You've Got Mail, Meg Ryan's character reads an excerpt from the book as part of a storytelling film.
- Sturrock, p. 48
- Treglown, p. 21
- "You've Got Mail: Trivia". IMDB. Retrieved 2 June 2013.