Childhood lessons we learned from Roald Dahl
By now, you’ve probably caught wind of the measles outbreak, which has affected as much as 14 states in the US. The disease itself was considered eliminated in 2000; however, it’s recently made an unfortunate and really sad resurgence. According to CNN, there were 644 cases last year, and already 102 people have reported to have measles in January alone.
The reason why this outbreak is causing such an uproar (besides the fact that it’s dangerous and life-threatening and awful and no one wants to be sick, ever), is that the measles is very preventable. In fact, most doctors recommend that children get vaccinated as soon as they turn one, and this is a super common practice in the States.
But this wasn’t always the case. Before the ’80s, there was no reliable vaccine, and an estimated 2.6 million children would die from measles yearly, world-wide. This, sadly, included Roald Dahl’s daughter, Olivia. Yesterday, through a recently unearthed letter Dahl wrote, we learned that 7-year-old Olivia died from measles encephalitis . In the letter, Dahl describes his child’s premature death, and encouraged, rather, pleaded adults to get their kids vaccinated.
“There is today something parents can do to make sure this sort of tragedy does not happen to a child of theirs. They can insist that their child is immunized against measles. I was unable to do that for Olivia in 1962 because in those days a reliable measles vaccine had not been discovered,” Dahl wrote.
The letter is incredibly painful and heart-wrenching to read. In it, Dahl also notes that two of his book, The BFG and James and the Giant Peach are dedicated to his daughter’s memory. “I know how happy she would be if only she could know that her death had helped to save a good deal of illness and death among other children,” he wrote.
Although Dahl himself passed away in 1990, this isn’t the only time he’s given us some incredibly valuable information, wise words that we have deeply taken to heart. For many of us, Roald Dahl was our literary hero. His books alone were chalk-full of important life lessons that helped us become better, smarter, more compassionate grown-ups. Although his stories were wildly fantastical, from them we can still glean some major elements of truth:
Lesson #1: If you really, really want something, it just might happen. Also, never underestimate the power of fruit. (James and the Giant Peach)
In James and the Giant Peach, orphaned James is left in the care of his two wretched aunts. They treat him terribly, and keep him trapped inside their dreary, horrible house. One day, an old man who clairvoyantly senses James’ misery gives him a bag of glowing crocodile tongues. Unsure of what to do with them, James walks back home only to trip and drop the entire bag of tongues. These tongues give birth to the magical peach which James uses to escape his aunts’ treachery. This story taught us that no matter how grim our circumstances may be, sometimes all we really need is a little help. And a big imagination.
Lesson #2: You know what you really need in order to win at life? A HEART of gold, not a ticket. A ticket helps, though. (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory)
Of all the contestants, Charlie is the poorest. Violet Beauragarde, Veruca Salt, Mike Teavee, Augustus Gloop are all spoiled rotten, and have their needs aggressively catered to —and that’s the very reason why they don’t win the prize (aka, the entire chocolate factory, because why not?) Charlie, on the other hand, is truthful and kind, and loyal. And Willy Wonka, as zaney as he is, sees this quality and rewards him for it. Being a good human is key, you guys.
Lesson #3: Reading will solve all your problems. And so will magical powers. (Matilda)
Poor Matilda grew up as an afterthought from the second she was born. Even though her parents could care less about her, and her principal is totally insane, Matilda still prevails because she’s smart and inquisitive. She also has telekinesis, which comes in handy. The lesson here? Keep reading. Always.
Lesson #4: Even when you’re small (say, a mouse), you can still defeat a fleet of monsters. (The Witches)
Witches look like ordinary ladies, but if you pay close attention, you’ll discover that they’re basically demons in disguise. This is what the young narrator from The Witches learns from his grandmother. He also learns that witches are cruel and turn children into small animals so they can eat them. When he comes into contact with a coven, he makes it his mission to defeat them. Even after he’s been turned into a mouse. So, no matter how small you feel, don’t let anyone make you feel inferior.
Lesson #5: Working as a team is sometimes better than going solo. (The BFG)
The BFG is about a big friendly giant (hence the title), who a little girl befriends one day. Instead of a big, scary monster, the BFG is a tremendously kind and wonderful friend. Who would have guessed? Not most, since most giants in this realm are flesh-eating and scary. After pleading with the Queen, however, Sophia tries to convince the other giants to stop eating people, because apparently that is a thing they do. This plan backfires and it’s up to Sophia and the BFG to fix everything. The two make a super awesome pair, proving that a lot of times it’s super helpful to have someone on your side.