Righty-o so we’ve had all the anniversary tributes to the great man: a 100 years since he came into the world and all that; documentaries, books, TV shows and all sorts of other celebrations that would probably make one of the greatest storytellers of all time retreat into his Great Missenden hut and tell everyone to disappear so he could get on with his next tale.
The output, of course, is extraordinary. From Chitty Chitty Bang Bang to Tales of the Unexpected, from Matilda to You Only Live Twice and from Esio Trot to Alfred Hitchcock Presents, it’s like asking a publisher for their ideal prototype for the ‘perfect, versatile writer’ and the answer being ‘Dahl’s a done deal, why bother? If you can sell as many books as he has, then come back to me’. Quite.
But I want to take the writer’s famous mischief and come up with a rascally, utterly scoundrel-like suggestion of my own: what if that bang on the head he recieved after his RAF plane crashed in the desert in 1940 did alter his ‘wiring’ so much that it made him into the great writer he subsequently became?
Is that a stretch? Here’s Dahl, himself, speaking on BBC radio. ‘I started writing soon after that. Maybe the bump on the head helped. People change by bumps on the head. A husband had been blind all his life and she [his wife] hit his head with a saucepan and he suddenly saw again.’
Okay, some of it may be tongue in cheek – but he really did believe that his ‘creative’ life began after this terrible accident which gave his whole life a before and after narrative. Before, he was a ‘square young chap with Shell company’ and after, he became such a prolific writer with incredible range and imagination that he devoured genres from horror to comedy to children’s books with such ridiculous zeal it was barely believable.
Of course, medical opinion (in general) scoffs at these ideas. Perhaps most punters and readers do too. Most people probably think the ‘accident’ had nothing to do with Dahl’s greatness. He was just outrageously talented so why not leave it that?
The problem is writers have a difficulty with leaving it at that. Their heads swirl daily with external narratives but also mythical personal tales which are sometimes even more difficult to keep a lid on.
And sometimes these ‘lids’ are blown clean off to create a different soul to the personality that preceded it.
In own experience, I’ve suffered many ‘bumps on the head’, perhaps hundreds due the brutal epilepsy I suffered as a teenager. Pavements, school desks and playgrounds have all had the benefit of my dozy grey matter. There was a before and after narrative there too. Not a single creative thought in my head (or even a thought of picking up a book) prior to this, but an uncquenchable to zeal to write novels and many other things after these traumatic accidents. Coincidence? Maybe, but you can’t dismiss the idea that a new front opens up in the brain after such a tsunami of violence to something so sacred.
Roald Dahl thought the same so if I’m the only one who believes his ‘bump on the head’ theory then I’m in good company.
Talent is nothing without fate and luck.
It sometimes need the strangest medicine to jolt it into actiion.