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By Eric Metaxas


Roald Dahl and the Forest of Sin

Bring up the name Roald Dahl and you will get explosively mixed reactions. For every reader who celebrates his writing as magical and fun--half the households in America, it seems, possess at least one battered paperback of a children's book by Dahl--there is another who will decry his dark cruelty, his juvenile desire to shock and subvert, not to mention the misogyny and even anti-Semitism with which he is charged. What, if we could bottle it, would be the quintessence of this writer who inspires devotion and censure in equal measure?

Roald Dahl was famous for all of his adult life. While still in his midtwenties he turned the RAF myth of the gremlins that bedeviled WW II pilots into a children's story and sold the idea to Walt Disney, who nearly made it into a movie. A decade later he married film star Patricia Neal, and not long after that was selling his trademark macabre short stories to the New Yorker. But it is in his later guise, as a children's author, that most of us know Dahl--as the writer of the extraordinary "James and the Giant Peach" and "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory." The latter, made into the film "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory," starring Gene Wilder, propelled Dahl to wider fame than he had previously known, but it is the recent film version of the former--"James and the Giant Peach"--that represents a kind of apotheosis for its author.

That film, produced by Disney, has received lukewarm notices. It fails for a number of reasons. That the music is flat and forgettable is its most unexpected shortcoming, viewed against Disney's annual triumphs in the animated musical genre. But the movie's biggest and saddest problem is that it misses the lightness and sweetness of Dahl's book. The movie's insects, designed by illustrator Lane Smith, are ugly chic, which is to say hiply and deliberately unattractive. One doesn't expect plush versions of these peach-dwelling creepy-crawlies to be hot gift items come Christmas. But the story and characters ...

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