Book Summary of Roland Dahl's "Boy: Tales of Childhood"

by Dan Harkins

Roald Dahl has written dozens of books for children of all ages, employing a wry and straightforward style that's praised for crisply revealing life's comedy of horrors. In the autobiographical "Boy: Tales of Childhood" of 1984, Dahl chronicled his school days to reflect perhaps why so many of his classics -- like "James and the Giant Peach," "The Twits" and "Matilda" -- feature grownups acting badly.

Not an Autobiography

Dahl insists in the beginning of "Boy: Takes of Childhood" that the book isn't autobiographical -- full of rote detail that nobody cares about. Instead, he says the book is a chronicle of the things he's failed to forget. The results are a blow-by-blow commentary of the very highest and lowest points of Dahl's upbringing in Wales and Norway, from the lashings of the nuns to the car accident that nearly claimed the tip of his nose.


Dahl's playful prose antics are reflected in his earlier actions as a boy. Not liking his older half-sister's betrothed, Dahl once stuffed his pipe with goat turd. Another time, he and the ruffian pack he ran with dropped a dead mouse in the jawbreaker jar at his favorite candy shop, just because the old woman who worked there wasn't the angel he imagined she should be. It was this candy shop that inspired Dahl's musings about securing an unlimited supply of chocolate someday by landing a career with the Cadbury Chocolate Co. -- and eventually his second book, "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory."

Easygoing, Not Easy

Dahl's childhood wasn't easy to develop a sense of humor about. His father died while Dahl was still a toddler; his older sister died just a few months before that. He seemed to constantly be dealing with this bully or that adult ogre. Though he deals with this predicaments in a detached manner, especially since they occurred so early in his life, they still inform much of his upbringing and give his prose a melancholy tinge, despite its comedic focus. One page he's retelling the Mouse Caper of 1924 (the planting of the mouse at the candy store) and the next he's recounting his fragmented family tree.

Other Details

"Boy: Tales of Childhood" stops in late childhood, but a later book, "Boy and Going Solo," combines his school-days anecdotes and memories with later tales of breaking out to visit Africa and serve in England's Royal Air Force. The books include photographs of Dahl's early days as well as letters he wrote as a teenager. The intent is to retell the stories that shaped Dahl's life; the effect is silly and sometimes sad.

About the Author

Dan Harkins has been a full-time journalist since 1997. Prior to working in the alternative press, he served as a staff writer and editor for daily publications such as the "St. Petersburg Times" and "Elyria Chronicle-Telegram." Harkins holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from the University of South Florida.