Margaret Talbot has a nice essay about Roald Dahl in this week's New Yorker. She writes that while kids devour his stuff, it puts many adults off—the children's books, anyway. "Dahl’s books regularly show up on the American Library Association’s list of titles that patrons ask to be restricted from young children or removed from the shelves," she writes. Indeed, his stories were often lurid, violent, and eccentric. But that's exactly why kids like them, Talbot says. Virtuous children fight—and win—the good fight, and rotten grownups always get theirs in the end.
Most of Dahl's early stories were for adults, Talbot writes, and while The New Yorker accepted a few early in his career their popularity soon waned. "Dahl's adult stories were crisply, shiveringly enjoyable—rather like "Twilight Zone" episodes—but they showed little compassion or psychological penetration. It was children, it seemed, not adults, on whom Dahl could lavish empathy."
True, they don't brim with benevolence. In one, "Lamb to the Slaughter," a lady gives her disagreeable husband the quietus with a frozen leg of lamb, then cooks and serves it to the cops who come to investigate the murder. But again, that nastiness is Dahl's charm. He could be viciously funny or deliciously droll, and his perceptions were dead-on. I've always remembered this description from "The Way Up to Heaven": "The chauffeur, a man with a small rebellious Irish mouth, didn't care very much for any of this..." And the stories in Switch Bitch, incidentally, are downright scandalous. The two books that make up his memoirs, Boy and Going Solo, bridge the kid-adult gap nicely. No questionable content, lots of exciting accounts from his days as a Royal Air Force fighter pilot, and the underlying sweetness of his worldview—his pro-underdog sentiments, his intense love of family—shines through on every page.