I’m so thrilled to be part of this fun tour celebrating Roald Dahl’s 100th birthday. I’m a little ashamed to admit that I’ve never read any of Dahl’s books. I plan to make a point of reading as many as possible with my boys when they’re a little older. I’m already excited about it!
On a hill, above the valley there was a wood.
In the wood there was a huge tree.
Under the tree there was a hole.
In that hole, lived Mr. Fox and Mrs. Fox and their four Small Foxes.
Every evening as soon as it got dark, Mr. Fox would say to Mrs. Fox, “Well, my darling, what shall it be this time? A plump chicken from Boggis? A duck or a goose from Bunce? Or a nice turkey from Bean?” And when Mrs. Fox had told him what she wanted, Mr. Fox would creep down into the valley in the darkness of the night and help himself.
Boggis and Bunce and Bean knew very well what was going on, and it made them wild with rage. They were not men who liked to give anything away. Less still did they like anything to be stolen from them. So every night each of them would take his shotgun and hide in a dark place somewhere on his own farm, hoping to catch the robber.
But Mr. Fox was too clever for them. He always approached a farm with the wind blowing in his face, and this meant that if any man were lurking in the shadows ahead, the wind would carry the smell of that man to Mr. Fox’s nose from far away. Thus, if Mr. Boggis was hiding behind his Chicken House Number One, Mr. Fox would smell him out from fifty yards off and quickly change direction, heading for Chicken House Number Four at the other end of the farm.
“Dang and blast that lousy beast!” cried Boggis.
“I’d like to rip his guys out!” said Bunce.
“He must be killed!” cried Bean.
“But how?” said Boggis. “How on earth can we catch the blighter?”
Bean picked his nose delicately with a long finger. “I have a plan,” he said.
“You’ve never had a decent plan yet,” said Bunce.
“Shut up and listen,” said Bean. “Tomorrow night we will all hide just outside the hole where the fox lives. We will wait there until he comes out. Then…Bang! Bang-bang-bang.”
“Very clever,” said Bunce. “But first we shall have to find the hole.”
“My dear Bunce, I’ve already found it,” said the crafty Bean. “It’s up the wood on the hill. It’s under a huge tree…”
“Well, my darling,” said Mr. Fox. “What shall it be tonight?”
“I think we’ll have duck tonight,” said Mrs. Fox. “Bring us two fat ducks, if you please. One for you and me, and one for the children.”
“Ducks it shall be!” said Mr. Fox. “Bunce’s best!”
“Now do be careful,” said Mrs. Fox.
“My darling,” said Mr. Fox, “I can smell those goons a mile away. I can even smell one from the other. Boggis gives off a filthy stink of rotten chicken-skins. Bunce reeks of goose-livers, and as for Bean, the fumes of apple cider hang around him like poisonous gases.”
“Yes, but just don’t get careless,” said Mrs. Fox. “You know they’ll be waiting for you, all three of them.”
“Don’t you worry about me,” said Mr. Fox. “I’ll see you later.”
But Mr. Fox would not have been quite so cocky had he known exactly where the three farmers famers where waiting at the moment. They were just outside the entrance to the hole, each one crouching behind a tree with his gun loaded. And what is more, they had chosen their positions very carefully, making sure that the wind was not blowing from them towards the fox’s hole. In fact, it was blowing in the opposite direction. There was no chance of them being “smelled out.”
Mr. Fox crept up the dark tunnel to the mouth of his hole. He poked his long handsome face out into the night air and sniffed once.
He moved an inch or two forward and stopped.
He sniffed again. He was always especially careful when coming out from his hole. He inched forward a little more. The front half of his body was now in the open.
His black nose twitched from side to side, sniffing and sniffing for the scent of danger. He found none, and he was just about to go trotting forward when he thought he heard or thought he heard a tiny noise, a soft rustling sound, as though someone had moved a foot ever so gently through the patch of dry leaves.
Mr. Fox flattened his body against the ground and lay very still, his ears pricked. He waited a long time, but he heard nothing more.
“It must have been field-mouse,” he told himself, “or some other small animal.”
He crept a little further out of the hole…then further still. He was almost right out in the open now. He took a last careful look around. The wood was murky and very still. Somewhere in the sky the moon was shining.
Just then, his sharp night-eyes caught a glint of something bright behind a tree not far away. It was a small silver speck of moonlight shining on a polished surface. Mr. Fox lay still, watching it. What on earth was it? Now it was moving. It was coming up and up…Great heavens! It was the barrel of a gun! Quick as a whip, Mr. Fox jumped back into his hole and at the same instant the entire wood seemed to explode around him. Bang-bang! Bang-bang! Bang-bang!
The smoke from the three guns floated upward in the night air. Boggis and Bunce and Bean came out from behind their trees and walked towards the hole.
“Did we get him?” said Bean.
One of them shone a flashlight on the hole, and there on the ground, in the circle of light, half in and half out of the hole, lay the poor tattered blood-stained remains of…a fox’s tail. Bean picked it up. “We got the tail but we missed the fox,” he said, tossing the thing away.
“Dang and blast!” said Boggis. “We shot too late. We should have let fly the moment he poked his head out.”
“He won’t be poking it out again in a hurry,” Bunce said.
Bean pulled a flask from his pocket and took a swig of cider. Then he said, “It’ll take three days at least before he gets hungry enough to come out again. I’m not sitting around here waiting for that. Let’s dig him out.”
“Ah,” said Boggis. “Now you’re talking sense. We can dig him out in a couple of hours. We know he’s there.”
“I reckon there’s a whole family of them down that hole,” Bunce said.
“Then we’ll have the lot,” said Bean. “Get the shovels!”
About Roald Dahl:
Roald Dahl (1916–1990) was one of the world’s most imaginative, successful and beloved storytellers. He was born in Wales of Norwegian parents and spent much of his childhood in England. After establishing himself as a writer for adults with short story collections such as Kiss Kiss and Tales of the Unexpected, Roald Dahl began writing children’s stories in 1960 while living with his family in both the U.S. and in England. His first stories were written as entertainment for his own children, to whom many of his books are dedicated.
Roald Dahl’s first children’s story, The Gremlins, was a story about little creatures that were responsible for the various mechanical failures on airplanes. The Gremlins came to the attention of both First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who loved to read the story to her grandchildren, and Walt Disney, with whom Roald Dahl had discussions about the production of a movie.
Roald Dahl was inspired by American culture and by many of the most quintessential American landmarks to write some of his most memorable passages, such as the thrilling final scenes in James and the Giant Peach – when the peach lands on the Empire State Building! Upon the publication of James and the Giant Peach, Roald Dahl began work on the story that would later be published as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and today, Roald Dahl’s stories are available in 58 languages and, by a conservative estimate, have sold more than 200 million copies.
Roald Dahl also enjoyed great success for the screenplays he wrote for both the James Bond film You Only Live Twice in 1967 and for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, released one year later, which went on to become a beloved family film. Roald Dahl’s popularity continues to increase as his fantastic novels, including James and the Giant Peach, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Matilda, The BFG, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, delight an ever-growing legion of fans.
Two charities have been founded in Roald Dahl’s memory: the first charity, Roald Dahl’s Marvellous Children’s Charity, created in 1991, focuses on making life better for seriously ill children through the funding of specialist nurses, innovative medical training, hospitals, and individual families across the UK.
The second charity, The Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre – a unique cultural, literary and education hub – opened in June 2005 in Great Missenden where Roald Dahl lived and wrote many of his best-loved works. 10% of income from Roald Dahl books and adaptations are donated to the two Roald Dahl charities.
On September 13, 2006, the first national Roald Dahl Day was celebrated, on what would have been the author’s 90th birthday. The event proved such a success that Roald Dahl Day is now marked annually all over the world. September 13, 2016 is Roald Dahl 100, marking 100 years since the birth of the world’s number one storyteller. There will be celebrations for Roald Dahl 100 throughout 2016, delivering a year packed with gloriumptious treats and surprises for everyone.
*Excerpted from NPR’s November 14, 2013 interview with Lucy Dahl, “Roald Dahl Wanted His Magical Matilda To Keep Books Alive”
Lucy: “I remember waking up in the night and going to the bathroom and seeing the glow of the light in the little [writing] hut while it was still dark outside.
“His hut was a sacred place. … We were all allowed to go in there, but we only disturbed him when we absolutely needed to because he used to say that his hut was his nest. You would walk in and the smells were so familiar — that very old paper from filing cabinets. And he sat in his mother’s old armchair and then put his feet up on an old leather trunk, and then on top of that he would get into an old down sleeping bag that he would put his legs into to keep him warm.
“He then had a board that he made that he would rest on the arms of the armchair as a desk table and on top of that he had cut some billiard felt that was glued on top of it, and it was slightly carved out for where his tummy was. When he sat down … the first thing he did was get a brush and brush the felt on his lap desk so it was all clean.
“He always had six pencils with an electric sharpener that he would sharpen at the beginning of each session. His work sessions were very strict — he worked from 10 until 12 every day and then again from 3 until 5 every day. And that was it. Even if there was nothing to write he would still, as he would say, ‘put his bottom on the chair.’”
For further information on the wonderful world of Roald Dahl please visit www.roalddahl.com