I grew up reading Roald Dahl and my imagination owes him a great debt. In his world, everything was exaggerated and wacky and over the top. The bad guys were SO VERY BAD. The good guys were inescapably good. I have to laugh whenever I see someone complaining about this in a review--because I kind of think that was the point! Roald Dahl wasn't about subtlety and realism. He was about telling great, fun stories where the good guys won and the bad guys lost. Dark, nasty things happen, so kids know their heroes aren't safe, but you know somehow things will be okay. More than okay--things will be awesome. Sometimes, especially as a kid, you just want to read something fun and crazy without a lot of complications. Isn't that just a relief sometimes?
Besides, when you're a kid, everything is already exaggerated. If you don't get dessert, THE WORLD HAS ENDED. Forced to eat tuna casserole or you can't leave the table? NEVER GOING TO ESCAPE. Found a four-leaf clover? BEST DAY OF MY LIFE. I just think Roald Dahl got that.
In fact, the first thing I thought of when I read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone was that the Dursleys were just like Roald Dahl villains. They eventually grew a bit as characters, especially Dudley and Petunia, but I enjoyed the first part of that first book like I did a Roald Dahl book. I thought I knew what sort of story I was reading. This is one reason why I was so amazed by how it grew and transcended itself later on. It wasn't just Harry growing up--it was the style of storytelling. I don't know if J.K. Rowling read a lot of Roald Dahl, but I'd be very surprised if she hasn't.
Unsurprisingly, my very favorite Roald Dahl book is Matilda. Mainly this is because I related so well to Matilda's love of reading. But I also loved her sleazy and terrible parents and especially the insanely, deliciously evil Miss Trunchbull. I loved to hate them. The chocolate cake scene is one of the most memorable for me because it gave me such shivers of pleasurable horror. In this scene, a young boy is forced by Miss Trunchbull to eat an entire chocolate cake. Miss Trunchbull takes something that would normally be a reward and turns it into a punishment, probably ruining chocolate for life for anyone watching. And the ensuing battle between Matilda and Miss Trunchbull is fun and satisfying.
I just realized that my local library has several Roald Dahls as digital audiobooks and now I know what I will be listening to on my next car trip...