Roald Dahl gave so much to the childhoods of many people all over the world.
Much loved stories like Matilda, Esio Trot, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory have been repeatedly read to young children, performed in theatres, and turned into blockbuster movies across the globe.
Today, Roald Dahl day, allows fans from around the world to celebrate the British author. But, for some, there is no cause for rejoicing.
A number of people over the years have levelled the charge of anti-Semitism against Dahl. Notably, comedian David Baddiel has said that while he was a massive fan of his work, he won’t be celebrating Roald Dahl Day because of his anti-Semitic comments.
After Dahl's death in 1990, a number of people claimed he had expressed bigotry towards Jewish people. This was fuelled by an interview Dahl himself gave to the New Statesman magazine in 1983, when he said a "trait in the Jewish character" provoked animosity and a "lack of generosity”. He went on to say there was “always a reason why anti-anything” appears, and even suggested “a stinker like Hitler” didn’t just pick on the group for no reason.
In the same interview, he also told the magazine if he’d been in a concentration camp, moving toward what he knew were gas chambers, he would have attempted to bring a guard with him, as opposed to the “submissive” Jews.
This wasn't an isolated incident, either. In fact it seems Dahl was quite prolific on the subject of Israel and Judaism around this time. Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982 prompted the author to say the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) had acted like “Hitler and Himmler” in how they treated members of the terrorist Palestine Liberation Organisation . He said this treatment meant “we all started hating the Israelis".
A year later, Dahl compared Israel to Germany, wondering whether it needed to be “brought to its knees” before it learned to behave.
Dahl himself would later deny he had anti-Semitic views at this time, saying he was “anti-Israel” as opposed to “anti-Semite.” But finally, before his death in 1990, he admitted to The Independent he had become an "anti-semite" over time - a comment which must surely stand as the most damning evidence against him.
A number of people have suggested Dahl's view on Israel and Jewish people is more opaque and textured than it first appeared. It has been suggested that he was merely a controversialist trying to get a reaction to people with deliberately inflammatory comments. And his supporters have argued that, instead of focusing on his personal views, we should focus on the beauty of his story-telling, the warmth and excitement he engendered within us all.
This was certainly the view of Steven Spielberg, the Jewish director who adapted The BFG for the big screen last year. When pressed on Dahl's views, Spielberg tried to deflect the question by focusing instead on "the values in the book and the film."
Spielberg also said he hadn’t been aware of controversial nature of Dahl’s views because he’d been so focused on the story. Perhaps the same could be said for the rest of us. Perhaps we're so enraptured by the characters in Dahl's book that we've chosen to ignore the murkier reality of the man behind them.