Today marks what would have been the 99th birthday of children’s author Roald Dahl, celebrated on the 13th of September as Roald Dahl Day. When I was a child Dahl was one of my favorite authors and has had a lasting influence on my own writing. I think the stories we read as children help shape us into the adults we become and in Dahl’s books I found stories full of both humour and pathos, stories that showed the best of humanity in a child, a kind teacher or a reformed playboy, stories that inspire a gentle and nurturing spirit, a love for animals, admiration for those battling against much stronger odds and joy in the eccentricities of life.
The prose poem below, By Candlelight was inspired by the short story The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar. Please feel free to share in the comments your favourite Roald Dahl book and how it has influenced you.
Henry sat quite still and stared in to the candle-flame. The book had been quite right. The flame, when you looked into it closely, did have three separate parts. There was the yellow outside. Then there was the mauve inner sheath. And right in the middle was the tiny magic area of absolute blackness. He stared at the tiny black area. He focused his eyes upon it and kept staring at it, and as he did so, an extraordinary thing happened. His mind went absolutely blank, and his brain ceased fidgeting around, and all at once it felt as though he himself, his whole body, was actually encased within the flame, sitting snug and cosy within the little black area of nothingness.
(from The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar by Roald Dahl)
The candle flame looms, incandescent, bright yellow shell quivering in the stillness. Inside, a solid orange thumbnail holds the flame’s shape and below the purple centre hovers about the wick. The flame draws everything into it, including me. I see myself inside the flame: a glowing ember of thought, a salamander piercing through time. By candlelight I see myself, half a lifetime ago.
I look into the flame and see my own eyes staring back in fierce concentration: trying to control the candlelight, to find ‘the tiny magic area of absolute blackness’ like Henry Sugar in the Roald Dahl story, searching for the key to unlock my mind, a desperate attempt to save me from my own consciousness. Back then I still believed I had magical powers.
By candlelight I see myself, half a lifetime ago, find so much changed, even more that has stayed the same. I see myself more clearly than I ever did at that time. I see now how all my angst would dissolve into nothingness, how all the hurt and fear dominating my every thought would fade into something much further away, and life would go on, not unscathed, but undaunted.
I stare into the flame with fierce concentration. If I look hard enough perhaps my future self will look back, fifteen years in the future. Perhaps I’ll see myself at this moment, in between worlds, in between hearts, in between states of being. Perhaps I’ll see myself more clearly than I ever could now: I’ll see that there was a link after all between my different worlds; all this heartache and confusion will fall into the smallest part of me, rather than the biggest; I’ll make sense of everything, find that I was in the same world, the same heart, the same being as I needed to be. Perhaps my future self will look back and see that after all I did possess a type of magic.