Today is Roald Dahl day – birthday of the famous storyteller!
Roald Dahl, famous author of The Witches, Twits, James and the Giant Peach, Revolting Rhymes and less known adult ghost stories, worshiped with his family at this church in Cardiff.
Roald Dahl and the Little Norwegian Church
With its attractive white painted clapboard structure and stubby spire the Norwegian Church provides a striking counterpoint to the modern buildings in the glitzy Cardiff Bay Development. The oldest surviving church in Britain founded by the Norwegian Seamens’ mission, these days it’s an arts centre and café. Its wooden decked terrace is a perfect spot for munching Norwegian-style snacks whilst you admire views across the bay.
So, what’s a Norwegian church doing in Cardiff?
During the late 19th century tens of thousands of Norwegian sailors visited the city aboard merchant ships bringing strong, straight Scandinavian timber to Wales to be used as pit props in the mines. The ships then exported the Welsh coal all around the world. Churches like this one, which dates back to 1867, were built to provide religious and social care to the Norwegian sailors who founded themselves far from home for weeks on end.
Some of them never went home.
One of the most famous members of the church’s congregation was best-selling children’s author Roald Dahl who was born to Norwegian parents in Fairwater Road in Llandaff, Cardiff. His father Harald, from Oslo, co-founded a ship-broking company in Cardiff around 1880. Roald spent his childhood and school days in Cardiff. His family worshipped at the Norwegian Church when it was in its original location in the Cardiff Docks. He and his siblings were all baptised here.
When the church fell into disrepair in the 1970s, Roald was at the forefront of a campaign to raise money to save it. Money was raised locally and from Norway to dismantle and repair the church, relocating it to its new site in 1992. Unfortunately Roald himself didn’t live to see the project completed, dying several years earlier.
The church was extensively renovated in 2011 and reopened on 17th May – Norwegian Constitution Day. A gallery upstairs at the church hosts temporary exhibitions of photography and art by local artists. Naturally it’s been named the Dahl gallery. Look out for the silver christening bowl which belonged to the family and is now on show here today.
Double Review: Little Red Riding Hood by Charles Perrault and Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf by Roald Dahl
The story of Little Red Riding Hood is essentially a story about an attack on a little girl and her grandmother. It includes violence, death and sexual connotations (and we read this to kids!). The vague time and location of ‘Once upon a time…’ signifies to the child that this is a world of fantasy. This means that the child is aware that it is just a story.
Fairy tales began as folk tales for adults but have been used to entertain children since the eighteenth century. They have been retold and altered according to social and cultural contexts. In the original folk tale the little girl (unnamed) is asked by the wolf if she is taking the path of pins or needles – pins representing the temporary binding of a young girl’s garments, and needles representing coming into adulthood, where needles are a permanent bind. This was originally a tale of initiation as she chose the path of needles. She later encounters the wolf dressed as her grandmother and gets into bed with him.
In Perrault’s version (1697) the girl who is now nicknamed Little Red Riding Hood, is “the prettiest that had ever been seen”. Her attractiveness is important because, as is seen later, the story is a warning to women against talking to the wrong kind of men. She does not escape but instead serves as an example of girls who are spoilt and naive. She wears red, the colour of passion, which was introduced by Perrault, as a symbol of her ‘sinful’ nature. She “met old neighbour wolf, who had a great desire to eat her.” This is the first clue that the wolf is actually a sexual predator. Perrault turned the wolf into a stand –in for male seducers who lure young women into their beds.
What makes Perrault’s version so great?
– Although this version was not originally intended for children, the repetition the ‘all the better to…’ sequence is a formula that is liked by children. This has been repeated in every retelling of the story apart from removing some lines such as “the better to hug you with…” for their promiscuity.
– In terms of social anthropology, this is a wonderful example of a 17th century text. The earliest oral versions of the story include bodily functions “oh, but I’ve also got to make cacka, grandma” and cannibalism “Slut! To eat the flesh… of your grandmother” and also sexual innuendo “undress yourself… come lie down beside me…” which were all removed when Perrault wrote it down. He altered the story to one that would be suitable for the society he wrote for.
– Let’s face it, the moral is still relevant: “Children… should never talk to strangers, for if they should do so, they may well provide dinner for a wolf. I say “wolf,” but there are various kinds of wolves. There are also those who are charming, quiet, polite, unassuming, complacent, and sweet, who pursue young women at home and in the streets. And unfortunately, it is these gentle wolves who are the most dangerous ones of all.”
Roald Dahl’s version (1982) begins with the wolf. Little Red Riding Hood comes into it later when wolf decides that eating Grandma was not enough. He makes the decision to wait for her with a “leer” which is the first sign of the wolf’s ‘sleaziness’. This version is clearly aimed at children; the simple rhyming scheme and the humour make it appealing to children. Yet it is still laced with hidden assumptions about Little Red Riding Hood. She is described in line 27 as the “little girl in red”. But later, she is referred to as “Miss Riding Hood” with “no silly hood upon her head”. In France, to have ‘seen the wolf’ was a euphemism for a girl losing her virginity. Dahl’s Little Red Riding Hood has matured since having ‘seen the wolf’. She also smiles and takes a gun from her underwear before shooting the wolf dead. Children only see the humour in this but to an adult she acts quite flirty, and promiscuous. Dahl has returned the idea of her being a desirable object for the wolf, which is often removed in recent versions. “Compared with her old Grandmamma/ She’s going to taste like caviar.” Her youth makes her more appealing, but it also questions her physical appearance. Grandma was “small and tough” but by favourably comparing Little Red Riding Hood, one assumes that she would be in comparison, curvy and voluptuous.
What makes Roald Dahl’s version so great?
It is hilarious: “He ran around the kitchen yelping/’I’ve got to have a second helping'”
It is postmodern: “‘That’s wrong!’ cried wolf ‘Have you forgot/to tell me what BIG TEETH I’ve got?'”
She is kick-ass: “The girl smiles. One eyelid flickers/She whips a pistol from her knickers.”