Form and Content

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

In a prefatory note to Boy: Tales of Childhood, Roald Dahl asserts that “an autobiography is a book a person writes about his own life and it is usually full of all sorts of boring details. This is not an autobiography.” He thus immediately presents his intention to the reader: not to bore. Rather, eschewing standard autobiographical procedure, Dahl offers a series of childhood tales recounting events that “made such a tremendous impression on me that I have never been able to get them out of my mind.” Boy is less an autobiography than a collection of autobiographical short stories and sketches, strung together loosely in chronological order with no overriding structural or thematic unity.

The book is divided into four sections. “Starting-point” includes two tales about Dahl’s forebears and his kindergarten years. “Llandaff Cathedral School, 19235 (age 79)” includes seven stories from his primary-school years, including four that together constitute a running narrative about schoolboy pranks at the local sweet-shop. “St. Peter’s, 19259 (age 913)” consists of eight tales from his preparatory-school years. Finally, “Repton and Shell, 19291936 (age 1320)” includes eight stories about Dahl’s experiences in public school and about embarking on a career in business.

The tales are diverse and stand alone as literary works, but they also gain accumulative power from their grouping. Often, successive...

(The entire section is 445 words.)