First posted in 2013.
Summer is a great time for relaxing and reading of all kinds of fun books not usually assigned in literature class, like those by Roald Dahl. But it is still a good time to ask: how can a Christian read an author like Roald Dahl redemptively?
I grew up hearing Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The BFG, Fantastic Mr. Fox., James and the Giant Peach, and Danny, Champion of the World. Dahl’s books can be a bit…quirky to say the least, but he does have some great stories that are worth sharing, and our family has enjoyed them. Although I cannot recommend all of Roald Dahl’s writing carte blanche, one thing I appreciate about several of his books is that he has some strong, heroic, nurturing father-figures. (They work especially well as read-alouds because phrases such as “shut up” can easily be replaced with “be quiet.”)
So how do you apply a biblical worldview while you read?
1. Look for “common grace.”
Dahl shows glimpses of common grace. In Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (I reference the books in this review, not necessarily the movies), Charlie’s father is a minor character who does his best to provide for his family by screwing caps onto tubes of toothpaste. Charlie’s Grandfather and Mr. Willy Wonka are more prominent father figures, and both make positive investments in Charlie by honoring his meekness and encouraging his dreams. The fathers of the other children are buffoons, and there is nothing subtle or confusing about the effect their foolish indulgence has on their children’s rotten behavior. By portraying both extremes of parenting, Dahl demonstrates common grace by painting good fathers in a positive light.
2. Apply Truth.
Discerning parents sharing any read-aloud with their children will find plenty of good opportunities to discuss God’s Truth in the midst of an engaging story. Recently, while enjoying Fantastic Mr. Fox with my boys, I came across a page in which Badger expressed his concern about stealing. Mr. Fox presumably settles the question by declaring their activities acceptable because their children were starving. At this point I paused in my reading and asked my six-year-old whether or not it is ever acceptable for anyone to break the eighth of God’s Ten Commandments. No, we agreed. So why it is different for a fox to steal than for a man? Is it a sin for a fox to help himself to a chicken (or for a groundhog to raid my garden)? Why didn’t Jesus die to redeem foxes? It let him think about how to apply his understanding of Scripture to something we were reading, and was a lesson in discernment for all of us. Then we went on and finished the book.
This is how we enjoyed and redeemed a lively story, applying principles that can be used with many other books.