Were one or both sides of the Roald Dahl coin Jew-hating?
The Royal Mint has said no to a Roald Dahl coin - his supposedly anti-Semitic leanings are to blame
You would think that in the centenary of his birth in 2016, a beloved and acclaimed children’s author would be a shoo-in for commemoration. But, according to an article by Jake Kerridge published in UK papers, Roald Dahl was rejected as a candidate for a commemorative coin on his centenary, 26 years after his death. The Royal Mint, which decides who gets to be put on coins, said Dahl was “associated with anti-Semitism and not regarded as an author of the highest reputation”, according to Kerridge.
This may upset Dahl’s millions of fans but the author’s biography bears this out – he was not a nice man and liked to shock people by offering outrageous opinions. After his death, Dahl’s life began to be examined and it did not show him in a good light.
Christopher Hitchens asked whether it was true that the author was indeed an “adulterer, bully and anti-Semite”. The Hitch’s conclusion? “Of course it’s bloody well true … how else could Dahl have kept children enthralled and agreeably disgusted and pleasurably afraid? By being Enid Blyton?”
Dahl’s books for children have a dark and slightly sadistic undertone – meting out violent punishments on stupid and oppressive adults.
The accusations of anti-Semitism rest on several statements Dahl made in the 1980s about Jews in the wake of outrage to the actions of Israel towards the Palestinians. He declared that “even a stinker like Hitler didn’t pick on them [the Jews] for no reason”, and claimed that the Holocaust had been made easier because Jews were “always submissive”.
Dahl had also created the now accepted as anti-Semitic stereotype of The Child Catcher in his 1968 script for the film adaptation of Ian Fleming’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. The character was not in the original book and, as Kerridge points out, “the mannerisms of Robert Helpmann’s performance, combined with his black hat, long black coat and huge pointy nose, suggested a Jew who seemed to have taken on the role of a Nazi, exercising power over a town in which children are not permitted to live and dragging those whose hiding places are discovered off to prison”.
Dahl’s children’s books, however, are not noticeably anti-Semitic and he still has many famous Jewish defenders including Steven Spielberg, who directed a recent adaptation of The BFG and has said that he doesn’t “truly believe somebody with such a big heart, who has given so much joy and so much epiphany to audiences with his writing, was an anti-Semitic human being”.
In April 1990, shortly before his death, Dahl received a letter from two young readers in San Francisco who told him that they loved his books but “you don’t like us because we are Jews. That offends us! Can you please change your mind about what you said about Jews.”
Dahl was upset enough about this response to send a reply to his hurt readers arguing that it was an injustice [such as that which he saw in Israel’s treatment of Palestinians] that he hated people and not Jews per se. That may have been enough for his young fans but it seems the older members of the establishment, and those who decide who gets their face on a coin, won’t be changing their minds any time soon.