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Posts Tagged ‘Roald Dahl’

A Polar Wind: Robert Kloss and Matt Kish in Conversation

September 29, 2015 | by

A detail from Matt Kish‘s illustration for the cover of The Revelator, by Robert Kloss.

A detail from Matt Kish’s illustration for the cover of The Revelator, by Robert Kloss.

On the relatively short list of authors and artists who have collaborated on multiple books, there are few who so perfectly mirror one another’s sensibilities that it becomes difficult to imagine art and word as separate entities. I’d place Aleksei Kruchenykh and Olga Rozanova, A. A. Milne and E. H. Shepard, Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake in that select group. And now I’d add author Robert Kloss and artist Matt Kish. The pair have, to date, worked together on two novels (Alligators of Abraham and The Revelator), a hybrid novel written with Amber Sparks (The Desert Places), and an ongoing project they call the “Bestiary.”

The two have published work independently—Kish, notably, has illustrated every page of Moby-Dick and Heart of Darkness—but their joint efforts are of a different order, primarily because, being of like minds, one’s work influences the other’s in the course of making. The Revelator, which was just published this month, is a psychologically brutal tale about an itinerant zealot in nineteenth-century America. In the opening paragraphs, a group of forlorn sailors, “their faces blistered and their minds bleached and weary,” espies a mountain: “some named it the ‘Finger of the Evil One,’ and some called it a tower of soot, dreamed it an ancient citadel misshapen by flame, the horror of all trapped within.” Kish’s illustrations, sprinkled throughout, are correspondingly prophetic, alien, and apocalyptic.   

Kloss recently moved from Boston to Boulder, Colorado; Kish lives in Ohio. The two have never met. Earlier this month, they conducted a conversation via online chat about the nature of collaboration and working in the shadow of Melville.  

—Nicole Rudick

Kish: I’ve been thinking about this conversation for some time, alternately veering between excitement and intimidation. Aside from our numerous e-mails, this will probably be the most in-depth communication we’ve shared, at least on a sustained level.

Kloss: Let’s start with Melville then, since I don’t think we would be having this conversation without his work. Read More »

Almond Joy

April 28, 2015 | by


From a 1905 sheet-music cover.

“That parrot,” he said at last. “You know something? It had me completely fooled when I first saw it through the window. I could have sworn it was alive.” “Alas, no longer.” “It’s most terribly clever the way it’s been done,” he said. “It doesn’t look in the least bit dead. Who did it?” “I did.” “You did?” “Of course,” she said. “And have you met my little Basil as well?” She nodded toward the dachshund curled up so comfortably in front of the fire. Billy looked at it. And suddenly, he realized that this animal had all the time been just as silent and motionless as the parrot. He put out a hand and touched it gently on the top of its back. The back was hard and cold, and when he pushed the hair to one side with his fingers, he could see the skin underneath, grayish black and dry and perfectly preserved. “Good gracious me,” he said. “How absolutely fascinating.” He turned away from the dog and stared with deep admiration at the little woman beside him on the sofa. “It must be most awfully difficult to do a thing like that.” “Not in the least,” she said. “I stuff all my little pets myself when they pass away. Will you have another cup of tea?” “No, thank you,” Billy said. The tea tasted faintly of bitter almonds, and he didn’t much care for it. “You did sign the book, didn’t you?” “Oh, yes.” “That’s good. Because later on, if I happen to forget what you were called, then I could always come down here and look it up. I still do that almost every day with Mr. Mulholland and Mr. … Mr. …” “Temple,” Billy said, “Gregory Temple. Excuse my asking, but haven’t there been any other guests here except them in the last two or three years?” Holding her teacup high in one hand, inclining her head slightly to the left, she looked up at him out of the corners of her eyes and gave him another gentle little smile. “No, my dear,” she said. “Only you.” —Roald Dahl, “The Landlady”

We all know that cyanide tastes like almonds. If something is almond-y, and you’re somewhere sinister, well, mister, look out! You’ve been poisoned. I first learned this from the Dahl story cited above–or, more accurately, from the episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents based on the story. 

But generally, one assumes, writers only know this themselves via hearsay. They know—like the rest of us—that cyanide smells like “bitter almonds.” As one article explains it, “in murder mysteries, the detective usually diagnoses cyanide poisoning by the scent of bitter almonds wafting from the corpse.” In its pure form, cyanide apparently does have an almond-like scent—and this makes sense, since the toxin is found in the wild form of the nut. Read More »

Border Control

September 8, 2014 | by


The queue for customs was long, and very disorganized. People kept trying to cut—or they cut inadvertently, and were yelled at. But really, it was hard to tell what was a line, and who was in charge, and what they wanted from you. You could only do wrong. It was like being a child in a Roald Dahl story, arbitrary and potentially magical, if you are in the business of silver linings.

And then suddenly a new officer appeared. He didn’t seem to be standing anywhere official, exactly; I mean, there were no dividers or ropes or podium sorts of things around him. He had just chosen an arbitrary spot kind of near the exit. But he was wearing a uniform and radiated great authority. “New Line!” he shouted. “I AM A LINE!”

I was pondering what it meant to be a line—I was very tired—when he beckoned me forward. “Now!” he barked. And then, “STAY BACK. DO NOT RUSH FORWARD.” And then, “IF YOU HOARD ME, I WILL LEAVE.”

“If you hoard me / I will leave.” Read More »

Pynchon Defends Homer, and Other News

September 4, 2014 | by


The Simpsons’s executive producer Matt Selman tweeted this script with Pynchon’s remarks.

  • Before he made his second “appearance” on The Simpsons in 2004, Thomas Pynchon made a few edits to the teleplay—he crossed out a pejorative line of dialogue about Homer’s ample posterior. “Homer is my role model,” he wrote in the margins, “and I can’t speak ill of him.”
  • Walter Benjamin’s “vexed relationship with academia”: “Benjamin could do first-paragraph seduction with a vengeance; yet on the several occasions when certain essays were the key to a prestigious university post—when those powers of seduction would really have worked in his favor—what does he do? He goes in the opposite direction, producing dense thickets of prickly, forbidding verbiage. Today, there isn’t a university press anywhere in the world that wouldn’t kill to get the rights to publish those same contentious, rejected essays.”
  • Now that so much of our media is stored in the Cloud, “the tide has turned against the collector of recordings, not to mention the collector of books: what was once known as building a library is now considered hoarding. One is expected to banish all clutter and consume culture in a gleaming, empty room.”
  • From If Only He Knew: A Valuable Guide to Knowing, Understanding, and Loving Your Wife, a 1988 Christian relationship guide that seems to presume marriage is a total bummer: “While a man needs little or no preparation for sex, a woman often needs hours of emotional and mental preparation … Comfort her when she is down emotionally. For instance, put your arms around her and silently hold her for a few seconds without lectures or putdowns.”
  • In which a Roald Dahl story moves a man to pursue beekeeping, a hobby that teaches us much about the nature of loyalty (and the loyalty of nature).


Inside Stories

September 3, 2014 | by

Quentin Blake at the House of Illustration.

SP46b_16 Twits (c) QB 2010

From The Twits

Clown - LP72a024

From The Clown

LP32015A Wild Washerwomen (c) QB 1979

From The Wild Washerwomen

LP90A_089 Danny (c) QB 1997

From Danny Champion of the World

Quentin Blake - Inside Stories

Inside Stories

LP122a007 Sad Book (c) QB 2004

From Sad Book

LP10004 Capt Najork (c) QB 1974

From How Tom Beat Captain Najork and His Hired Sportsmen

LP40025 Dancing frog (c) QB 1984

From The Story of the Dancing Frog

LP79018 Clown (c) QB 1995

From Clown

SP46b_23 Twits (c) QB 2010

From The Twits

SP162 p75 The Boy in the Dress (c) QB 2008

From The Boy in the Dress

SP173_005 Candide (c) QB 2011

From Candide

Located somewhat improbably behind King’s Cross St. Pancras, the thrumming London tube and train stations, is the cheery House of Illustration, which opened in early July. The path leading to it is lined with illustrated panels, a showcase of the visual treasures to come: advertisements and poster art, medical and botanical sketches, children’s books and fashion illustrations. The center’s present exhibition, “Inside Stories,” features original work by the beloved illustrator Quentin Blake, one of the House’s trustees and now an octogenarian, whose drawings have enchanted young readers for nearly half a century.

Blake is perhaps best known for his work with Roald Dahl, but no matter who he’s collaborating with, his illustrations retain a buoyant, often impish air. His first drawings were published in the magazine Punch when he was still in high school. He began illustrating children's books in 1960, and taught for more than twenty years at the Royal College of Art. Since the nineties, he’s worked as exhibition curator, and has more recently created larger-scale works for health care wards and communal spaces.

Claudia Zeff, a publishing industry art director who has spent twenty years designing book jackets, curated “Inside Stories.” Zeff’s collaborative process with Blake was already comfortable—the two have worked together for more than a decade. The ideas for the exhibition “evolved quite gradually,” Zeff said. “Quentin came up with the idea of using the story behind the books as the theme … and expressed the different approaches/techniques he uses to illustrate to different types of narrative.” Read More »


A City of Phone Lines, and Other News

September 3, 2014 | by


Soon after the advent of the telephone, Stockholm’s Telefontornet covered the city in thousands of wires. Photo via Colossal

  • A previously unpublished chapter of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory—once “deemed too wild, subversive and insufficiently moral for the tender minds of British children”—is now available for your delectation. It features a jaunt into Wonka’s Vanilla Fudge Room, where many wonders and precariously situated heavy machinery await. (Not an OSHA-compliant workplace, that chocolate factory.)
  • Get Carter, Ted Lewis’s 1970 crime novel, has just been reissued: “As far as classic hard-boiled fiction, Get Carter is sui generis, the place where British noir begins … there is no attempt to soften or sugarcoat … It is also, as the best noir always is, highly moral, although its morality is individual and distinct. What is important to us?, the book ponders. What do we need—are we willing—to sacrifice?”
  • In praise of brevity in fiction: “shorter novels can often be a distillation of everything an author does best—which, in some cases, can spare you quite a lot of their more exacting or punishing work.”
  • “In the late 19th century, shortly after the patent of the telephone, the race was on to connect everyone to the phone grid … In Stockholm, Sweden, the central telephone exchange was the Telefontornet, a giant tower designed around 1890 that connected some 5,000 lines which sprawled in every direction across the city. Just by looking at historical photos it’s easy to recognize the absurdity and danger of the whole endeavor … Everything that could possibly go wrong did.”
  • Revisiting “latitudes of acceptance,” a social judgment theory from the sixties: “We all have these latitudes around our beliefs, our values, our attitudes, which teams are ok to root for, and so on, and these bubbles move. They flex. When you’re drunk, or when you’ve had a good meal, or when you're with people you care about versus strangers, these bubbles flex and move in different ways. Getting two groups to work together is about trying to get them to a place where their bubbles overlap, not their ideas, not their beliefs, but the bubbles that surround their ideas.”