Date of Award


Degree Type

UG Dissertation (Restricted)



First Advisor

Prof Asker, David B.D.


This project investigates how Roald Dahl, one of the most popular writers of Children's Literature, integrates his subversive ideas with fantasies by studying three of his works: The BFG (1982), The Witches (1983) and Matilda (1988). There are two aspects to look into: the fantasy elements and the subversive ideas in his stories. The former refers to Dahl's use of 'magic', 'unreal beings and imaginative creatures' and 'dream' as the fantasy elements whereas the latter is his anti-adult view expressed in terms of characterization, revenge and child abuse. The paper also explores his use of humour, which is subtly shown throughout his stories.

The concepts of fantasy as a sub-genre as well as subversion in Children's Literature in the Introduction help us understand why Roald Dahl is popular among children readers yet criticized by adults. For instance, fantasy for children requires factors like consistency, restraints of magical powers and potential to subvert the adult world. These factors coincide with Dahl's strength in writing stories from the perspective of children and his ability to convince us by blurring the factual with the virtual that what seems fantastical is likely to happen. The fantasy elements, such as the BFG (Big Friendly Giant) making magic powder and blowing dreams on children at night, the horrid witches turning children into mice with their magic power, the five-yea Matilda possessing superhuman power as well as the mysterious nature of dreams, all play an important role in making the stories fantastical and creative. In Part II, the paper focuses on Dahl's subversive ideas against adults, including the negative characterization of the authoritarian adults in Matilda and The Witches, the naughtiness in the children's revenges on adults, and the aspect that powerful people abuse the weak. Lastly, Dahl's use of humour in ridiculing adults is manifested in Part III. In Conclusion, my personal reflection is given on this project as well as the controversial comments about Roald Dahl.

Recommended Citation

Tang, W. Y. A. (2005). The subversive fantasies of Roald Dahl : The BFG, The Witches and Matilda (UG dissertation, Lingnan University, Hong Kong). Retrieved from