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The greatest wisdom from Roald Dahl books for all moments in grown-up life


The last line of the last children's story Roald Dahl ever wrote (The Minpins) is one hard to forget: "And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don't believe in magic will never find it."

From Matilda to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the legendary British author packed his fun and whimsical tales with wise, beautiful lines that have stood the test of time.

Influenced by his own childhood experiences, from living in a boarding school to taste-testing Cadbury's new chocolates, Dahl was dedicated to writing captivating reads for his young audience and showing them that they were understood.

And while we might have grown up and swapped his books for weighty novels, there are dozens of quotable lines that still resonate with us today. 

Whether we need a boost to our self-esteem (“It's impossible to make your eyes twinkle if you aren't feeling twinkly yourself”) or not losing sight of what's most important when we're stressed (“A little nonsense now and then, is relished by the wisest men”), we can always turn to Dahl for wisdom.

And the best part? Each life advice comes with a large helping of British quirk and humour. When asked what he thought were the “ingredients” of a good story for children, Dahl answered “Above all, it must be funny”.

Roald Dahl with Wife Patricia Neal and Children Olivia, Tessa, and Theo at Their Home White Fields in Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire in 1962

Roald Dahl with Wife Patricia Neal and Children Olivia, Tessa, and Theo at Their Home White Fields in Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire in 1962

Quotes for the daily grind

On daydreaming
“You seemed so far away," Miss Honey whispered, awestruck. "Oh, I was. I was flying past the stars on silver wings," Matilda said. "It was wonderful.” 

On keeping things fun
“Never grow up...always down.” 
- George's Marvellous Medicine

On the value of fresh food
“Whipped cream isn't whipped cream at all if it hasnt been whipped with whips, just like poached eggs isn't poached eggs unless it's been stolen in the dead of the night.”
―  Charlie and the Chocolate Factory 

On bad weather
“There is something about very cold weather that gives one an enormous appetite. Most of us find ourselves beginning to crave rich steaming stews and hot apple pies and all kinds of delicious warming dishes; and because we are all a great deal luckier than we realize, we usually get what we want—or near enough.” 
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

On misunderstandings
“Don’t worry about the bits you can’t understand. Sit back and allow the words to wash around you, like music.” 

On going against rules and restrictions
“Quite simply, he was going to put in EVERYTHING.”
George's Marvellous Medicine

On keeping an open mind
“The matter with human beans,” the BFG went on, “is that they is absolutely refusing to believe in anything unless they is actually seeing it right in front of their own schnozzles.” 
- The BFG

Quentin Blake's illustration for Matilda

Quentin Blake's illustration for Matilda

Quotes for work and success

On thinking outside of the box
“Matilda said, "Never do anything by halves if you want to get away with it. Be outrageous. Go the whole hog. Make sure everything you do is so completely crazy it's unbelievable...” 

On feeling complacent
“'My dear young fellow,' the Old-Green-Grasshopper said gently, 'there are a whole lot of things in this world of ours you haven't started wondering about yet.” 
James and the Giant Peach

On self doubt
“You’ll never get anywhere if you go about what-iffing like that.”
Willy Wonka, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator 

On never giving up
“But there was one other thing that the grown-ups also knew, and it was this: that however small the chance might be of striking lucky, the chance is there. The chance had to be there.” 
- Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

On encouragement
"I've always said to myself that if a little pocket calculator can do it why shouldn't I?"

On the unattainable 
“It is most unlikely. But - here comes the big 'but' - not impossible." 
- The Witches

On courage
“I will not pretend I wasn't petrified. I was. But mixed in with the awful fear was a glorious feeling of excitement. Most of the really exciting things we do in our lives scare us to death. They wouldn't be exciting if they didn't.” 
- Danny the Champion of the World

Quentin Blake's illustration for The Witches

Quentin Blake's illustration for The Witches (1983)

Quotes for mindfulness

On beauty
“If a person has ugly thoughts, it begins to show on the face. And when that person has ugly thoughts every day, every week, every year, the face gets uglier and uglier until you can hardly bear to look at it.
“A person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly. You can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts it will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.” 
- The Twits

On self worth
“It's impossible to make your eyes twinkle if you aren't feeling twinkly yourself.” Danny says about his father.
- Danny, the Champion of the World

On being genuine
“You can fake a mouth-smile any time you want, simply by moving your lips. I've also learned that a real mouth-smile always has an eye-smile to go with it. So watch out, I say, when someone smiles at you but his eyes stay the same. It's sure to be a phony.”
- Danny, the Champion of the World

On losing sight of what's important 
“A little nonsense now and then, is relished by the wisest men.” 
Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator

On perspective
‘A life is made up of a great number of small incidents and a small number of great ones.’
Going Solo

Roald Dahl with his wife Patricia Neal in 1954

Roald Dahl with his wife Patricia Neal in 1954

Quotes for relationships and friendships

On going beyond appearances 
“My darling," she said at last, are you sure you don't mind being a mouse for the rest of your life?"
"I don't mind at all" I said.
"It doesn't matter who you are or what you look like as long as somebody loves you.”
- The Witches

On dating
“Grown ups are complicated creatures, full of quirks and secrets.”
- Danny the Champion of the World

On acceptance
“We all have our moments of brilliance and glory..."
- Boy 

On being alone
“The books transported her into new worlds and introduced her to amazing people who lived exciting lives. She went on olden-day sailing ships with Joseph Conrad. She went to Africa with Ernest Hemingway and to India with Rudyard Kipling. She travelled all over the world while sitting in her little room in an English village.”
- Matilda

On the negative people in life
“Poor Earthworm,' the Ladybird said, whispering in James's ear. 'He loves to make everything into a disaster. He hates to be happy. He is only happy when he is gloomy.”
James and the Giant Peach

Find out more about Roald Dahl's work and life at roalddahl.com.

Quentin Blake's illustration for The BFG

Quentin Blake's illustration for The BFG (1989)

Words: Sejal Kapadia
Images: Rex Features, Quentin Blake



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