Roald Dahl And The Imaginary Apology


In “Airport,” the ’70s disaster movie, actress Maureen Stapleton (above) has a memorable and moving moment at the end of the movie, greeting the disembarking passengers on the plane nearly brought down by her disturbed husband’s bomb, and saying, tearfully, “I’m sorry! I’m so sorry!” She received an Oscar nomination for it. But the passengers weren’t going to forgive the man who nearly killed them because his wife was apologizing. What makes the scene so touching is her desperation and guilt when she did nothing to feel guilty about. Her apology, no matter how emotional, was meaningless to those who were receiving it.

Roald Dahl, who died in 1990 at the age of 74,was a famed and critically acclaimed writer of classic children’s books like “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,”“The BFG,” “Matilda,” and “The Witches.” He was also, by his own admission, an anti-Semite, complete with a belief in “Jewish bankers” controlling world economies. Now that writers and artists face “cancellation” from the self-empowered censors of the cancel culture, his family has taken to Dahl’s “official website” to offer an apology to the world.

“The Dahl family and the Roald Dahl Story Company deeply apologise for the lasting and understandable hurt caused by some of Roald Dahl’s statements,” read the online statement.. “Those prejudiced remarks are incomprehensible to us and stand in marked contrast to the man we knew and to the values at the heart of Roald Dahl’s stories, which have positively impacted young people for generations. We hope that, just as he did at his best, at his absolute worst, Roald Dahl can help remind us of the lasting impact of words.”

That’s nice. It also has nothing to do with Dahl, or a real apology. Third party apologies are not apologies at all. To the extent that anyone allows them to provoke forgiveness for the individual or the conduct being apologized for, such apologies are lies. A genuine apology is “a regretful acknowledgment of an offense or failure” by the party responsible for the offense or failure. Apologizing for acts or words one had no part in—and no, being related to the wrongdoer isn’t enough—is virtue-signaling and grandstanding, not to mention presumptuous.

Nobody has my permission or authority to apologize for me, and I am not going to apologize for something I had no control over unless I accepted the duty of exerting control. For example, I will apologize for the conduct of my dog, my minor child or my subordinates in an organization because I am responsible for overseeing and supervising them. I am not, however, responsible for Roald Dahl’s anti-Semitic statements, and neither is his family. They have no more legitimate reason to “apologize” for Dahl than I do.

For better or worse, the author retains his ownership of what he said and wrote, and his family’s declaration that they wish he hadn’t been the kind of person he was shouldn’t alter his responsibility and accountability one iota. What their apology really means is “Don’t blame us!”

I won’t. Now stop trying to let Roald Dahl off the hook cheaply using an apology he chose never to make.


33 thoughts on “Roald Dahl And The Imaginary Apology

  1. Jack wrote, “Nobody has my permission or authority to apologize for me, and I am not going to apologize for something I had no control over unless I accepted the duty of exerting control.”

    I wish everyone could understand this concept, I can’t tell you how many I’ve told people that they don’t need to apologized for something that is not their responsibility. It’s really annoying to have to explain this to people.

    • I have this exchange a lot.

      Person – *tells me their woes*
      Me – “I’m so sorry.”
      Person – “Don’t say sorry, it’s not *your* fault!”
      Me – “I’m empathizing, not apologizing!”

      But maybe I need to use clearer language to begin with.

      • The word “Sorry” has multiple meanings. It can be an apology but in the context you mention, it’s just an expression of sorrow for all of their woes.

        • Why no one says
          ” That’s a damn shame. What do you plan to do about it” is a mystery to me.

          Empathy should be shown when you have the ability and willingness to help them change their situation. Otherwise it’s just words.

      • Me, too, and it’s recent, the last 3 years or so. I wonder what changed? On social media I now expand it to ‘I’m sorry you’re going through this’ or ‘I’m sorry to hear that’ and I get ‘it’s not your fault’ a lot less.

      • The Small Stuff wrote, “But maybe I need to use clearer language to begin with.”

        So instead of just saying “I’m so sorry” try saying “I’m sorry you had to endure all that” then your empathetic meaning will be pretty clear.

        • But it’s not your fault that I had to endure all that!

          I think people are trying to make effective communication impossible. Or people are trying to compensate for forced apologies.

  2. This is interesting. Surely there must be other exceptions to the rule. I think I remember you writing about the Japanese apologizing for what they did in WW2. Does this fall into the accept responsibility for them catagory?

  3. He also encouraged bad accent work by many kids who read his work. In Charlie and the great Class elevator an attempt by the president to contact Premier How-Yu-Bin of China goes first to Wing’s Fish and Vegetable store, then to Chungking railway station, “Assistant stationmaster Wong speaking, and if you calling about ten o’clock tlain, ten o’clock tlain no lunning today. Boiler burst.” Supposedly China now has so many Wings and Wongs that every time you wing you get a wong number. 😀

    Hey, why is it easy to beat Chinese chess players?

    They all rook exactry arike!

  4. The corollary to this principle is that no one not harmed by an action has standing to demand an apology. If anyone was harmed by Dahl’s comments (that’s a big if, by the way), the order of priority in the demand for apologies is as follows:

    1. The Illuminati.
    2. The Elders of Zion.
    3. Jewish Bankers.
    4. Jews.

    No one else. It drives me nuts when a public figure sees fit to demand an apology made to some group for a slight to an individual.

    Thinking of an example off the top of my head and all I can think of is Don Imus. He made a stupid remark about black women on a college basketball team. If he owed ANYONE an apology, it would be those basketball players (and he probably did owe them one for his insulting attempt at humor), and ONLY those basketball players. But, if I recall, there were MANY people demanding he apologize to this or that “community.”

    This is one reason why I am all in favor of the Non-Apology Apology. It is a fake apology for a fake injury.


  5. The question of harm is a stickler. I don’t consider that an insult levied against me, such as calling me a dumbass, causes me any harm. I know myself well enough to judge the validity of such a comment, and those who know me do, too. Yet, an unwarranted insult does seem to merit an apology, for an attempt to degrade someone, or at least for civility.
    An ethnic or racist slur, on the other hand, does cause harm since it unfairly maligns a group, perpetuates a stereotype, and debases civil society, so both condemnation of the slur and an apology (by the person making the slur) clearly are called for. An apology by a third party might be appropriate for failure to condemn the slur in a timely manner, but not for the slur itself.

  6. “I am not going to apologize for something I had no control over…”
    Oh, Jack, you’re a white male. You’ll learn right-think when you’re brought before one of Biden’s Harris’ Reconciliation Committees. You’ll appreciate the opportunity to apologize!

  7. The family is simply trying to protect the value of their franchise. They’re not virtue signaling, they’re desperately trying to cover their financial ass.

  8. Preliminarily, I’m not really a Roald Dahl fan. Number one: inexcusably weird first name. Did someone leave out a consonant on his birth certificate? Number two: I don’t like his stuff. “Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” came out when I was in college. I’ve never sat through the whole thing (and I’m a Gene Wilder fan, at least in “Young Frankenstein” and “Blazing Saddles,” but it struck me as goofy and second rate. I’ve had to sit through a youth theatre production of “James and the Giant Peach,” and didn’t enjoy it at all. I do remember reading a short story of Dahl’s in high school about a WWII British pilot the Germans are trying to trick into thinking he’s safe in England when he’s in fact a POW they’re trying to get information from. A perfectly good story. He should have stuck to writing serious fiction.

    Okay. Here’s my Roald Dahl story.

    My college girlfriend’s next youngest sister (there were four girls in the family, including the first born daughter girlfriend) went absolutely bonkers over “Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” She was probably fifteen or sixteen at the time. (Frankly, I thought the sister was a little unstable, but maybe that was just me.) She saw the movie in the theater sixteen times or so. This was 1971 or 1972, before even Beta or VHS. Theaters or TV were the only option for seeing movies. At some time a couple of years later, my then former girlfriend’s father, who sold for an industrial concern and flew first class a lot, met Roald Dahl, sitting next to him on a flight. He told Mr. Dahl of his daughter’s fascination with all things “Willie Wonka,” to which Mr. Dahl graciously proposed she come down to Manhattan (from Vassar, where she was a freshman at the time) and have lunch with him. My girlfriend’s father was delighted as was her sister and the entire family, needless to say. She had her luncheon and all went well. Until dessert, when Mr. Dahl, then married to Patricia Neal, brazenly propositioned sister number two.

    • That comports with what I’ve read about Dahl. I wonder if Patricia Neal, wonderful actress who is almost a cult favorite for her voice and choice of roles (she was the original Mrs. Walton!) will be cancelled because of her connection to RD.

      As for Wilder’s Willy Wonka movie, if you like Wilder, you owe it to yourself to watch the whole thing. The film is kind of cheesy, but it’s Gene’s show throughout: it’s his best performance—sinister, creepy, complex, funny. He makes it work. The proof is Tim Burton’s later version, which doesn’t work despite a bigger budget, better special effects, and better direction, with Johnny Depp trying like hell to be a fascinating cypher.

      • Wilder was wonderful as Willy Wonka. Depp was deeply disturbing in that role, somehow channeling the worst aspects of Michael Jackson’s creepy Peter Pan persona. Tim Burton has a very strange concept of reality but his visuals and staging were magnificent.


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