Friday, March 29, 2019

The Living Dead

~ Honouring our poetic ancestors ~


The most important thing we've learned,
So far as children are concerned,
Is never, NEVER, NEVER let
Them near your television set --
Or better still, just don't install
The idiotic thing at all.
In almost every house we've been,
We've watched them gaping at the screen.
They loll and slop and lounge about,
And stare until their eyes pop out.
(Last week in someone's place we saw
A dozen eyeballs on the floor.)
They sit and stare and stare and sit
Until they're hypnotised by it,
Until they're absolutely drunk
With all that shocking ghastly junk.
Oh yes, we know it keeps them still,
They don't climb out the window sill,
They never fight or kick or punch,
They leave you free to cook the lunch
And wash the dishes in the sink --
But did you ever stop to think,
To wonder just exactly what
This does to your beloved tot?
'All right!' you'll cry. 'All right!' you'll say,
'But if we take the set away,
What shall we do to entertain
Our darling children? Please explain!'
We'll answer this by asking you,
'What used the darling ones to do?
'How used they keep themselves contented
Before this monster was invented?'
Have you forgotten? Don't you know?
We'll say it very loud and slow:
THEY ... USED ... TO ... READ! They'd READ and READ,
AND READ and READ, and then proceed
To READ some more. Great Scott! Gadzooks!
One half their lives was reading books!
The nursery shelves held books galore!
Books cluttered up the nursery floor!
And in the bedroom, by the bed,
More books were waiting to be read!
Such wondrous, fine, fantastic tales
Of dragons, gypsies, queens, and whales
And treasure isles, and distant shores
Where smugglers rowed with muffled oars,
And pirates wearing purple pants,
And sailing ships and elephants,
And cannibals crouching 'round the pot,
Stirring away at something hot.
(It smells so good, what can it be?
Good gracious, it's Penelope.)
The younger ones had Beatrix Potter
With Mr. Tod, the dirty rotter,
And Squirrel Nutkin, Pigling Bland,
And Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle and-
Just How The Camel Got His Hump,
And How the Monkey Lost His Rump,
And Mr. Toad, and bless my soul,
There's Mr. Rat and Mr. Mole-
Oh, books, what books they used to know,
Those children living long ago!
So please, oh please, we beg, we pray,
Go throw your TV set away,
And in its place you can install
A lovely bookshelf on the wall.
Then fill the shelves with lots of books,
Ignoring all the dirty looks,
The screams and yells, the bites and kicks,
And children hitting you with sticks-
Fear not, because we promise you
That, in about a week or two
Of having nothing else to do,
They'll now begin to feel the need
Of having something to read.
And once they start -- oh boy, oh boy!
You watch the slowly growing joy
That fills their hearts. They'll grow so keen
They'll wonder what they'd ever seen
In that ridiculous machine,
That nauseating, foul, unclean,
Repulsive television screen!
And later, each and every kid
Will love you more for what you did. 

– Roald Dahl (1916-1990)


  1. Loved this poem....a lot of fun.

    Although mind you 'cannibals around the pot' might be considered too traumatic and racist for the kiddies today in our politically correct ,culturally marxist progressive society.

    Reading is such a dangerous pursuit.Particularly when exploring different views and interpretations on a relevant topic. It encourages independent thought and enquiring minds .This may not suit the powers that be on any side of politics who find it easier to control a herd mentality through social media including television.

    Geoffrey Robertson the eminent QC human rights lawyer said his best teacher would not be allowed to teach in the present school system . He told Geoffrey he was very bright and was wasting his time at school . He said go the Mitchell Library a few days a week and read everything you can. He did. Result...a spectacular career.Nowadays the teacher would be charged with breaching a duty of care with the possibility of a custodi8al sentence and Geoffrey would be placed in a juvenile detention centre.

    OK I'll stop now....Let's keep it trivial...Not the age for the TS

    1. Yes, 'bread and circuses'. Our circuses (in that sense) these days come on a screen. (As for the bread ... but that's another topic.) I love the story about Geoffrey Robertson, which I hadn't known; thank you.

      I think Dahl is saying that stories about cannibals could be found in books (along with those about pirates etc.) so in spite of his gruesome little embellishment, it is not as if HE is the author of that particular categorisation. I say the PC police can let that one through.

  2. This was great fun to read.........we got a tv when I was nine, I think. But I still read much more than I watched, and we Played Outdoors in the long ago. It wasnt so scary outside then. TV feels a bit like a weapon these days, at least politically. But I do enjoy watching it, some of the time. I read much more than I watch though. The poem was great to read, and lightened my heart. Thanks, Rosemary!

    1. I was 17 before I saw TV. I was boarding with my aunty and uncle while I was at University; she bought a TV (very new to Australia then) so she could watch the Melbourne Olympics (in 1956). My own kids were brought up with TV, but it didn't stop them loving books too. My Firstborn in particular loves story, and his TV watching reflects that as much as his reading does. He probably loves reading more; he keeps his most treasured books in a glass-doored cabinet.

  3. I am a huge fan of Roald Dahl and am notorious for reading his books and rhymes to my daughter on trains and buses when she she was little. One time as I was reading Dahl's poem version of Red Riding Hood to her, doing all the voices and actions, I looked up to see a small crowd of adults listening intently.

    1. Ha ha ha, I love it! Can just picture that attentive audience to Dahl's words and your expressive reading of them.

  4. I think Roald Dahl's books touched a lot of children. Probably this poem was written with them in mind.
    ah, TV. from the couple of channels when we first got them to the couple of hundreds of channels available to us now, how much has changed.. i think TV has the power to educate, my daughter learned some from Sesame Street, i still watch documentaries, but it also has the power to push subtle messages for different agendas.

  5. Enjoyed this poem. It made me smile and brought back memories. Thanks Rosemary.

  6. I really love just how much this poem reads like a rant. It bet it would be a blast read aloud--accompanied by the reader's shaking fist and reddening face, and a lot of nodding from the audience.

  7. Oh I love Roald Dahl I always bought his books for my children. I know this one So true and he even wasn't aware back than what the internet would do to the children

  8. This is a delight, Rosemary - and I enjoyed the commentary. I have some Roald Dahl fans in my family who, I am sure, would get a kick out of it … and totally concur with Dahl's opinion, to boot. An awesome choice!

  9. Believe it or not, "Charlie & the Chocolate Factory" came out about the same time cable TV became available to those who paid, in my home town, and "Charlie & the Great Glass Elevator" gave it a sales revival about the same time NBC became available free of charge.

    A cool game for the "popular" (richer, more widely travelled) kids at school was "TV Tag," where the child tagged named a TV show s/he claimed to have seen. Kids whose parents hadn't travelled couldn't play. Who gave 6-10yo this awful idea, I can't imagine.

    I think basically Dahl was right, even if the idea of the Oompa-Loompas being totally unable to survive in the modern world outside the Chocolate Factory was a hangover from racism or, more specifically, British Imperialism. Kids old enough to read these books are old enough to laugh at the presentation of the Oompa-Loompas and move on.


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