Brow Beat

The Best Part of Netflix’s Roald Dahl Deal Is the Books You Haven’t Heard Of

The book covers of Danny the Champion of the World, The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More, and George's Marvelous Medicine. They are bathed in the red color of the Netflix logo.
Photo illustration by Slate

Netflix recently revealed that it has reached a deal with the Roald Dahl Story Co. to create an animated series based on the acclaimed author’s works. As part of the announcement, the streaming service released a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory–themed promotional video—a video that, unfortunately, feels stale. Audiences have already witnessed Charlie Bucket’s discovery of that shimmering corner of a golden ticket many times over: in the original book, in the 1971 film, again in the 2005 film, and as part of a nationally touring musical. That once-satisfying curl of freshly ripped chocolate bar wrappings is no longer suspenseful. We know exactly what’s inside.

This is true of most of the other book titles featured prominently in the short video. Regardless of how you feel about Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The BFG, and Matilda, all have already received popular big-screen treatments, so there’s no pressing need to remake them. Instead, the most exciting prospect of the Netflix deal has been quietly summarized by the afterthought, “and many more.” By taking on a new cinematic world based on the wryly hilarious and effortlessly fantastical author’s works, Netflix is teasing at least the possibility that we will get to see on-screen versions of lesser-known Dahl texts.

Take the titular installment in Dahl’s anthology, The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More, for example. The narrative follows a rich, selfish, and unfulfilled man who, “like all wealthy people of this type,” wants to make himself even richer. To this end, Henry masters the ability to see through playing cards, a skill that allows him to win great sums of money while gambling. In a statement, Dahl’s widow, Felicity, called for Netflix’s forthcoming adaptations to bring children “the unique magic and positive message of Roald Dahl’s stories.” “Henry Sugar” can do just that, with a story about the misery of greed and the redemption of philanthropy.

The tale also demonstrates Dahl’s mastery of magical realism. Matilda has the natural gift for psychokinesis—you might remember those hovering, aerodynamic carrots—but in “Henry Sugar,” in order to break the laws of physics, the unremarkable hero must first go through years of rigorous practice and focus. Henry begins his training by doing something that any of us could do, by staring into a candle wick. Sure, in real life, you probably won’t end up scamming casinos, but the next time you find yourself sitting across from the blue, orange, and black glow of a candle flame, why not give it a try? “Henry Sugar” demonstrates one of the most endearing qualities of Dahl’s works: The details are only just beyond the realm of believability in our own world.

That’s equally true of George’s Marvelous Medicine, one of Dahl’s most visually appetizing and underrated books. This text, about a little boy whose potions have the ability to grow and shrink the drinker, has an undeniable appeal to children, especially the ones who made bubbly turquoise concoctions out of whatever they could find in their unsuspecting parents’ bathroom. Its swelling chickens, nasty grandmas, and fuming elixirs lend themselves to Quentin Blake’s dynamic, emotive illustrations, so they’d be similarly suited to an animated interpretation. And it’s in this tale that we get a final line that describes the consistent texture of Dahl’s stories: “For a few brief moments he had touched with the very tips of his fingers the edge of a magic world.”

Though it isn’t mentioned specifically in Netflix’s press release, there’s another promising candidate for Netflix adaptation in Danny, the Champion of the World, which epitomizes the absurd schemes and wrought but tender family dynamics that Dahl crafted so well. While the book was adapted into a made-for-TV movie starring Jeremy Irons in 1989, it never saw the success of Matilda or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, making it ripe for an update. This novel follows 8-year-old Danny and his single dad, who enact revenge on a greedy businessman by poaching his pheasants. Like many of Dahl’s greatest books, this one features a child’s realization that the adults in his world may not be able to protect him and may themselves need help. It also presents that classic moral dilemma: Would you feed pheasants poison raisins to avenge your father’s broken ankle? And who wouldn’t want to see animations of drunk, teetering pheasants wrecking a Rolls-Royce?

Though there’s no telling which titles Netflix will ultimately choose to adapt from among the collection, the deal secures them the rights to everything from Dahl’s autobiographical tales Boy – Tales of Childhood and Going Solo to little-known stories such as The Giraffe and the Pelly and MeThe Magic Finger, and Esio Trot. Let’s hope Netflix realizes this opportunity to adapt less-trodden tales could lead to something whopping. Maybe even “something absolutely terrific.