Roald Dahl and Charles Dickens (with apologies to Dr Spooner)

 Dahl and Dickens Clerihew

To paraphrase Jane Austen, it is a truth universally acknowledged, that a writer in possession of clerihews must be in want of a rhyme for ‘Dickens’.

E.C. Bentley wrote one about Dickens and chickens and sheep; W.H. Auden took on Dickens and chickens and rabbits; and other writers have been known to resort to a plot that thickens, a reader that sickens, or something about brick inns.

When my turn came to approach the problem, I was glad to invoke the spirit of Dr William Archibald Spooner.

Spooner, an Oxford identity for nearly 60 years, is best known as the man who “invented” Spoonerisms, where a phrase is recast by interchanging the first letters of two or more words (“You have hissed all my mystery lectures, and so have tasted a whole worm”; “Who has not nourished in his bosom a half-warmed fish?” and so on). An interesting claim to fame, because Spooner did nothing of the kind. It seems that concept of Spoonerism became attached to him because of his general absent-mindedness and tendency to get OTHER things backwards – things like pouring red wine on a salt stain, or asking a visitor if it had been he or his brother who had been killed in the War…

Charles Dickens was one of Roald Dahl’s favourite authors, and his novel Matilda, about a precocious child in an atrocious situation, is often described as Dickensian in style. (In a nod to Dickens, the first adult book that Matilda reads in that novel is Great Expectations.)


“I don’t know which is more discouraging, literature or chickens.”
– E.B. White (1899-1985)


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