There are precious few audio documents of Roald Dahl's own readings, be it his adult or children's stories. However the American Caedmon label recorded 4 audiobook records of Dahl reading his own children's stories. They recorded abridged versions of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach, and unabridged versions of Fantastic Mr Fox, The Enormous Crocodile and The Magic Finger. In addition a British company recorded Dahl's own reading of The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me. For a time Harper Audio (the successor to Caedmon) released the four Dahl Caedmon LPs in one package. However it is good to have them back again in this Penguin audiobook reissue.
Some people might feel upset that Dahl is not dramatic in any way, and some may complain that these recordings of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach are abridged so that each book takes up one LP. However they are excellent recordings and they still manage to sparkle with Dahl's trademark writing and storytelling style.
The recording of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory gives us an excellent reading of the book even in an abridged form. In this recording, Dahl might sound tentative at first because this was the first time he was recording his work. This abridged version covers the salient episodes of the book and paces itself very well. In a way this is good. I have tended to feel uneasy that the original book had a bit of padding, and this abridgement, though brief, is very welcome and paces itself better. Some might not be too keen on Dahl's brisk pace, as the producers were obliged to fit this recording onto one LP. However Dahl is still able to adjust his voice and tone for the various situations and emotions.
Dahl is perhaps more seasoned in the readings of Fantastic Mr Fox, The Enormous Crocodile and The Magic Finger. These books are presented unabridged, so there is less cramming and compression. Dahl's pace in these stories is relaxed, and Dahl captures the right moods for each characters. Dahl perfectly catches the slyness of the Enormous Crocodile himself and is superb when he tells of the strange happenings of the Greggs after the girl punishes them with the magic finger. And in this recorded reading of Fantastic Mr Fox Dahl succeeds in making the three nasty farmers sound horrid and mean, and hell-bent on catching Mr Fox and all the woodland animals.
The least successful reading is James and the Giant Peach. When I say "least successful" I mean that the abridgement leaves out too many important episodes. It is too heavy on the first part of the book in the house of Sponge and Spiker, and it cuts out the middle part of the journey across the Atlantic. We don't hear about the danger with the Cloud Men or James rescuing the Centipede from the ocean. So even though Dahl reads well, it's easy to feel disappointed with the quality of the abridgement.
In spite of its flaws, this is still a superb collection of Dahl's own readings and one of the few available audio documents of him reading his children's books. It is fit to stand alongside existing audiobook recordings, including the new unabridged versions that Penguin Audio has been releasing over these few months.
For non-Americans who are purchasing this set, it's worth noting that these recordings use the American editions of the stories rather than the British edition. So in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory American currency is used in place of British currency and candy bar is used in place of chocolate bar.