I’ve mentioned Roald Dahl’s amazing Danny the Champion of the World in this space before, because it’s quite simply one of my favorite books of all time. To this day I read it every few years, and I still find myself drawn into Dahl’s world of a father and son living in a Gypsy caravan in the English countryside, from where they run their little petrol station. Dahl creates an entire little world here, filling young Danny’s universe with magic and love and light and, since it’s a Dahl novel, just enough adult-world scariness. I’m always amazed at how Dahl draws me into this pastoral world, getting me involved and invested before the real story even starts, when young Danny wakes up one night and realizes that Dad isn’t there. Where has he gone? Well, for that answer, I strongly recommend reading the book yourself. The answer involves pheasants and an extremely unpleasant rich guy down the road…and that’s all I’ll say.
I will, however, offer this brief passage, in which Danny describes his father.
My father, without the slightest doubt, was the most marvelous and exciting father any boy ever had. Here is a picture of him.
You might think, if you didn’t know him well, that he was a stern and serious man. He wasn’t. He was actually a wildly funny person. What made him appear so serious was the fact that he never smiled with his mouth. He did it all with his eyes. He had brilliant blue eyes and when he thought of something funny, his eyes would flash and, if you looked carefully, you could actually see a tiny little golden spark dancing in the middle of each eye. But the mouth never moved.
I was glad my father was an eye-smiler. It meant he never gave me a fake smile because it’s impossible to make your eyes twinkle if you aren’t feeling twinkly yourself. A mouth-smile is different. You can fake a mouth-smile any time you want, simply by moving your lips. I’ve also learned that a real mouth-smile always has an eye-smile to go with it. So watch out, I say, when someone smiles at you with his mouth but his eyes stay the same. It’s sure to be a phony.
Lest you think that eye-smiling is a thing that Dahl made up here…it isn’t. Eye-smiling is real. I know. And when you see one, you will, too.