Roald attended St Peter's School, a boarding school in Weston-super-Mare , from 1925, when he was nine, to 1929. He describes having received six strokes of the cane after being accused of cheating at his classwork. In the essay about the life of a penny, he claims that he still has the essay and that he had been doing well until the nib of his pen broke - fountain pens were not accepted. He had to ask his classmate for another one, when Captain Hardcastle heard him and accused him of cheating. Many of the events he describes involved the matron. She once sprinkled soap shavings into Tweedie's mouth to stop his snoring. She sent a six-year-old boy, who allegedly had thrown a sponge across the dormitory, to the headmaster. Still in his pyjamas and dressing gown, the boy was then caned. Wragg, a boy in Roald's dormitory, sprinkled sugar over the corridor floor so they could hear that the matron was coming when she walked upon it. When the boy's friends refused to turn him in, the whole school was punished by the headmaster who confiscated the keys to their tuck boxes containing food parcels which the pupils had received from their families. At the end he returns home to his family for Christmas.
But it was not just the puns and wordplay that gave me a bad case of loving English. It was the words themselves: the vocabulary of the book. I can still, forty years later, remember my first encounters with the following words: macabre, din, dodecahedron, discord, trivium, lethargy. They are all, capitalized and adapted, characters in the novel. Entire phrases, too, found their way into the marbles-sack of my eight-year-old word-hoard: “rhyme and reason,” “easy as falling off a log,” “taking the words right out of your mouth.” To this day when I happen to write those or any other of the words that I remember having first seen in The Phantom Tollbooth , I get a tiny thrill of nostalgia and affection for the wonderful book, and for its author, and for myself when young, and for the world I then lived in. A world of wonders, but not so replete that it could not be improved upon, perhaps even healed, by a journey like Milo’s, through a book. But if you’ve read the book, you probably know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, what are you waiting for? Stop reading this nonsense, already, and get on to Chapter 1. I’ll be waiting for you, at the other end, with a pin to prick your fingertip.