An important handwritten letter by Roald Dahl - considered one of the world's best storytellers - has been discovered by an auction house in Staffordshire, England.
The letter, dated August 2, 1989, gives a rare insight into the author's opinion of his own work and determination to get children reading.
The owner and recipient of the letter, Christine Wotton, a librarian and housekeeper from Chagford, Devon, wrote to Dahl when she was a student, but wasn't expecting a reply. She found the author's address in the back of an old library book and was surprised to elicit such a passionate response from him.
In the letter, Dahl writes: "Never shelter children from the world… the 'content' of any children's book is of no importance other than that it enthrals the child - and thus it teaches or seduces him or her to 'like' books and to become a fit reader - which is vital if that child is going to amount to anything in later life.
"The book-reading child will always outstrip the non-book-reading child in later life. There are very few messages in these books of mine. They are there simply to turn the child into a reader of books. Damn it all, they are mostly pure fantasy. Have you read the latest one, Matilda? It seems to have broken every sales record in the history of hardback publishing."
Describing the history of the letter, Miss Wotton said: "I wrote to Roald Dahl speculatively as a young student, aged 20, when I was writing a dissertation on his work for my BA Hons degree in Literature and Linguistics at Portsmouth Polytechnic in the late 1980s. I was staging a mini rebellion by focussing on controversial elements, ie violence, of Dahl's books for children, as fellow students opted for a serious approach to the likes of Kafka, Shakespeare and Homer.
"I stumbled across Dahl's address listed in the back of an old library book. Security was clearly rather more relaxed in those days. On a whim I asked him questions which intrigued me regarding his style and attitude towards children's literature, never really dreaming of a response. So, I was amazed to receive a chatty double-sided, handwritten A4 reply, plus another dissertation which he lent me, presumably written in his famous garden shed, discussing the importance of reading for children and referring to his newly published book Matilda, now a movie and West End musical.
"As he indicated himself, it was unusual for him to reply to letters like mine, so I really struck lucky! With the happy-go-lucky optimism of youth, I don't think I fully appreciated my good fortune."
The note was discovered by Jim Spencer, head of books and works on paper at Hansons Auctioneers, when it was posted to the firm's country house saleroom, Bishton Hall in Wolseley Bridge, Staffordshire.
Miss Wotton contacted the auction house after deciding the time had come to sell. She said: "I've enjoyed and treasured the letter for over 30 years and the time has come to share it, for others to read and enjoy his wise words which are dashed off in his wonderfully inimitable, flamboyant style.
"As the youngest of six children, I always battled with naughty decrepit hand-me-down hairy ponies, so proceeds will go towards a horse to compete whilst I'm still courageous enough and young enough to bounce a bit. I like to think Dahl, with his no-nonsense attitude, would approve of my get up and go."
The letter will be offered for sale by Hansons Auctioneers in their specialist Library Auction at Bishton Hall, Staffordshire, on June 15.