Roald Dahl (13 September 1916 – 23 November 1990) was a British novelist, short story writer, fighter ace and screenwriter.
Born in Llandaff, Cardiff, Wales, to Norwegian parents, he served in the Royal Air Force during the Second World War, in which he became a flying ace and intelligence agent, rising to the rank of Wing Commander. He rose to prominence in the 1940s with works for both children and adults, and became one of the world’s bestselling authors. His short stories are known for their unexpected endings, and his children’s books for their unsentimental, often very dark humour.
Some of his better-known works include James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Fantastic Mr Fox, Matilda, The Witches, and The Big Friendly Giant.
Roald Dahl was born at Villa Marie, Fairwater Road, Llandaff, Glamorgan, in 1916, to Norwegian parents, Harald Dahl and Sofie Magdalene Dahl (née Hesselberg). Dahl’s father had moved from Sarpsborg in Norway and settled in Cardiff in the 1880s. His mother came over to marry his father in 1911. Dahl was named after the polar explorer Roald Amundsen, a national hero in Norway at the time. He spoke Norwegian at home with his parents and sisters, Astri, Alfhild, and Else. Dahl and his sisters were christened at the Norwegian Church, Cardiff, where their parents worshipped.
In 1920, when Dahl was still three years old, his seven-year-old sister, Astri, died from appendicitis. Weeks later, his father died of pneumonia at the age of 57. With the option of returning to Norway to live with relatives, Dahl’s mother decided to remain in Wales, because her husband had wished to have their children educated in British schools, which he considered the world’s best.
Dahl first attended The Cathedral School, Llandaff. At the age of eight, he and four of his friends (one named Thwaites) were caned by the headmaster after putting a dead mouse in a jar of gobstoppers at the local sweet shop, which was owned by a “mean and loathsome” old woman called Mrs Pratchett. This was known amongst the five boys as the “Great Mouse Plot of 1924″. This was Roald’s own idea.
Thereafter, he transferred to a boarding school in England: Saint Peter’s in Weston-super-Mare. Roald’s parents had wanted him to be educated at a British public school and, at the time, because of a then regular ferry link across the Bristol Channel, this proved to be the nearest. His time at Saint Peter’s was an unpleasant experience for him. He was very homesick and wrote to his mother every week, but never revealed to her his unhappiness, being under the pressure of school censorship. Only after her death in 1967 did he find out that she had saved every single one of his letters, in small bundles held together with green tape. Dahl wrote about his time at St. Peter’s in his autobiography Boy: Tales of Childhood.
From 1929, he attended Repton School in Derbyshire, where, according to Boy: Tales of Childhood, a friend named Michael was viciously caned by headmaster Geoffrey Fisher, the man who later became the Archbishop of Canterbury and crowned the Queen in 1953. (However, according to Dahl’s biographer Jeremy Treglown, the caning took place in May 1933, a year after Fisher had left Repton. The headmaster concerned was in fact J.T. Christie, Fisher’s successor.) This caused Dahl to “have doubts about religion and even about God”. He was never seen as a particularly talented writer in his school years, with one of his English teachers writing in his school report “I have never met anybody who so persistently writes words meaning the exact opposite of what is intended,” Dahl was exceptionally tall, reaching 6 ft 6 in (1.98 m) in adult life. He excelled at sports, being made captain of the school fives and squash teams, and also playing for the football team. He developed an interest in photography. During his years at Repton, Cadbury, the chocolate company, would occasionally send boxes of new chocolates to the school to be tested by the pupils. Dahl apparently used to dream of inventing a new chocolate bar that would win the praise of Mr. Cadbury himself, and this proved the inspiration for him to write his third book for children, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1963) and include references to chocolate in other books for children.
Throughout his childhood and adolescent years, Dahl spent his summer holidays with his mother’s family in their native Norway. His childhood and first job selling kerosene in Midsomer Norton and surrounding villages in Somerset are subjects in Boy: Tales of Childhood. The main child character in his 1983 book The Witches is British-born but of Norweigan origin; his grandmother is still living in Norway.
After finishing his schooling, he spent three weeks hiking through Newfoundland with the Public Schools’ Exploring Society (now known as BSES Expeditions).
In July 1934, Dahl joined the Shell Petroleum Company. Following two years of training in the UK, he was transferred to Dar-es-Salaam, Tanganyika (now Tanzania). Along with the only two other Shell employees in the entire territory, he lived in luxury in the Shell House outside Dar-es-Salaam, with a cook and personal servants. While out on assignments supplying oil to customers across Tanganyika, he encountered black mambas and lions, amongst other wildlife.
In August 1939, as World War II loomed, plans were made to round up the hundreds of Germans in Dar-es-Salaam. Dahl was made an officer in the King’s African Rifles, commanding a platoon of Askaris, indigenous troops serving in the colonial army.
In November 1939, Dahl joined the Royal Air Force as an Aircraftman. After a 600-mile (970 km) car journey from Dar-es-Salaam to Nairobi, he was accepted for flight training with 16 other men, and was one of only three who survived the war. With seven hours and 40 minutes experience in a De Havilland Tiger Moth, he flew solo; Dahl enjoyed watching the wildlife of Kenya during his flights. He continued to advanced flying training in Iraq, at RAF Habbaniya, 50 miles (80 km) west of Baghdad. He was promoted to Leading Aircraftman on 24 August 1940. Following six months’ training on Hawker Harts, Dahl was made an Acting Pilot Officer.
He was assigned to No. 80 Squadron RAF, flying obsolete Gloster Gladiators, the last biplane fighter aircraft used by the RAF. Dahl was surprised to find that he would not receive any specialised training in aerial combat, or in flying Gladiators. On 19 September 1940, Dahl was ordered to fly his Gladiator from Abu Sueir in Egypt, on to Amiriya to refuel, and again to Fouka in Libya for a second refuelling. From there he would fly to 80 Squadron’s forward airstrip 30 miles (48 km) south of Mersa Matruh. On the final leg, he could not find the airstrip and, running low on fuel and with night approaching, he was forced to attempt a landing in the desert. The undercarriage hit a boulder and the aircraft crashed, fracturing his skull, smashing his nose, and temporarily blinding him. He managed to drag himself away from the blazing wreckage and passed out. Later, he wrote about the crash for his first published work.
Dahl began writing in 1942, after he was transferred to Washington, D.C. as Assistant Air Attaché. His first published work, in 1 August 1942 issue of The Saturday Evening Post, was “Shot Down Over Libya” which described the crash of his Gloster Gladiator. C. S. Forester had asked Dahl to write down some RAF anecdotes so that he could shape them into a story. After Forester read what Dahl had given him, he decided to publish the story exactly as Dahl had written it. The original title of the article was “A Piece of Cake” but the title was changed to sound more dramatic, despite the fact that he was not actually shot down.
Dahl was promoted to Flight Lieutenant in August 1942. During the war, Forester worked for the British Information Service and was writing propaganda for the Allied cause, mainly for American consumption. This work introduced Dahl to espionage and the activities of the Canadian spymaster William Stephenson, known by the codename “Intrepid”.
During the war, Dahl supplied intelligence from Washington to Stephenson and his organisation known as British Security Coordination, which was part of MI6. He was revealed in the 1980s to have been serving to help promote Britain’s interests and message in the United States and to combat the “America First” movement, working with such other well known agents as Ian Fleming and David Ogilvy. Dahl was once sent back to Britain by British Embassy officials, supposedly for misconduct – “I got booted out by the big boys,” he said. Stephenson promptly sent him back to Washington—with a promotion to Wing Commander. Towards the end of the war, Dahl wrote some of the history of the secret organisation and he and Stephenson remained friends for decades after the war.
Upon the war’s conclusion, Dahl held the rank of a temporary Wing Commander (substantive Flight Lieutenant). Owing to his accident in 1940 having left him with excruciating headaches while flying, in August 1946 he was invalided out of the RAF. He left the service with the substantive rank of Squadron Leader.
His record of five aerial victories, qualifying him as a flying ace, has been confirmed by post-war research and cross-referenced in Axis records, although it is most likely that he scored more than that during 20 April 1941 when 22 German aircraft were shot down.
Dahl married American actress Patricia Neal on 2 July 1953 at Trinity Church in New York City. Their marriage lasted for 30 years and they had five children: Olivia, Tessa, Theo, Ophelia, and Lucy.
On 5 December 1960, four-month-old Theo Dahl was severely injured when his baby carriage was struck by a taxicab in New York City. For a time, he suffered from hydrocephalus, and as a result, his father became involved in the development of what became known as the “Wade-Dahl-Till” (or WDT) valve, a device to alleviate the condition.
In November 1962, Olivia Dahl died of measles encephalitis at age seven. Dahl subsequently became a proponent of immunization and dedicated his 1982 book The BFG to his deceased daughter.
In 1965, wife Patricia Neal suffered three burst cerebral aneurysms while pregnant with their fifth child, Lucy; Dahl took control of her rehabilitation and she eventually relearned to talk and walk, and even returned to her acting career.
Following a divorce from Neal in 1983, Dahl married Felicity “Liccy” Crosland the same year at Brixton town hall, and with whom he was in a relationship before that. According to a biographer, Donald Sturrock, Liccy gave up her job and moved into his home, ‘Gipsy House’, with Roald and his children.
He is the father of the author Tessa Dahl, grandfather of author, cookbook writer and former model Sophie Dahl and father-in-law to actor Julian Holloway (son of actor Stanley Holloway).
Death and legacy
Roald Dahl died on 23 November 1990, at the age of 74 of a blood disease, myelodysplastic syndrome, in Oxford, and was buried in the cemetery at St. Peter and St. Paul’s Church in Great Missenden. According to his granddaughter, the family gave him a “sort of Viking funeral”. He was buried with his snooker cues, some very good burgundy, chocolates, HB pencils and a power saw. In his honour, the Roald Dahl Children’s Gallery was opened at Buckinghamshire County Museum in nearby Aylesbury.
In 2002, one of Cardiff Bay’s modern landmarks, the historic Oval Basin plaza, was re-christened “Roald Dahl Plass”. “Plass” means “place” or “square” in Norwegian, referring to the acclaimed late writer’s Norwegian roots. There have also been calls from the public for a permanent statue of him to be erected in the city.
Dahl’s charitable commitments in the fields of neurology and haematology have been continued by his widow since his death, through Roald Dahl’s Marvellous Children’s Charity, formerly known as the Roald Dahl Foundation. In June 2005, the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre opened in Great Missenden to celebrate the work of Roald Dahl and advance his work in literacy education.
In 2008, the UK charity Booktrust and Children’s Laureate Michael Rosen inaugurated The Roald Dahl Funny Prize, an annual award to authors of humorous children’s fiction. In 2008, The Times ranked Roald Dahl sixteenth on their list of “The 50 greatest British writers since 1945″.
On 14 September 2009 (the day after what would have been Dahl’s 93rd birthday) the first blue plaque in his honour was unveiled in Llandaff, Cardiff. Rather than commemorating his place of birth, however, the plaque was erected on the wall of the former sweet shop (and site of “The Great Mouse Plot of 1924″) that features in the first part of his autobiography Boy. It was unveiled by his widow Felicity and son Theo.
In his honour, Gibraltar Post issued a set of four stamps in 2010 featuring Quentin Blake’s original illustrations for four of the children’s books written by Dahl during his long career; The BFG, The Twits, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Matilda.
Roald Dahl Day
The anniversary of Dahl’s birthday on 13 September is celebrated as “Roald Dahl Day” in Africa, the United Kingdom, and Latin America.
Roald Dahl’s story “The Devious Bachelor” was illustrated by Frederick Siebel when it was published in Collier’s (September 1953).
Dahl’s first published work, inspired by a meeting with C. S. Forester, was “A Piece Of Cake.” The story, about his wartime adventures, was bought by The Saturday Evening Post for $1000 and published under the title “Shot Down Over Libya”. The “shot down” title was inaccurate, as he simply ran out of fuel.
His first children’s book was The Gremlins, about mischievous little creatures that were part of RAF folklore. All the RAF pilots blamed the gremlins for all the problems with the plane. The book was commissioned by Walt Disney for a film that was never made, and published in 1943. Dahl went on to create some of the best-loved children’s stories of the 20th century, such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, Matilda, James and the Giant Peach and George’s Marvellous Medicine.
He also had a successful parallel career as the writer of macabre adult short stories, usually with a dark sense of humour and a surprise ending. Many were originally written for American magazines such as Collier’s, Ladies Home Journal, Harper’s, Playboy and The New Yorker. Works such as Kiss Kiss subsequently collected Dahl’s stories into anthologies, gaining worldwide acclaim. Dahl wrote more than 60 short stories; they have appeared in numerous collections, some only being published in book form after his death (See List of Roald Dahl short stories). His stories also brought him three Edgar Awards: in 1954, for the collection Someone Like You; in 1959, for the story “The Landlady”; and in 1980, for the episode of Tales of the Unexpected based on “Skin”.
One of his more famous adult stories, “The Smoker” (also known as “Man From the South”), was filmed twice as both 1960 and 1985 episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and also adapted into Quentin Tarantino’s segment of the 1995 film Four Rooms. This bizarre, oft-anthologised suspense classic concerns a man residing in Jamaica who wagers with visitors in an attempt to claim the fingers from their hands. The 1960 Hitchcock version stars Steve McQueen and Peter Lorre.
His short story collection Tales of the Unexpected was adapted to a successful TV series of the same name, beginning with “Man From the South”. When the stock of Dahl’s own original stories was exhausted, the series continued by adapting stories by authors that were written in Dahl’s style, including the writers John Collier and Stanley Ellin.
He acquired a traditional Romanichal Gypsy wagon in the 1960s, and the family used it as a playhouse for his children. He later used the vardo as a writing room, where he wrote the book Danny, the Champion of the World.
A number of his short stories are supposed to be extracts from the diary of his (fictional) Uncle Oswald, a rich gentleman whose sexual exploits form the subject of these stories. In his novel “My Uncle Oswald” the uncle engages a temptress to seduce 20th Century geniuses and royalty with a love potion secretly added to chocolate truffles made by Dahl’s favourite chocolate shop, Prestat of Piccadilly.
Memories with Food at Gipsy House, written with his wife Felicity and published posthumously in 1991, was a mixture of recipes, family reminiscences and Dahl’s musings on favourite subjects such as chocolate, onions, and claret.
Dahl ranks amongst the world’s bestselling fiction authors, with sales estimated at 100 million.
Dahl’s children’s works are usually told from the point of view of a child. They typically involve adult villains or villainesses who hate and mistreat children, and feature at least one “good” adult to counteract the villain(s). These stock characters are possibly a reference to the abuse that Dahl stated that he experienced in the boarding schools he attended. They usually contain a lot of black humour and grotesque scenarios, including gruesome violence. The Witches, George’s Marvellous Medicine and Matilda are examples of this formula. The BFG follows it in a more analogous way with the good giant (the BFG or “Big Friendly Giant”) representing the “good adult” archetype and the other giants being the “bad adults”. This formula is also somewhat evident in Dahl’s film script for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Class-conscious themes – ranging from the thinly veiled to the blatant – also surface in works such as Fantastic Mr Fox and Danny, the Champion of the World.
Dahl also features in his books characters that are very fat, usually children. Augustus Gloop, Bruce Bogtrotter, and Bruno Jenkins are a few of these characters, although an enormous woman named Aunt Sponge is featured in James and The Giant Peach and the nasty farmer Boggis in Fantastic Mr Fox features as an enormously fat character. All of these characters (with the possible exception of Bruce Bogtrotter) are either villains or simply unpleasant gluttons. They are usually punished for this: Augustus Gloop drinks from Willy Wonka’s chocolate river, disregarding the adults who tell him not to, and falls in, getting sucked up a pipe and nearly being turned into fudge. Bruce Bogtrotter steals cake from the evil headmistress, Miss Trunchbull, and is forced to eat a gigantic chocolate cake in front of the school. Bruno Jenkins is turned into a mouse by witches who lure him to their convention with the promise of chocolate, and, it is speculated, possibly disowned or even killed by his parents because of this. Aunt Sponge is flattened by a giant peach.)
Dahl’s mother used to tell him and his sisters tales about trolls and other mythical Norwegian creatures and some of his children’s books contain references or elements inspired by these stories, such as the giants in The BFG, the fox family in Fantastic Mr. Fox, and the trolls in The Minpins.
For a brief period in the 1960s, Dahl wrote screenplays. Two – the James Bond film You Only Live Twice and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang – were adaptations of novels by Ian Fleming, though both were rewritten and completed by other writers. Dahl also began adapting his own novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which was completed and rewritten by David Seltzer after Dahl failed to meet deadlines, and produced as the film Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971). Dahl later disowned the film, saying he was “disappointed” because “he thought it placed too much emphasis on Willy Wonka and not enough on Charlie”. He was also “infuriated” by the deviations in the plot devised by David Seltzer in his draft of the screenplay. This resulted in his refusal for any more versions of the book to be made in his lifetime.
Not surprisingly, a major part of Dahl’s literary influences stemmed from his childhood. In his younger days, he was an avid reader, especially awed by fantastic tales of heroism and triumph. Amongst his favourite authors were Rudyard Kipling, William Thackeray, Frederick Marryat and Charles Dickens and their works went on to make a lasting mark on his life and writing. Dahl was also a huge fan of ghost stories and claimed that Trolls by Jonas Lie was one of the finest ghost stories ever written. While he was still a youngster, his mother, Sofie Dahl, would relate traditional Norwegian myths and legends from her native homeland to Dahl and his sisters. Dahl always maintained that his mother and her stories had a strong influence on his writing. In one interview he mentioned, “She was a great teller of tales. Her memory was prodigious and nothing that ever happened to her in her life was forgotten.” When Dahl started writing and publishing his famous books for children, he created a grandmother character in The Witches and later stated that she was based directly on his own mother as a tribute.
1. The Gremlins (1943)
2. James and the Giant Peach (1961) — Film: James and the Giant Peach (live-action/animated) (1996)
3. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1964)— Films: Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971) and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)
4. The Magic Finger (1 June 1966)
5. Fantastic Mr Fox (9 December 1970) — Film: Fantastic Mr. Fox (animated) (2009)
6. Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator (9 January 1972) - A sequel to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
7. Danny, the Champion of the World (30 October 1975) — Film: Danny the Champion of the World (TV movie) (1989)
8. The Enormous Crocodile (24 August 1978)
9. The Twits (17 December 1980)
10. George’s Marvellous Medicine (21 May 1981)
11. The BFG (14 October 1982) — Film: The BFG (animated) (1989)
12. The Witches (27 October 1983) — Film: The Witches (1990)
13. The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me (26 September 1985)
14. Matilda (21 April 1988) — Film: Matilda (1996)
15. Esio Trot (19 April 1989)
16. The Vicar of Nibbleswicke (9 May 1990)
17. The Minpins (8 August 1991)
1. Revolting Rhymes (10 June 1982)
2. Dirty Beasts (25 October 1984)
3. Rhyme Stew (21 September 1989)
1. Sometime Never: A Fable for Supermen (1948)
2. My Uncle Oswald (1979)
Short story collections
1. Over To You: Ten Stories of Flyers and Flying (1946)
2. Someone Like You (1953)
3. Lamb to the Slaughter (1953)
4. Kiss Kiss (1960)
5. Twenty-Nine Kisses from Roald Dahl (1969)
6. Switch Bitch (1974)
7. The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More (1977)
8. The Best of Roald Dahl (1978)
9. Tales of the Unexpected (1979)
10. More Tales of the Unexpected (1980)
11. Roald Dahl’s Book of Ghost Stories (1983). Edited with an introduction by Dahl.
12. The Roald Dahl Omnibus (Dorset Press, 1986)
13. Two Fables (1986). “Princess and the Poacher” and “Princess Mammalia”.
14. Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life: The Country Stories of Roald Dahl (1989)
15. The Collected Short Stories of Dahl (1991)
16. The Roald Dahl Treasury (1997)
17. The Great Automatic Grammatizator (1997). (Known in the USA as The Umbrella Man and Other Stories).
18. Skin And Other Stories (2000)
19. Roald Dahl: Collected Stories (2006)
1. The Mildenhall Treasure (1946, 1977, 1999)
2. Boy – Tales of Childhood (1984) Recollections up to the age of 20, looking particularly at schooling in Britain in the early part of the 20th century.
3. Going Solo (1986) Continuation of his autobiography, in which he goes to work for Shell and spends some time working in Tanzania before joining the war effort and becoming one of the last Allied pilots to withdraw from Greece during the German invasion.
4. Measles, a Dangerous Illness (1986)
5. Memories with Food at Gipsy House (1991)
6. Roald Dahl’s Guide to Railway Safety (1991)
7. My Year (1993)
8. Roald Dahl’s Revolting Recipes by Felicity Dahl, et al. (1994), a collection of recipes based on and inspired by food in Dahl’s books, created by Roald & Felicity Dahl, and Josie Fison
9. Roald Dahl’s Even More Revolting Recipes by Felicity Dahl, et al. (2001)
1. The Honeys (1955) Produced at the Longacre Theater on Broadway.
1. The Gremlins (1943)
2. 36 Hours (1965)
3. You Only Live Twice (1967)
4. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968)
5. The Night Digger (1971)
6. Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971)
1. Way Out (1961) Horror series hosted by Roald Dahl and produced by David Susskind
2. Alfred Hitchcock Presents: “Lamb to the Slaughter” (1958)
3. Alfred Hitchcock Presents: “Dip in the Pool” (1958)
4. Alfred Hitchcock Presents: “Poison” (1958)
5. Alfred Hitchcock Presents: “Man from the South” (1960) with Steve McQueen and Peter Lorre
6. Alfred Hitchcock Presents: “Mrs. Bixby and the Colonel’s Coat” (1960)
7. Alfred Hitchcock Presents: “The Landlady” (1961)
8. Tales of the Unexpected (1979–88), episodes written and introduced by Dahl
This information was taken from Wikipedia. For References to the information above, please click the link:
Roald Dahl. (2010, October 25). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 18:19, October 25, 2010, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Roald_Dahl&oldid=392757357
To visit the Official Roald Dahl Website, click here.