Roald Dahl (pronounced Roo-ahl) is one of the world's most beloved childrens authors. He is also one of the most successful.
Roald Dahl was born in Llandaff, Wales on September 13, 1916. He was born into a Norwegian family where he was the only son of his father, Harald's second marraige. His father died when he was four years old and his mother was left to raise him, her own three children and two of Harald's children. His mother told him great stories and raised the children well, providing them a solid sense of security. His mother was his greatest influence in his life and led him to be a writer. He would later say about his mother that she was 'undoubtedly the absolute primary influence on my own life...she was the matriarch...and her children radiated round her like planets round a sun'. She would later influence some of his books, including the Grandmother character in Witches. Dahl looked up to his mother and respected her, thinking of her as a wise person. He one wrote 'She had a crystal-clear intellect of everything under the sun, from horticulture to cooking to literature...'
When he went to school at age seven, Dahl was miserable. He most enjoyed his trips to the candy shop when he was young, which would later appear as a common theme in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. He would stand outside of the shop windows with his friend and glare in, asking questions about candy and dreaming.
When he was nine, Dahl was sent to St Peter's Prep School, where he would stay until 1929. He hated school very much and was homesick his whole time there. Unsurprisingly, the young Dahl's experiences there would later affect some of his books, creating a character based on one teacher. He wrote home once a week, and would later write to his children twice a week when they went to school. At one point, Roald even faked the symptoms of appendicitis to be taken home. In school, he played Cricket and swam competitively, but was never particularly academically bright.
At age 13, Dahl was sent to the Repton school in Derbyshire. He was a great sportsman, but his English teacher said at his end-of-term report that he was incapable of marshalling his thoughts onto paper. Interestingly, Repton students were sometimes sent new chocolates from the nearby Cadbury factory to test. He remembered fondly that he loved doing this, and dreamt of working for a chocolate company. This probably influenced his love of chocolate and eventually Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Many of these experiences were used for the autobiography of his childhood Boy.
At age 18, Dahl chose to go on an expedition to Canada instead of going to a University. He would then be hired by the Shell Company and sent to the city of Dar es Salaam in South Africa, where he worked as a salesman. When war broke out, he was 23 years old and joined the Air Force. He later wrote these experiences in an autobiography called Going Solo. His first published work was in a 1942 newspaper, detailing a crash where he told how he wrote about how he was crashed when he got shot down in Libya. He had a number of other adventures, including having a German gun pointed at his head, crash landing to significant injuries and was sent out of war in 1942 to Washington DC, considered an invalid.
When he was sent back, Dahl met CS Forester and they went out to lunch. They decided to work together for a piece of writing for the Saturday Evening Post. Roald wrote Forester, detailing his recollection of the events and hoped that Forester would make it read well. Forester wrote back and told Dahl 'Did you know you were a writer? I haven't changed a word' and sent him 900 dollars from the newspaper. It appeared in August that year under the title of 'Shot Down Over Libya'1.
His first real book was The Gremlins, published in 1943 when a movie project of the same story was adandoned by Disney. The book was considerably successful and Dahl won the favour of US First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and even visited the White House. He never liked this book particularly though, and he never received very much attention for it.
His earliest career as a writer was not, as some fans might think, in childrens books. He wrote short stories for adults with strange plots and twists some of which would later be compiled into books. It was a slow process though, and Dahl could take half of a year to complete one short story. His first story was called 'A Piece of Cake' and it appeared in the Saturday Evening Post, after CS Forester encouraged him to write it. He wrote a total of 17 stories for the Post, starting off as real stories. Eventually, his stories became fictional and bizarre. Some were published in a book called Over To You. Many also appeared in magazines and some were even televised in a television show called Tales of the Unexpected.
His first adult novel, Sometime Never was published in 1948. Another novel, My Uncle Oswald was later published in 1979.
Since I could write, that's what I'd do
Eventually, Dahl gravitated towards Children's fiction when he had children. He told his children bedtime stories and started to write them down. One story was about a giant peach, which is where his hugely successful James and the Giant Peach came from and it was published in 1961.
In 1964, a children's book named Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was published, incorporating some of the elements of his childhood. It was hugely successful around the world, selling several million copies. It introduced famous characters, such as Willy Wonka and Oompa-Loompas. In 1971, a movie version starring Gene Wilder was released, sharing a similar success. Besides these two classic books, Dahl wrote 17 other Childrens Books, including:
- The BFG is the heartwarming, funny tale of the Big Friendly Giant - hence the title 'The BFG'.
- George's Marvelous Medicine is a story in which a young man named George fixes some medicine to 'fix' his grouchy, mean grandmother.
- Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator is the sequel to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in which Charlie goes up to space in a glass space elevator to a space hotel and he saves it from being squished by aliens.
- Danny, the Champion of the World is about how a young boy lost his mother and lives with his father happily... until he finds out a bad secret his father holds.
- Dirty Beasts
- The Enormous Crocodile
- Esio Trot
- Fantastic Mr. Fox
- George's Marvelous Medicine
- The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me
- The Gremlins
- The Magic Finger
- The Minpins
- Revolting Rhymes
- Rhyme Stew
- The Twits
- The Vicar of Nibbleswicke
- The Witches
Dahl wrote and had published four other autobiographical works. Going Solo was based on his experiences in war. Boy : Tales of Childhood was a detailed memoir of his childhood. In 1996, an excerpt from Boy was published, called The Great Mouse Plot. My Year was a book compiled from a journal he kept during his last year of life.
Although he wrote more children's books than anything else, Dahl has a number of collections of his short stories. They are:
- 5 Bestsellers
- Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life
- The Best of Roald Dahl
- The Collected Short Stories of Roald Dahl
- Completely Unexpected Tales
- Further Tales of the Unexpected
- The Great Automatic Grammatizator and Other Stories
- Kiss Kiss
- Lamb to the Slaughter and Other Stories
- The Mildenhall Treasure
- More Tales of the Unexpected
- The Roald Dahl Omnibus
- Over to You
- Selected Stories of Roald Dahl
- A Roald Dahl Selection: Nine Short Stories
- A Second Roald Dahl Selection: Eight Short Stories
- Skin and Other Stories
- Someone Like You
- Switch Bitch
- Tales of the Unexpected
- Tales of the Unexpected (Volume 1)
- Tales of the Unexpected (Volume 2)
- Taste and Other Tales
- Twenty Nine Kisses from Roald Dahl
- Two Fables
- The Umbrella Man and Other Stories
- The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More
In addition to all of these works, Dahl wrote nine other books:
- Roald Dahl's Book of Ghost Stories
- The Roald Dahl Diary 1992
- The Roald Dahl Diary 2000
- Memories with Food at Gipsy House
- Roald Dahl's Even More Revolting Recipes
- Roald Dahl's Guide to Railway Safety
- The Roald Dahl Quiz Book
- Roald Dahl's Revolting Recipes
- The Roald Dahl Treasury
Four movies were made of Dahl's work. Besides Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach, a movie version of Matilda was made, and he helped to write Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.