Widely regarded as one of the finest children’s storybook authors of all time, Roald Dahl has done and continues to make an impression on people’s lives decades after his passing. As part of our World Book Day celebrations
we discover the life and times of Roald Dahl.
Dahl: The ‘Flying Ace’
The Welsh-born writer, poet and screenwriter was an officer in the King’s African Rifles in World War II, serving in both the British Army and the Royal Air Force between 1939 and 1945.
As a Hurricane fighter pilot during World War II Dahl suffered multiple injuries and required two steel hips and six operations on his spine. In August 1946 he was invalided out of the RAF, retiring as a flying ace.
First foray into writing
Dahl first published his written work in August 1942, with the tale “A Piece Of Cake” inspired by his wartime adventures, which was eventually bought and published by The Saturday Evening Post for $1,000 – a clearly substantial sum way back in 1942.
His first children’s tale was titled “The Gremlins” and was based on mischievous little Gremlins who were part of RAF folklore, with pilots regularly blaming Gremlins for faults with planes. The tale was in fact commissioned by Walt Disney in 1943 to be made into motion picture but the film was never eventually made.
Initial acclaim from Walt Disney appeared to give Dahl the motivation to create some of the best-loved children’s novels of the 20th Century.
Did you know:
Roald Dahl wrote all of his children’s stories in a small hut at the bottom of his garden!
Told from the point of view of child, much of Dahl’s children’s works involved an adult villain that treats children badly and a ‘good’ adult that seeks to counteract the horrible villain. Who can forget Matilda’s run-in with Miss Trunchbull or Sophie and Mrs Clonkers in The BFG?
Roald Dahl once said: “I make my points by exaggerating wildly. That’s the only way to get through to children.”
And exaggerate he did! In many of his most successful children’s books contain characters that are very fat. Bruce Bogtrotter, Augustus Gloop and Bruno Jenkins to name but a few. All of these characters are either villains or rather unpleasant gluttons and are eventually made to pay for their indiscretions.
Many of Dahl’s literary influences were taken from his very own childhood. A regular reader of Rudyard Kipling, William Makepeace and Charles Dickens, their works left such an impression that they moulded much of Dahl’s own work.
Dahl also said: “She (Dahl’s mother) was a great teller of tales. Her memory was prodigious and nothing that ever happened to her in her life was forgotten.”
Dahl didn’t just specialise in children’s books. His adult tales were a mixture of fantasy and macabre and were typically full of imagination and flair. A typical theme that runs through many of the stories is that people are not what they may appear to be.
The success of Dahl’s children and adult fiction saw him host his own science fiction and horror television series, called ‘Way Out’ as well as a British television series, ‘Tales of the Unexpected’ aired between 1979 and 1988, based on Dahl’s popular collection of 16 short stories.
After passing away on 23rd November 1990 at the age of 74 due to a blood disease, Roald Dahl’s legacy lives on through his very own Roald Dahl Day, which takes place every year on the birthday of the man The Times labelled “one of the most widely read and influential writers of our generation”.
Last year saw fans celebrate 30 years of the Big Friendly Giant, with a host of other Roald Dahl fancy dress and party tips
to encourage the next generation to marvel at the wonder of Dahl’s stories at home or at school.
Ranking among the world’s best-selling fiction authors with staggering sales at over 100 million copies and with books being published in almost 50 languages, Roald Dahl was loved the world over.