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The Life and Works of Roald Dahl

By Andrea Coventry

Roald Dahl is the beloved children's author of books, such as The Enormous Crocodile, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Fantastic Mr. Fox. Become familiar with the man's real life, as well as his fictional stories.

This brief Roald Dahl biography covers the life of a man who was beloved to both adults and children alike. A skilled writer, he published numerous novels, short stories, and poems, as well as a few screenplays. He was a devoted father and husband, whose legacy will not soon be forgotten.

Childhood and Early Adulthood

Roald Dahl was born on September 13, 1916 in Liandaff, Wales. He had a total of six biological and step sisters, one of whom died when he was only three. His father also died when he was three.

He was a prolific reader, and began writing at an early age, keeping a private journal starting at the age of eight. His school experiences left him miserable. Recording the events helped him lay the groundwork for his later stories, such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Matilda. For example, there was a factory nearby that made the famous Cadbury chocolates, and allowed children to sample their newest chocolate confections.

At the age of 18, he skipped going to college, to instead go on the Public Schools Exploring Society expedition to Newfoundland. Then, at the age of 23 he joined the Royal Air Force, when WWII broke out.

Unexpected Entrance Into Writing

Roald Dahl did not start out writing children's books. Following the war, he was invited to lunch by C.S. Forester, author of Captain Hornblower. Forester asked him to write out his war experiences, thinking of it as a sort of interview. He was so impressed by the writing quality that he didn't change a word, and got the Post to pay Dahl $900 for it.

In 1943, Dahl's first children's book was published. It was a picture book called The Gremlins, which had been commissioned by Walt Disney as a book version of a movie script. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was highly impressed by the book, and quickly befriended the writer. More children's stories were not penned until the 1960's, after he had his own children. He used to tell his daughters stories at night, and these later became beloved books.

Instead, Dahl focused on writing short stories for adults, publishing them in magazines such as New Yorker, Harper's Bazaar, and Atlantic Monthly.

Books For Adults

Roald Dahl wrote many short stories for adults, as well as two novels. Here is a list of some of his adult contributions:

  • Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life
  • Boy
  • Going Solo
  • The Great Mouse Plot
  • My Year
  • Over to You
  • Roald Dahl's Revolting Recipes
  • Roald Dahl's Even More Revolting Recipes
  • Someone Like You
  • Sometime Never
  • Switch B***h
  • My Uncle Oswald

Books For Children

Roald Dahl is most famous for his children's books. He also was proudest of his stories for children. This list contains most of his contributions to children's literature.

  • The BFG
  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
  • Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator
  • Danny the Champion of the World
  • Dirty Beasts (poetry)
  • The Enormous Crocodile
  • Esio Trot
  • Fantastic Mr. Fox
  • George's Marvelous Medicine
  • The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me
  • The Gremlins
  • James and the Giant Peach
  • Kiss Kiss
  • The Magic Finger
  • Matilda
  • The Minpins
  • Rhyme Stew (poetry)
  • Roald Dahl's Revolting Rhymes (poetry)
  • Tales of the Unexpected
  • The Twits
  • The Vicar of Nibbleswicke
  • The Witches

Roald Dahl On Screen

Many of Roald Dahl's short stories and books have been adapted into films for the big screen, and television shows. These are some of the more child-friendly ones.

  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
  • Matilda
  • The Witches
  • Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
  • Fantastic Mr. Fox
  • Chitty Chitty Bang Bang - While the story was written by Ian Fleming, Roald Dahl wrote the screenplay for this classic movie.

The Roald Dahl Legacy

No Roald Dahl biography would be complete without mentioning his legacy beyond his stories. Because his son, Neal, was brain damaged after an accident, he helped to create a valve that drained the excess fluid, known as the Dahl-Walde-Till valve. It has since been replaced by better technology, but was used for several years.

His oldest daughter, Olivia, developed a bout of measles that turned into encephalitis, or an inflammation of the brain. As a result, she passed away at the age of seven. His first wife, actress Patricia Neal, suffered three strokes when pregnant with their daughter Lucy. Dahl kept her occupied, motivated, and helped her along to a full recovery. A few months before Roald Dahl died, his stepdaughter, Lorina, passed away of a brain tumor. Roald Dahl passed away on November 23, 1990.

All of these neurological tragedies, in conjunction with a strong desire to inspire literacy, and his own battle with a blood disorder, resulted in the posthumous creation of the Roald Dahl Foundation. The foundation echoes Dahl's philanthropic efforts by providing grants in the areas of literacy, neurology, and hematology.