More than a children’s author…
Roald Dahl was a British author remembered best for his children’s novels, though he also wrote poetry, short stories, screenplays, essays, and adult literature. Dahl was born in Llandaff, Wales on September 13, 1916. His parents, Harald Dahl and Sofie Magdalene Dahl, were Norwegian immigrants. He had three sisters, though he lost one of his sisters to appendicitis when he was three years old. Only weeks after this loss, Dahl’s father died of pneumonia. His mother decided to remain in Wales so Dahl and his siblings could be educated in English schools. Dahl attended boarding school first at St. Peter’s, then at Repton School in Derbyshire. It was here that Dahl lived out his formative years. Many of his memories at Repton later influenced his stories. Famously, the boys as Repton were sent trial chocolate bars to test for Cadbury chocolate company, which partially inspired one of his best known novels, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. He graduated from Repton in 1932 and avoided university, instead joining an expedition to Canada. He then moved to East Africa, where he worked briefly for an oil company.
At the outbreak of WWII, Dahl became a fighter pilot for the Royal Air Force (RAF) at age 23. On September 19, 1940, his plane crash landed in Libya, seriously injuring and temporarily blinding him. This event later inspired his first published work, “A Piece of Cake” (published in The Saturday Evening Post). During the war, Dahl’s squadron served in Greece and Syria. In 1942, Dahl became an air attaché in Washington, DC, where he represented the British airforce and was a spy for the British government. In DC, Dahl met the English novelist C.S. Forester (known for his stories about warfare), who encouraged Dahl to write about his experiences with the RAF. His first story collection, Over to You: Ten Stories of Flyers and Flying was published in 1946 following the war. Though it was received well by critics, it did not sell among readers.
Dahl did not achieve popular attention until his 1953 publication Someone like You, a collection of gruesome short stories for adults. In 1959, another collection Kiss, Kiss focused on tumultuous romances. After these successes, Dahl began to focus on children’s fiction. His work in this field was unique. He did not shy away from the gruesome realities of violence, death, and abuse, but allowed them to influence and shape the darkly comic nature of his stories. His best known works include James and the Giant Peach (1961), Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1964), The Witches (1983), and Matilda (1988). Dahl also wrote several scripts for movies, among them the James Bond film You Only Live Twice (1967) and the musical Chitty Chitty Bang (1968). In 1983, Dahl won the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement. He was awarded British Book Award’s Children’s Author of the Year in 1990. That year, he died on November 20 of a rare cancer of the blood in Oxford, England. Today, over 250 million copies of Roald Dahl’s books have been sold around the world.