Author Spotlight: Roald Dahl

Roald Dahl was a much celebrated British novelist, short story writer, poet, screenwriter and fighter pilot. A man blessed with copious virtues, Dahl is designated as ‘Arguably the Shakespeare of children’s literature’. He canvassed that those who didn’t believe in magic would never find it!

The bestselling author experimented with a wide range of literary material. From children’s books to short stories for adults to screenplays- everything fell in his domain! In his illustrious career, Dahl wrote 19 children’s books, 9 short stories and several television & movie scripts.

Early Life

  • The eminent author Roald Dahl was born to Norwegian parents on September 13 1916, in Llandaff, South Wales. Unfortunately, he lost his father to pneumonia at the tender age of 4 years.
  • His mischievous temperament saw him switching several schools in childhood. Young Dahl resented strict rules and academic drills. Even as a child, he displayed high imagination asset and lust for adventure.
  • No wonder, he opted to work straight after school, that too in faraway lands of the African continent. His first job was with the Shell Oil Company in Tanzania.
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Roald Dahl in the Royal Airforce
  • Giving way to his thrill instincts, Dahl joined the Royal Air Force in the year 1939. After completion of his training in Nairobi, he served as a World War II fighter pilot.
  • Roald met with an unfortunate air crash in Alexandria, Egypt. The incident resulted in serious injuries to his skull, hip and spine. Thereafter, he was transferred to Washington, D.C. as the assistant air attaché.

Early Writing Career

  • During this Air Force tenure, Dahl entered into the domain of articulation through sheer fluke! He penned his first short story in the Saturday Evening Post on the encouragement of author, C. S Forrester.
  • He went on to write for several other Magazines including The New Yorker. During his first stint of creative writing, he received very little acclaim in the genre of children’s stories.
  • However, his adult readers were smitten by some of his unique pieces like Someone Like You (1953) and Kiss, Kiss (1959).

Personal Life

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Roald Dahl and his wife Patricia Neal
    • In the year, 1961 the author tied the knot with the established actress Patricia Neal. The couple stayed in the relationship for three decades. After their separation in 1983, Dahl married once again. His second wife, Felicity Ann Crosland remained his partner till his death in 1990.
    • Patricia and Dahl were blessed with five children. Unfortunately, they lost one of their kids in 1962. Their daughter Olivia died of measles encephalitis at the age of seven. This tragic episode altered Dahl’s opinion on religion and the presence of God.
    • Dahl loved narrating bedtime stories to his children. This love soon translated into a full- fledged career.
    • His children were his biggest critics. Being with them, he gained insight on various aspects of child psyche- their small span of concentration, their need to keep things ticking along, their innate habit of losing interest rather fast and soon getting bored with the story line.
    • These small yet significant markers helped Dahl to establish himself as a children’s writer in 1961.

Children’s Books

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Some of Roald Dahl’s famous children’s books
      • His first remarkable piece in this realm was James and the Giant Peach. Dahl’s work was highly appreciated. His prose expertise endowed him with critical and commercial acclaim.
      • Within a time frame of just three years, Dahl was back in news for his another incredible piece entitled, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
      • The popularity of these two books was so huge that they were showcased on the silver screen. The film adaptations of both these books were immensely applauded by the audience.
      • Some other popular kid’s books written by the notable author include Fantastic Fox (1970), The Witches (1983) and Matilda (1988).
      • Dahl’s children’s work is particularly recognized for its lasting appeal. He always narrated stories from the point of view of a child. His writings voiced the triumph of children.
      • He was also admired for his innovative and playful use of vocabulary.
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This book remains a childrens’ favorite even after decades

The Controversies

  • Roald Dahl’s writings reflected dark humor. The writer was often criticized for his portrayal of harsh revenge, gruesome violence and racist stereotypes.
  • His stories were debated for their unexpected endings and unsentimental moods.
  • However, Dahl defended his darkly comic writing temperament by contending children have a coarser sense of humor in comparison to adults.
  • Many believe that Dahl’s literary influence stemmed from certain bitter childhood experiences. The corporal punishments received in his school life, especially in Repton School in Derbyshire could be one of the reasons. The echoes of these dark episodes are evident in his writings.

His Last Days

  • Dahl was admitted to the John Radcliffe Hospital in England on November 12, 1990. He was suffering from a rare strain of blood cancer, Myelodysplastic Syndrome.
  • Dahl breathed his last on November 23, 1990. He was 74 years of age.
  • The renowned novelist was given a Viking Funeral involving grave offerings in coordination with his earthly stature. He was buried with burgundy wine, chocolates, pencils and a power saw.

Dahl is regarded as “one of the greatest storytellers for children of the 20th century”. With over 250 million copies of his work sold out worldwide, Roald Dahl continues to live on in the hearts of the young and old through his majestic work!


Image credits: Google