Children's Authors/Roald Dahl

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Early Life[edit | edit source]

Roald Dahl was born in Llandaff, Wales on September 13, 1916. His parents were Norwegian, and he was the only son of a second marriage. His father, Harald, and elder sister Astri, died when Roald was just three. His mother, Sofie, was left to raise two stepchildren and her own four children. Roald based the character of the Grandmother in The Witches on his mother. It was his tribute to her. He also gave the name of his mother, Sofie, to the little girl in his book The BFG. Dahl's first schooling was at the Catholic School, Llandaff. When he was eight years old, he and four of his friends (one named Thwaites) were caned by the headmaster of the school after putting a dead rat into a jar of gobstoppers at the local sweet shop. The sweet shop was owned by a "mean and loathsome" old woman by the name of Mrs. Pratchett. According to the five boys, this was known as the "Great Mouse Plot of 1924". [1]

Boarding School[edit | edit source]

Roald attended several boarding schools during his growing up years. At one particular boarding school called Repton School in Derbyshire, according to his autobiography Boy: Tales of Childhood, a young friend named Michael was severely caned by the headmaster Geoffrey Fisher. This headmaster later became the Archbishop of Canterbury. From his own canings and witnessing the caning of his young friend, Dahl seriously questioned religion and God himself. "If this person, I kept telling myself, was one of God's chosen salesmen on earth, then there must be something very wrong about the whole business" (Boy p. 146). The canings and severe treatment Roald experienced as a young boy in school also seem to have influenced his book Matilda.

Dahl was a very tall man reaching 6 feet and 6 inches. He was good at sports and especially loved squash and football. During his years at Repton, Cadbury the chocolate company, would occasionally send boxes of new chocolates to the school to be tested by the pupils. Dahl dreamed of inventing a new chocolate bar that would win the praise of Mr. Cadbury himself. This was the inspiration for Dahl to write the children's book, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Royal Air Force[edit | edit source]

At the outbreak of World War II, Dahl joined the Royal Air Force (RAF) and learned to fly a Tiger Moth. In 1940, while flying over the Libyan dessert, he ran out of fuel. According to Hathcock, on his first trip, he made a crash landing, fracturing his skull, hurting his nose and spine, and smashing his hip [2]. He was rescued by three brave men from the Suffolk Regiment. He spent five month recuperating at a hospital in Alexandria. All he could think about was getting back to flying and back to his squad. He flew a Hurricane plane to Greece to meet them (Solo, p.119). He flew with the RAF for a few more years, but he eventually received a medical discharge due to intense headaches caused by his first crash.

Writing Career[edit | edit source]

Upon arriving home, Dahl published his first piece of writing in a national magazine in 1942. A fellow writer, C.S. Forester, encouraged Dahl to publish his piece, "Shot Down Over Lybia," which was a fictionalized account of his first crash in the Libyan dessert. This was the boost for his writing career. In 1944, Dahl obtained an agent and began publishing regularly in magazines like the Atlantic Monthly and Harper's. Many of these stories capitalized on the experiences he had gained in the RAF and were written for adults [3]. His first children's book was The Gremlins, about mischievous little creatures that were part of RAF folklore. The book was commissioned by Walt Disney for a film that was never made and published in 1943. Dahl went on to create some of the best loved children's stories of the 20th century, such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, Matilda, James and the Giant Peach, The Witches, and The BFG.

Family Life[edit | edit source]

Dahl married the American actress Patricia Neal on July 2, 1953 at Trinity Church in New York City. Their marriage lasted for 30 years and they had five children: Olivia (died of measles in 1962, age seven), Tessa, Theo, Ophelis, and Lucy. He dedicated the BFG to Olivia after her death and became a proponent of immunization.

In 1982, Dahl came under public scrutiny when a prowler snuck into Buckingham Palace and sat on the Queen's bed for ten full minutes before being apprehended by guards. The breach in security related to Dahl because it closely resembled the action in his book "The BFG." In the book, thought to be one of his best, the Big Friendly Giant of the title takes the young heroine, Sophie, to Buckingham Palace and enters the Queen's bedroom while she's sleeping. The point of their nighttime visit is to warn the Queen of the bad giant's attacks on children. However, the criticism died down when the press realized that Dahl's book wasn't actually published yet and so could not actually have triggered the events at the palace [4].

Roald and Patricia separated in 1979, and divorced in 1983; the breakup came as a result of Roald having an affair with a woman 22 years his junior, Felicity Ann Crossland, whom he then married.

Death[edit | edit source]

Roald Dahl died in November 1990 at the age of 74 of a rare blood disease, Myelodysplastic syndrome, in Oxford. "I've been a bit off color these last few months," he wrote in a newsletter to his young fans, "feeling sleepy when I shouldn't have been and without that lovely old bubbly energy that drives one to write books and drink gin and chase after girls." He was buried in the cemetery at the parish church of Saint Peter and Paul in Great Missenden. According to his granddaughter, the family gave him a "sort of Viking funeral." He was buried with snooker cues, some very good burgundy, chocolates, HB pencils and a power saw [5]. The Roald Dahl Children's Gallery was opened in his honor at the Buckinghamshire County Museum in nearby Aylesbury.

Books of Interest[edit | edit source]

Boy, Tales of Childhood (1984) is an autobiography of the childhood experiences of Roald Dahl, Boy includes exciting tales such as "The Great Mouse Plot of 1924", driving in a motor car, and taste testing the wonderful Cadbury chocolates. Roald actually got so homesick while at boarding school he faked appendicitis and fooled most of the doctors. The book is written in first person with Roald Dahl telling his stories. A wonderful part of the book are the actual letters Dahl wrote to his mother and signed with his own signature "BOY."

Going Solo (1986) is a thrilling sequel to the autobiography of Boy. Roald Dahl has outlandish things happening that someone may think is fiction. He runs on an African safari chasing a lion with a child in its mouth. He has an encounter with a great black mamba snake. He flies fighter planes in incredible air battles with the enemy during World War Two. One may think Roald Dahl has a great imagination, but they are actual events.

Do you know how to recognize a witch if you see one? The witches in The Witches (1983) are not ordinary witches even though they may look like ordinary people. They have blue spit, claws for their fingers, eyes that change colors, bald heads, and square feet with no toes. The thing that is interesting about these witches is that they do not like children. Their mission is to do away with all the children by giving them a secret formula. Roald Dahl wrote this book in tribute to his mother who used to tell him wonderful stories herself. The grandmother in the story represents his own dear mother. The book is packed with vivid dialogue and delightful nonsense words and is great to read out loud with expression.

The BFG (1982) stands for the Big Friendly Giant. This giant is 24 feet tall; he is small actually, since the other giants are 50 feet tall. He is different from the other giants in that he really is friendly. His mission is to blow nice dreams into the heads of children while they are sleeping at night. A girl helps him to visit the Queen of England and save other children from the unfriendly giants. Sophie is the name of the girl, named for Dahl's own mother, but the character in the story is actually dedicated to his own daughter Olivia who died at an early age. A charming story of caring and genuine affection for other people.

The idea for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1964) actually came from the boarding school years when the Cadbury company came to the school where Dahl was attending asking for the boys to test the new chocolate bars to see which ones they liked the best. Roald Dahl always thought it would be great if he could invent a chocolate bar that won the contest. In the book if you have a certain wrapper from a chocolate bar you win a wild adventure in a fabulous chocolate factory. This is an enchanting tale of great imagination and fun.

The Twits (1980) are not your ordinary married couple; they tend to play practical jokes on each other which are not usually very nice. Mrs. Twit feeds Mr. Twit worms in his spaghetti. Mr. Twit makes Mrs. Twit think she is shrinking and then puts her on a stretching machine. She ends up flying away in a bouquet of balloons. Together they play tricks on birds who land in an old dead tree. You wouldn't want to get any ideas from the Twits, however, it makes for very entertaining reading.

In Revolting Rhymes (1982), Dahl retells Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Little Red Riding Hood, and The Three Little Pigs, each with an obscene twist.

The title character of Fantastic Mr. Fox (1970) continually outwits farmers Boggis, Bunce, and Bean, who try to do away with him as he steals from them to feed his family.

In The Enormous Crocodile (1978), the title character goes looking for children to eat, trying four "clever tricks" to lure them. He disguises himself first as a coconut tree, then as a see-saw, then as a merry-go-round ride, and finally, as a picnic bench. In each instance, a forest animal aware of his plans shows up just in time to warn the children away. Disgusted by the crocodile's antics, "Trunky" the elephant wraps him up in his trunk and flings him into outer space; the crocodile eventually reaches the sun, where he is cooked.

The Magic Finger (1966) is narrated by an eight-year-old girl who is upset by her neighbors' hobby of hunting animals. She points her "magic finger" at the family of four, which causes them to trade places with four ducks—the ducks grow larger and take over the house, while its erstwhile residents have shrunk to bird-size and are forced to build a tree nest to sleep in (wings and arms have also been juxtaposed.) The following day, the ducks show up with the family's guns, ready to shoot them, but relent when they promise to stop hunting. Places are then switched back.

Matilda (1988) The story begins with a note from Roald Dahl. He discusses the relationships between parents and children, describing the worst set of parents as the ones who have brats but pamper them; and the ones who have gems but don’t value. Matilda’s parents are both of the above. More of gender partiality is portrayed. Michael is pampered and Matilda isn’t valued. She is called a liar, cheat, stupid and verbally abused. However, she has a wonderful intellect, a book lover and a clever mind. However, she has smart tricks up her sleeves and she outsmarts them which cause absolutely funny situations. Miss Rosy, her class teacher is surprised by her reading and calculating skills, which were superb for a five year old. Miss Rosy’s conversation with the Wormwoods is enchanting, where an adamant miss rosy tries in vain to convince them to promote Matilda to a higher grade.Later, a bond develops between miss rosy and Matilda. A very good relationship of love, affection, which heals their wounds of loneliness, is formed. After hearing Miss Rosy’s story Matilda feels an urge to help her. In a bid to help, Matilda discovers magical powers in herself, which she uses in order to avenge the murder of miss rosy. I won’t say anything more, and leave all for you to Read. The story of immense willpower, strength, love, perseverance forms one of Roald Dahl’s best classics.

References[edit | edit source]

Morris, Steven (Saturday 7 June 2003). "How Dahl's Matilda nearly died and James almost rode on a giant cherry". The Guardian. 

Hathcock, B. (2005). Roald Dahl. Roald Dahl (9781429814539), 1. Retrieved from Primary Search database.

Dahl, Roald. (1984). Boy: Tales of Childhood. New York. Scholastic Inc.

Dahl, Roald. (1986). Going Solo: The Thrilling Sequel to BOY. New York. The Penguin Group.

Dahl, Roald. (1983). The Witches. New York. Scholastic Inc.

Dahl, Roald. (1982). The BFG. New York. Scholastic Inc.

Dahl, Roald. (1964). Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. New York. The Penguin Group.

Dahl, Roald. (1980). The Twits. New York. Scholastic Inc.

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