When we think about literary classics like ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’, ‘Matilda’ and ‘Fantastic Mr.Fox’ only one person comes to mind. Roald Dahl has left a treasure trove of stories and words that captivate both young and old readers even today.
September 13, 2016, marks a hundred years of the famed novelist whose life is no different from a fancy fairy tale.
The Man Behind The Words
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He was born in Llandaff, South Wales, on September 13, 1916, to Norwegian parents. As a child, he frequently visited Oslo.
He later shifted to St.Peter’s, then transferring to Repton. A true rebel, he despised the schooling system there and barely excelled as a student.His father’s death during his childhood prompted his mother to enroll him in the Llandaff Cathedral School. But being a mischievous boy, he was shifted to St. Peters Boarding School, then to Repton.
His mother offered to pay for his tuition at Oxford or Cambridge University when he graduated. Dahl’s response, as quoted from his autobiography, Boy: Tales of Childhood, was,
“No thank you. I want to go straight from school to work for a company that will send me to wonderful faraway places like Africa or China.”
True to his words, he went on an expedition to Newfoundland. He later took a job with the Shell Oil Company in Tanzania, Africa, where he remained until 1939.
Dahl joined the Royal Air Force in 1939 and even had a brief stint as a spy. Working for MI6, he was recruited by the Canadian spymaster William Stephenson. He provided them with facts and secret information working alongside Ian Fleming, who later became the creator of James Bond.
After training in Nairobi, Kenya, he became a World War II fighter pilot. While serving in the Mediterranean, Dahl crash-landed in Alexandria, Egypt. He sustained serious injuries to his skull, spine, and hip. Following hip replacement and two spinal surgeries, Dahl moved to Washington, D.C., where he became an assistant air attaché.
Gremlins And Future Works
In Washington, D.C., Dahl met famous author C.S. Forrester who later persuaded him to start writing. His first published works were for the Saturday Evening Post and The New Yorker.
Dahl wrote his first story for children, The Gremlins, in 1942, for Walt Disney. Since it wasn’t as successful as expected, Dahl went back to writing macabre and stories aimed at adult readers.
He continued such genres into the 1950s, producing the best-selling story collection ‘Someone Like You’ in 1953, and ‘Kiss, Kiss’ in 1959. Over his entire career, he has been credited with creating more than 500 words in a language he called ‘Gobblefunk’.
Gremlins was inspired from his time as a pilot. The story was about a bunch of naughty little creatures called Gremlins, who would cause all sorts of mechanical problems on airplanes.
The book was later adapted into a film titled “Gremlins” which was produced by famous Director Steven Spielberg in 1984.
He paved a name for himself with the release of ‘James and the Giant Peach’ in 1961. Three years later, Dahl published another phenomenal success ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’. Both books were eventually made into popular movies.
In addition to James and the Giant Peach and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Dahl’s most popular kids’ books include Fantastic Fox (1970), The Witches (1983) and Matilda (1988).
Dahl continually claimed that children have a cruder sense of humor than adults. This was a response to parents accusing Dahl of portraying adults as evil wrongdoers in most of his works.
Family And Personal Life
Dahl married Academy Award winner Patricia Neal. The marriage lasted three decades and handed Dahl with the responsibility of five children, one of whom tragically died in 1962.
“Children are … highly critical. And they lose interest so quickly,” he asserted in his New York Times book review interview. ” You have to keep things ticking along. And if you think a child is getting bored, you must think up something that jolts it back. Something that tickles. You have to know what children like.”
Dahl supported his daughter Neal during her battles with multiple brain hemorrhages in the mid-1960s. The couple eventually got divorced in 1983. Soon after, Dahl married Felicity Ann Crosland, his partner until his death in 1990.
Roald Dahl was admitted to the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, England on November 12, 1990. He died there on November 23, 1990, at the age of 74. His works remain a favorite even today and the writer has been honored by his countrymen and people all over the world.
Like and share if this man influenced your childhood as well.