person is a fool to become a writer. His only compensation is absolute freedom.
He has no master except his own soul, and that, I am sure, is why he does it”
– Roald Dahl
When asked to consider the most popular and
memorable British writers, our minds are flooded with visions of the many great
authors who have produced world-renowned tales; some for adults, and some for
One author in particular who managed to teeter
on the precarious clifftop of appealing to all ages is Roald Dahl. Given a
moment, many of us can recount the many timeless classics that his brilliant
mind has brought into our consciousness, and we are quickly welcomed by visions
of Willy Wonka’s chocolate river, the wily ways of Fantastic Mr Fox, or perhaps the terrifying face of Matilda’s headmistress, Miss Trunchbull.
These imaginings are not only conjured by
Quentin Blake’s quirky illustrations- the magic lies within the gobbledyfunk
illusions that Dahl paints with his words. The language he used became so
treasured that a few nonsensical words were even added to the Oxford Dictionary,
which included the coining of the adjective “Dahlesque”.
So what made Roald Dahl, a man who famously
wrote in a shed at the bottom of his garden, a national treasure? Unless you
can find the time to read Boy: Tales of
Childhood for an overview (and we recommend you do!), we’ve summarised the
life of this wonderful human bean.
“We is having an interesting babblement abut the taste of the
human bean” – BFG
In 1916, Roald Dahl was born to Norwegian
parents, Harald and Sofie Magdalene Dahl, in Cardiff, Wales. The families first
language was Norwegian, which he spoke at home with his parents and three sisters.
At the insistence of his father (who passed away when he was just 3, and just
weeks after his sister Astri who was 7), Dahl was indicted into the British
education system; first in Weston-super-Mare and then Derbyshire.
One might think, given the whimsical wonder of
his work, that Dahl had always lead a pleasant life. However, as with many
great artists, his experiences were not without turmoil. Perhaps a little known
fact about him is that he was in the RAF during World War Two, and was even responsible
for bringing down a German bomber plane. When Dahl was promoted to flight
lieutenant, one of his roles was to relay information between Winston Churchill
and Theodore Roosevelt.
Unsurprisingly, given his experience at
school, a common trope throughout Dahl’s work is the role of the child as a
hero, and the villains predominantly iterations of the dreaded “grown-up”-
often depicted as terrifying, stupid and ultimately waiting to be outwitted by
It has been noted that Dahl often based the
characters in his books upon people he had met in real life, and had remarked
that the loving grandmother featured in The Witches drew parallels with his own
mother, Sofie. During an interview, Dahl stated that his mother was an
inspiration to him, as she regaled tales to him from a very young age: “She
was a great teller of tales. Her memory was prodigious and nothing that ever
happened to her in her life was forgotten”. He has also
commented that his favourite authors that he regularly took inspiration from
were Rudyard Kipling, Charles Dickens and William Makepeace Thackery.
What may be a
little less well-known about Dahl is that he didn’t only publish work for
children- he also enjoyed success as a adult author, even venturing into
screenwriting for film! He acted as a screenwriter for family classic Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and in Sean
Connery’s portrayal of James Bond in You
Only Live Twice. He had written for media giants, such as Harper’s, The New
Yorker and even Playboy among releasing some long-form books for a more mature
To say Dahl’s work is held in high esteem
would be a chronic understatement. His
contributions to literature even earned him his own version of the Oxford
Dictionary (for any Twit who doesn’t know their snozzcumbers from their
snozzberries). It is estimated that Roald Dahl invented as many as 250 brand
new words, and that’s not counting the doubtless many more that were never
published, and remained in the confines of the tattered red book he used to
write in (fun fact: Roald Dahl never learned to type, instead preferring to jot
ideas down in pencil).
Six years after his death in 1990 as a result
of a rare type of blood cancer called Myelodysplastic Syndrome, Roald Dahl’s
Children’s Gallery opened in Buckinghamshire, and remains a highly rated
destination for families and schools. The site is not far from where he was
buried at St Peter and St Paul’s Church with a few of his favourite items such
as; a power saw, snooker cues, a bottle of his favourite burgundy and of
course, his HB pencils.
His works remain a staple in any classroom, and
he was awarded a multitude of awards post-humously, such as the Millenium
Children’s Book Award in 2000 for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. He was
ranked as one of the best books of the past 20 years for The BFG in 1997. His
books have been published internationally, in as many as 60 different
While there’s no denying that Roald Dahl
proved to be remarkably popular whilst he was alive, he is still remembered
fondly to this day, in the UK and overseas, and by children and adults alike. A
Dahl book is like a comfy blanket – it is warming, comforting and each has its
own bespoke colourful pattern.