Roald Dahl Biography

Roald Dahl, a British novelist, poet, screenwriter, and short-story writer, is widely recognized as one of the greatest children’s storytellers of the 20th century. After a successful career as a wartime fighter pilot in the Royal Air Force, Dahl turned to writing and enchanted readers with his amazing and humorous stories for children. His best-selling books have been published in over 60 languages, captivating audiences worldwide. While his children’s fiction showcased imaginative plots and playful word coinages, his adult fiction gained acclaim for its unexpected twists and turns. Dahl’s works, including beloved novels like “Matilda” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” have been adapted into successful films and stage plays. Even after his passing, his legacy lives on, inspiring aspiring authors and bringing joy to both children and adults across the globe.

Quick Facts

  • British Celebrities Born In September
  • Died At Age: 74
  • Family:
    • Spouse/Ex-: Felicity Crosland (m. 1983), Patricia Neal (m.1953–1983)
    • Father: Harald Dahl
    • Mother: Sofie Magdalene Dahl (née Hesselberg)
    • Siblings: Alfhild, Astri, Else
    • Children: Lucy Dahl, Olivia Twenty Dahl, Ophelia Dahl, Tessa Dahl, Theo Matthew Dahl
  • Born Country: Wales
  • Quotes By Roald Dahl
  • Poets
  • Height: 6’6″ (198 cm), 6’6″ Males
  • Died on: November 23, 1990
  • Place of death: Oxford, England
  • Cause of Death: Myelodysplastic Syndrome
  • City: Cardiff, Wales
  • More Facts
  • Education: Cathedral School, St Peter’s, Weston-super-Mare, Repton School
  • Awards:
    • 1954 – Edgar Award for Best Short Story
    • 1959 – Edgar Award for Best Short Story
    • 1980 – Edgar Award for Best Short Story
    • 1983 – World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement
    • 1993 – CableACE Award for International Children’s Programming Special or Series

Childhood & Early Life

Roald Dahl was born on September 13, 1916, in Llandaff, Cardiff, Wales, to Norwegian emigrants Harald Dahl and Sofie Magdalene Dahl. After his eldest sister Astri’s death in 1920, his father passed away a few weeks later. Thereafter, his mother stayed back in Wales to get her kids educated at British schools as per Harald’s wish, instead of returning to Norway.

He went to ‘The Cathedral School,’ Llandaff, but due to his mischievous nature, his mother sent him to British-boarding ‘St. Peter’s Preparatory School,’ Weston-super-Mare in 1925. In 1929, he shifted to ‘Repton School,’ Derbyshire where he showed more interest in sports, exceling in football, squash, and fives. He also showed interest in literature and photography.

Career

After completing his schooling in 1934, he took up a job in ‘Shell Petroleum Company’ in Mombasa, Kenya, after two years of training in the UK. Subsequently, he was transferred to Dar es-Salaam, Tanzania. To accomplish his adventurous dreams, he entered the ‘Royal Air Force’ in 1939 as an aircraftsman. Upon completing his training in Nairobi, Kenya, he became an acting pilot officer.

During his term in the Mediterranean in 1940, his plane crashed in Fouka, Libya, injuring his spine and skull, crushing his nose, and blinding him for days. He underwent hip replacement surgery and six spinal surgeries. Following his treatment for months in the hospital, he was discharged in 1941 and resumed his flying duties in Athens, Greece. However, his recurring blinding headaches forced him to leave RAF and return to Britain.

In 1942, he went to Washington DC and became an assistant air attaché in the British Embassy. During his stay in Washington DC, he met novelist C.S. Forester and started his writing career with a short story for ‘The Saturday Evening Post.’ His first children’s picture book ‘The Gremlins’ was published in 1943, followed by a collection of his war stories ‘Over To You’ in 1946. His novel ‘Sometime Never’ was published in 1948.

Apart from writing marvelous stories for kids, he also became an established short-story writer for adults. His books, written for adults, were full of unexpected twists and dark humor. He released his autobiographies ‘Boy: Tales of Childhood’ and ‘Going Solo’ in 1984 and 1986 respectively. He turned down the Order of the British Empire (OBE) during the 1986 ‘New Year Honours.’ It was reported that he turned down the honor as he wanted a knighthood.

Major Works

His second collection of short stories ‘Someone Like You,’ released in 1953, became a huge success. In 1960, he developed a device called ‘Wade-Dahl-Till (WDT) valve’ which helped in treating thousands of children suffering from hydrocephalus. The device helped reduce the cranial pressure. His fourth book ‘Kiss Kiss,’ a collection of short stories, released in 1960. It became a ‘New York Times’ bestseller. A short story titled ‘Pig’ became particularly popular. Some of his best-selling children’s stories include ‘James and the Giant Peach,’ ‘The Twits,’ ‘Matilda,’ ‘The Witches,’ ‘George’s Marvellous Medicine,’ ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,’ ‘The BFG,’ ‘The Magic Finger,’ and ‘Fantastic Mr. Fox.’ His highly acclaimed short story and novel collection for adults include ‘Tales of the Unexpected,’ ‘The Smoker,’ ‘My Uncle Oswald,’ ‘Roald Dahl’s Book of Ghost Stories,’ and ‘The Landlady.’

Awards & Achievements

His short stories—‘Someone Like You’ (1954), ‘The Landlady’ (1959), and ‘Tales of the Unexpected’ (1980)—won him three ‘Edgar Allan Poe Awards’ from the ‘Mystery Writers of America.’ In 1983, he received the ‘Whitbread Children’s Book Award’ for ‘The Witches.’ He also received the ‘World Fantasy Award’ for ‘Life Achievement.’ ‘The British Book Awards’ honored him with the ‘Children’s Author of the Year’ in 1990. In 2008, he was ranked 16th on the list of ‘50 greatest British writers since 1945’ by ‘The Times.’

Personal Life & Legacy

He married Patricia Neal, an Oscar-winning Hollywood actress, in 1953 at ‘Trinity Church,’ New York City. The couple had five children – daughter Olivia Twenty (1955), daughter Chantal Tessa (1957), son Theo Matthew (1960), daughter Ophelia Magdalena (1964), and daughter Lucy Neal (1965). In 1960, his four-month old son Theo was severely injured when a taxi hit his baby carriage, leaving him with a brain injury called hydrocephalus. He recovered after undergoing a number of surgeries. In 1962, his eldest daughter Olivia died due to measles encephalitis. He later wrote an open letter ‘Measles: A Dangerous Illness,’ requesting parents to get their kids vaccinated. Patricia suffered three near-fatal strokes in 1965. He stood by her during her rehabilitation and helped her recover completely. Roald and Patricia divorced in 1983. Soon after, he married Felicity ‘Liccy’ Crosland at Brixton Town Hall, South London. He died on November 23, 1990, at Oxford, England after suffering from myelodysplastic syndrome, a type of blood disease. He was given a Viking funeral. His mortal remains were buried at St. Peter and St. Paul’s Church in Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire. His body was buried along with his snooker cues, chocolates, power saw, some good burgundy, and HB pencils. Some of his culinary delights—‘Bird Pie,’ ‘Hot Frogs,’ and ‘Lickable Wallpaper’— were included in ‘Roald Dahl’s Revolting Recipes’ (1994) by his widow Felicity. The Oval Basin plaza, a modern landmark of Cardiff Bay, was renamed ‘Roald Dahl Plass’ in 2002. ‘Plass’ signifies ‘place’ or ‘square’ in Norwegian language. In 2005, Cherie Blair, wife of former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, inaugurated ‘Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre’ in his hometown, Great Missenden. In 2008, author Michael Rosen launched the ‘Roald Dahl Funny Prize,’ in association with ‘BookTrust,’ as initiative to honor writers promoting humor and laughter through children’s fiction. Africa, UK, and Latin America celebrate September 13, his birth anniversary, as ‘Roald Dahl Day.’ In 2010, ‘Gibraltar Post’ released a set of four stamps featuring four of Dahl’s books, while a set of six stamps was issued by ‘Royal Mail’ in 2012.

Trivia

This children’s book author used to write with a pencil on yellow paper. He was fluent in three languages – English, Swahili, and Norwegian. He maintained a diary since the age of eight.

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