Roald Dahl

Roald Dahl

Roald Dahl (September 13, 1916–November 23, 1990) was a British novelist and short story author of Norwegian descent, famous both as a writer of children's fiction as well as adult and horror fiction. Among his most popular books are Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Kiss Kiss.


In this author study, you'll find biographical information about him.
Roald Dahl was born in Llandaff, Wales in 1916 to Norwegian parents, Harald Dahl and Sofie Magdalene Dahl (née Hesselberg). His father, who died in 1920, was adamant that his children be educated in English schools, but because the family still lived in Wales his first school was Llandaff Cathedral School.
Patricia Neal and Roald Dahl, photographed by Carl Van Vechten, 1954

At Llandaff he was fond of a sweets (candy) shop which would later influence Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Thereafter he was sent to several boarding schools, which was an unpleasant experience for him. His dislike for boarding schools due to the intimidation that children experienced and the bullying by co-students, is reflected in his book Matilda.

When Roald Dahl was 9, he was sent to St Peter's Preparatory school in Weston-super-Mare, and from 13 he was educated at Repton School, where he was a fag (personal servant) for a prefect, became captain of the school Fives team and developed an interest in photography. During his childhood he spent his summer holidays in his parents' native Norway. His childhood is the subject of his autobiographical work, Boy: Tales of Childhood.

Adult life
After finishing his schooling, he spent three weeks hiking through Newfoundland with a group called the Public Schools' Exploring Society. In July 1934 he joined the Shell Oil Company. Following two years of training in the UK he was transferred to Dar-es-Salaam, Tanganyika. Along with only two other Shell employees in the entire territory, he lived in luxury in the Shell House outside Dar-es-Salaam, with a cook and personal servants. While supplying oil to customers across Tanganyika, he faced mambas and lions, amongst other wildlife.

In August 1939, as World War II was imminent, plans were made to round up the hundreds of Germans in Dar-es-Salaam. The fifteen or so Englishmen in Dar-es-Salaam, including Dahl, were made officers each commanding a platoon of askaris of the King's African Rifles. Dahl was uneasy about this and having to round up hundreds of German civilians, but managed to complete his orders.

It was soon after this incident, in November 1939, that he joined the Royal Air Force. After a 600-mile car journey from Dar-es-Salaam to Nairobi, he was accepted for flight training with 16 other men, 13 of whom would later die in air combat. With 7 hours and 40 minutes experience in his De Havilland Tiger Moth he flew solo, and hugely enjoyed watching the wildlife of Kenya during his flights. He continued on to advanced flying training at the huge Habbaniya base (100 miles south of Baghdad) in Iraq. Following six months of flying Hawker Harts he was made a Pilot Officer and assigned to 80 Squadron, flying obsolete Gloster Gladiators. Dahl was surprised to find that he would not be trained in aerial combat, or even how to fly the Gladiator.

On September 19, 1940, Dahl was to fly his Gladiator from Abu Suweir in Egypt, on to Amiriya to refuel, and again to Fouka in Libya for a second refuelling. From there he would fly to 80 Squadron's forward airstrip 30 miles south of Mersah Matruh. On the final leg, he could not find the airstrip and, running low on fuel and with night approaching, he was forced to attempt a landing in the desert. Unfortunately, the undercarriage hit a boulder and the plane crashed, fracturing his skull, smashing his nose in, and blinding him. He managed to drag himself away from the blazing wreckage and passed out. Later, he wrote about the crash for his first published work (see below). It was found in a RAF inquiry into the crash that the location he had been told to fly to was completely wrong, and he had mistakenly been sent instead to the no man's land between the British and Italian forces.

Dahl was rescued and taken to a first-aid post in Mersah Matruh, where he regained conciousness (but not his sight), and was then taken by train to the Royal Navy hospital in Alexandria. There he fell in love with a nurse, Mary Welland, who was the first person he saw when he regained his sight after eight weeks. The doctors said he had no chance of flying again, but in February 1941, five months after he was admitted to the hospital, he was discharged and passed fully fit for flying duties. By this time, 80 Squadron were at Elevsis, near Athens, Greece, fighting alongside the British Expeditionary Force against the Axis forces with no hope of defeating them. By this time they had upgraded to the Hawker Hurricane. In April 1941 Dahl flew in one across the Mediterranean Sea to finally join his squadron in Greece, six months after becoming a member.

There he met a cynical Corporal who questioned how long his brand-new aircraft would survive, along with just 14 other Hurricanes and four Bristol Blenheims in the whole of Greece, against around a thousand enemy aircraft. 80 Squadron's Squadron Leader was similarly unenthusiastic about having just one new pilot. However, he became friends with David Coke, who, had he not been killed later in the war, would have become the Earl of Leicester.

Dahl saw his first action over Chalcis, where Junkers Ju 88s were bombing shipping. With just his lone Hurricane against the six bombers, he managed to shoot one down. He writes about all these incidents in his autobiographical and yet hilarious book- Going Solo.

He later saw service in Syria. He ended the war as a Wing Commander.

He began writing when in 1942 he was transferred to Washington as Assistant Air Attache. His first published work, in the 1 August 1942 issue of the Saturday Evening Post was Shot Down in Libya, describing the crash of his Gloster Gladiator. His original title for the work was A Piece of Cake - the title was changed to sound more dramatic, despite the fact the crash had nothing to do with enemy action.

He was married to Hollywood actress Patricia Neal (The Day the Earth Stood Still, Hud) from 1953 to 1983. They had five children, including author Tessa Dahl. Tessa's daughter, and inspiration for the "helpmate" character in The BFG is model and author Sophie Dahl. In 1983 he married Felicity Ann Crosland (née d'Abreu).

He died at home, Gipsy House, in Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire and is buried in the cemetery at the parish church of St Peter and St Paul there. In his honour, the Roald Dahl Children's Gallery was opened at Bucks County Museum in nearby Aylesbury. Dahl's charitable commitments in the fields of neurology, haematology and literacy have been continued after his death by his literary estate, through the Roald Dahl Foundation. In 2005 the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre will open in Great Missenden to celebrate the work of Roald Dahl and advance his work in literacy.


Inspired by a meeting with C. S. Forester, Dahl's first published work was Shot Down Over Libya, a story about his wartime adventures, which was bought by the Saturday Evening Post for $1,000 and propelled him into a career as a writer.

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, Matilda and James and the Giant Peach.

He also had a successful parallel career as the writer of macabre adult short stories, usually with a dark sense of humour and a surprise ending. Many were originally written for American magazines such as Ladies Home Journal, Harper's and The New Yorker, then subsequently collected by Dahl into anthologies, gaining world-wide acclaim for the author. Dahl wrote more than 60 short stories and they have appeared in numerous collections, some only being published in book form after his death. See List of Roald Dahl short stories.

One of his more famous adult stories, The Smoker (also known as Man from the South), was filmed as an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. His short story collection Tales of the Unexpected was adapted to a successful eponymous TV series. A number of his short stories are supposed to be extracts from the diary of his (fictional) Uncle Oswald, a rich gentleman whose sexual exploits form the subject of these stories.

For a brief period in the 1960s Dahl wrote screenplays to make money. Two of his screenplays—the James Bond film You Only Live Twice and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang—were adaptations of novels by Ian Fleming, and he adapted his own work into Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971).

Memories with Food at Gipsy House, written with his wife Felicity and published posthumously in 1991, is a mixture of recipes, family reminiscences and Dahl's musings on favourite subjects such as chocolate, onions, and claret.

Many of his children's books have illustrations by Quentin Blake.

Interestingly, he shared a birthday, September 13, with Milton S. Hershey, chocolate entrepreneur and founder of the Hershey Chocolate Company.
Children's fiction

Children's stories
The Gremlins (1943)
James and the Giant Peach (1961) Made into a live-action/animated film in 1996.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1964)
The Magic Finger (1966)
Fantastic Mr Fox (1970)
Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator (1972) A sequel to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Danny the Champion of the World (1975) Made into a live-action film, starring Jeremy Irons in 1989.
The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More (1977)
The Enormous Crocodile (1978)
The Twits (1980)
George's Marvelous Medicine (1981)
The BFG (1982) Made into an animated film in 1989.
The Witches (1983) Made into a film The Witches starring Anjelica Huston in 1990.
The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me (1985)
Matilda (1988) Made into a live-action film 'Matilda' in 1996.
Esio Trot (1989)
The Great Switcheroo (1990)
The Minpins (1991)
The Vicar of Nibbleswicke (1991)

Children's poetry
Revolting Rhymes (1982)
Dirty Beasts (1983)
Rhyme Stew (1989)

Adult fiction

Sometime Never: A Fable for Supermen (1948)
My Uncle Oswald (1979)

Short story collections
Over to You: Ten Stories of Flyers and Flying (1946)
Someone Like You (1953)
Kiss Kiss (1960)
Twenty-Nine Kisses from Roald Dahl (1969)
Switch Bitch (1974)
Tales of the Unexpected (1979)
More Tales of the Unexpected (1980)
The Best of Roald Dahl (1978)
Roald Dahl's Book of Ghost Stories (1983). Edited with an introduction by Dahl.
Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life: The Country Stories of Roald Dahl (1989)
The Collected Short Stories of Dahl (1991)
Two Fables (1986). "Princess and the Poacher" and "Princess Mammalia".
The Great Automatic Grammatizator (1997). (Known in the USA as The Umbrella Man and Other Stories).
The Mildenhall Treasure (2000)
See List of Roald Dahl short stories.


Boy – Tales of Childhood (1984. An autobiography up to the age of 16, looking particularly at schooling in Britain in the early part of the 20th century)
Going Solo (1986). Continuation of his autobiography, in which he goes to work for Shell and spends some time working in Tanzania before joining the War effort and becoming one of the last Allied pilots to withdraw from Greece during the German invasion.
Memories with Food at Gipsy House (1991)
Roald Dahl's Guide to Railway Safety (1991)
My Year (1993)

The Honeys (1955). Produced at the Longacre Theater on Broadway.

Film scripts
You Only Live Twice (1967)
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968)
The Night Digger (1971)
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)