Juvenile Books Author of the Month
13 September 1916 -- 23 November 1990
Roald Dahl was born on September 13, 1916, in Llandaff, Glamorgan in South Wales to Harald and Sofie Magdalene (Hesselberg) Dahl. Harald was a Norwegian who had left Oslo and settled in South Wales to start a new life as a shipbroker, a painter, and a horticulturist. Harald's wife Sofie, also Norwegian was the daughter of a noted meteorologist and Greek scholar. Sofie was Harald's second wife, his first wife Marie had died in childbirth. Roald Dahl had a half brother and sister from Harald's first marriage (Ellen and Louis), and three sisters (Astri, who died at age seven, Alfhild, and Else) born to Harald and Sofie.
When Dahl was only three years old, his sister Astri became very ill and died from appendicitis. This was followed three weeks later by the death of Dahl's father from pneumonia. The Dahl family was left an estate estimated at a quarter of a million pounds. The family moved to Kent in 1925.
When Dahl was eight years old, he was sent to St. Peter's Preparatory School, a boarding school in a town called Weston-Super-Mare, which is located on the Southern coast of England. The school was extremely strict with numerous rules, such as those forbidding talking in the dormitories, and fierce discipline, which often included use of the rod.
Looking back on his own school reports from the time, Dahl saw little to indicate a hint that he would one day become a successful fiction writer.
In 1929, Dahl started classes at the Repton School, a renowned private school in Yorkshire, England. His classwork performance was undistinguished. While there, he captained the squash and handball teams and also played on the soccer, cricket, and hockey teams. He even won a boxing championship while attending the school.
When Dahl graduated from the Repton School in 1932, he turned down his mother's offer to send him to Oxford University. Instead, Dahl went to work for the Shell Oil Company of East Africa. Two years later he was transferred by Shell to Dar-es-Salaam in what is now Tanzania where he was put in charge of twenty Indian clerks.
Dahl held this position with Shell until October of 1939. War was spreading across the globe as nations took sides either with or against Nazi Germany. Great Britain sided against Germany. As a result, Dahl drove across a thousand miles of jungle to join the Royal Air Force training squadron in Nairobi, Kenya. He completed his initial flying training there and was sent to Lake Habbaniya, Iraq for his advanced training.
In August 1940, Dahl was sent to serve in a fighter squadron stationed in Egypt to confront the Italian forces in the Western Desert. A month later while strafing a convoy of trucks south of Fouka, a village not far from Alexandria, Dahl's plane was hit by machine gun fire. "I know only that there was trouble, lots and lots of trouble, and I know that we had turned round and were coming back when the trouble got worse. The biggest trouble of all was that I was too low to bail out, and it is from that point that my memory comes back to me. I remember the dipping of the nose of the aircraft and I remember looking down the nose of the machine at the ground and seeing a little clump of camel-thorn growing there all by itself. I remember seeing some rocks lying in the sand beside the camel-thorn, and the camel-thorn and the sand and the rocks leapt off the ground and came to me. I remember that very clearly." 
Dahl's plane ended up crashing after both of it's gas tanks exploded. He was rescued by a fellow pilot and was taken to a hospital in Alexandria. His skull had been fractured, his nose had been crushed in, and both eyes were swollen shut for ten days. Plastic surgery was successfully performed, but his confinement lasted for six months.
The following spring, Dahl rejoined his squadron in Greece to fly against the Germans. In one campaign, all but four of the thirty planes in the squadron were lost. Dahl was able to shoot down four planes himself even though he was still suffering a great deal of pain from the injuries he had received in his earlier crash.
Dahl was sent back to England on the disabled list in June, 1941. It was then that he met Harold Balfour, the Undersecretary of State for Air, who had Dahl transferred to Washington as an assistant air attache.
Not long after arriving in Washington, Dahl was paid a visit by C.S. Forester, the creator of Horatio Hornblower, who wanted to interview Dahl for an article in The Saturday Evening Post. Dahl ended up actually writing the article itself, which was entitled "A Piece of Cake." The article was such a success that Dahl was not only paid $1000, but the magazine commissioned a series of similar articles, which would also appear in Colliers, Harper's, The Ladies Home Journal, Tomorrow, and Town and Country.
In 1943, Dahl wrote his first story for children, The Gremlins. Gremlins, a name he invented, were tiny saboteurs who lived on fighter planes and bombers and were responsible for all crashes. Disney bought the rights for the story, though the film was never completed. Eleanor Roosevelt also took an interest in the story. She liked the book so much after reading it to her grandchildren in the White House that she invited Dahl to dinner with the President and herself as well as to weekend visits to Hyde Park, the Roosevelt's home in New York.
That same year, Dahl was promoted to the rank of Wing Commander.
At the conclusion of the war in 1945, Dahl returned to England and moved into his mother's cottage in Deep Mill Lane, Buckinghamshire. He had written a collection of stories about fliers in the Royal Air Force entitled Over to You earlier that year and continued to write a second series of stories in his new home.
Over the next few years Dahl led a quiet life breeding and racing greyhounds and cultivating his interest in wines, antiques, and paintings.
It was in 1952 that Dahl me his future wife, the Academy Award winner Patricia Neal at the home of playwright Lillian Hellman, who was attempting to play matchmaker. The two did not hit it off at first. In fact, Patricia thought he was rude and repeatedly put off Dahl's attempts at inviting her out on a date. Finally, Patricia conceded. It was not long before the two were in love. They were married in July of 1953.
Upon returning from their honeymoon in Italy, the newlyweds moved into a modest apartment on the West Side of New York City. He continued to write stories while she was going to classes at the Actor's Studio, and then appearing in plays in the evenings.
In 1954, the Dahls' first child Olivia was born. It was also this year that the Dahls began returning to England every summer. Eventually, they purchased a small house in Great Missenden, which they called "Gipsy House" They would return each fall to New York in order for Patricia to further her acting career.
Dahl was persuaded by a producer friend to try and write a play. After a month of work, Dahl had completed a three-act comedy entitled "They Honeys", which debuted on Broadway on April 28, 1955. The play was a critical success, but it only ran for 36 performances.
In 1957, the Dahls had their second child, a daughter named Tessa, who was followed by her brother Theo in 1960. In December of 1960, the two children were walking with their babysitter to go pickup Olivia from her nursery school. Still an infant, the babysitter was pushing Theo in a carriage. After waiting for the traffic light to change, the babysitter started to push the carriage into the street when a cab came along and struck it. The carriage was thrown forty feet and into the side of a bus. Theo suffered multiple head injuries, which led to treatments and eight surgeries to remove excess fluid from Theo's skull over the next three years.
James and the Giant Peach was published in 1961. Dahl had spent the six months writing it. It had been his first story targeting children as an audience since The Gremlins. "I spent at least twenty years of my life writing nothing but short stories for adults, but then our first child came along. When she was old enough to have stories told to her at bedtime, I made a point of making up a story every single night. It became a routine that continued when our second child came along. 
"I write children's books primarily for my own children. Had I not had any children I would never have written these books, nor would I have been capable of so doing ... I now infinitely prefer writing long stories for children. It is no easier, certainly, but it is more fun and evokes a far greater response." 
In 1962, Olivia died at the age of seven from a bout with measles encephalitis. It was a tough time for the Dahl family that was only made easier by the fact that Theo seemed to be getting better. After three years of treatments for hydrocephalus, a build of fluid in the skull, the boy grew out of his need for the treatments. That same year, the Dahl-Wade valve was perfected. Work on designing the valve had started in hopes of making treatments for young Theo more effective. While Theo was fortunate enough to never actually have to use the valve, the valve would end up being used all over the world and saving hurndreds of lives and minds.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was written in 1964. While it proved to be even more successful than James and the Giant Peach, some librarians were concerned about the amount of violence the book contained. Librarians have definitely changed their opinions over the years, and it has since become one of the most popular and recommended books for children.
On February 17, 1965, Patricia suffered the first of three cerebral hemorrhages. She was rushed to the hospital and was placed in the Intensive Caare Unit, where she would remain for the next three weeks. When she regained consciousness, she could hardly read, count, or talk. Even once her condition improved, she faced a slow and painful recovery. She would spend months in therapy. The time was made easier with the arrival of hundreds of letters from Patricia's concerned fans. Their lives were brightened when Patricia, who had been pregnant at the time of her first attack, gave birth to their last child, Lucy Neal.
During all of this, Dahl continued writing. He completed both the children's novel The Magic Finger and the screen play for the James Bond film You Only Live Twice in 1966. He also wrote the screenplay for Ian Fleming's Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in 1967.
With all the troubled times that Patricia Neal and Roald Dahl faced, their marriage suffered. Things became more and more difficult as the years progressed. Finally, in 1983, they were granted a divorce. Dahl remarried later that year to Felicity Ann Crosland.
Dahl's interests were not limited to just writing. He spoke both Swahili and Norwegian. He also enjoyed buying antiques, restoring old paintings, and growing various species of roses.
On November 23, 1990, Roald Dahl died of an infection in Oxford, England.
Information for this biography was taken from:
1) "Dahl, Roald", Educational Paperback Assocation; http://www.edupaperback.org/authorbios/dahlroal.html.
2) Tracy Chevalier (ed.). Twentieth Century Children Writers; St. James Press: New York, 1989.
3) Anne Commire (ed.). Something About the Author, #1; Gale Research Company: Detroit, Mich., 1971.
4) Anne Commire (ed.). Something About the Author, #26; Gale Research Company: Detroit, Mich., 1982.
5) Roald Dahl; http://www.rotfl.org/~rotfl/me/r_dahl/r_dahl.html.
6) Roald Dahl Book Talk; http://tqjubnior.thinkquest.org/5113/.
7) Roadl Dahl. Boy: Tales of Childhood; Farrar, Straus, & Giroux: New York, 1984.
8) Roald Dahl Club.http://www.roalddahlclub.com.
9) Andrea Shavick. Roald Dahl: The Champion Storyteller; Oxford University Press: New York, 1997.
10) Jeremy Treglown. Roald Dahl: A Biography; Harcourt Brace & Company: New York, 1994.
E-DAH/E-P-DAH The Enormous Crocodile (1978) -- The enormous crocodile devises evil plans and a few clever tricks to secure his lunch only to have them foiled by his neighbors.
J-Dahl The BFG (1982) -- Kidnapped from her orphanage by a Big Friendly Giant (BFG) Sophie concocts a plan with him to save the world from nine other man-gobbling, cannybull giants.
J-Dahl/J-P-DAH Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1964) -- Charlie Bucket, a boy from a poor family, wins a chance to visit the mysterious Chocolate Factory of Willy Wonka when he finds a golden ticket.
J-Dahl/J-P-DAH Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator: The Further Adventures of Charlie Bucket and Willy Wonka, Chocolate-Maker Extraordinaire (1972) -- Charlie, his family, and Mr. Wonka find themselves launched into space in the great glass elevator.
J-P-DAH/J-LPeD-DAH Danny, Champion of the World (1975) -- A young English boy describes his relationship with his father and the special adventures they share together.
J-P-DAH Esio Trot (1990) -- Shy Mr. Hoppy devises a plan to win the heart of his true love by teaching her to spell and making her tortoise grow bigger.
J-Dahl Fantastic Mr. Fox (1970) -- Three framers, one each meaner that the other, try all-out warfare to get rid of a fox and his familiy.
J-P-DAH George's Marvelous Medicine (1982) -- George decides that his grumpy, old grandmother must be a witch and concocts some marvelous medicine to take care of her.
J-P-DAH The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me (1985) -- A small boy with a desire to own a candy shop meets a meets a window-washing team of a giraffe, a pelican and a monkey. Together they all go to work for the Duke of Hampshire, who makes all their dreams come true.
J-Dahl/J-P-DAH James and the Giant Peach: A Children's Story (1961) -- With the help of some magic beans and some insect friends, James takes a journey to a place where all his dreams can come true.
J-Dahl The Magic Finger (1966) -- Angered by a neighboring family's sport hunting, an eight year old girl turns her finger on them.
J-Dahl/J-P-DAH Matilda (1988) -- Matilda is a super-smart little girl who is woefully misunderstood by her parents, her brother, and an evil school principal. With the help of a brave best friend and a wonderful teacher, Matilda discovers she doesn't have to get mad to get even.
J-Dahl The Minpins (1991) -- Join Little Billy as he goes on a journey looking for magic, which leads him to meet all sorts of interesting characters.
J-Dahl The Twits (1981) -- The misadventures of two terrible old people who enjoy playing nasty tricks and are finally outwitted by a family of monkeys.
J-Dahl The Vicar of Nibbleswicke (1991) -- The vicar's speech impediment leads to holy hysteria in an otherwise quiet country parish.
J-Dahl The Witches (1983) -- A young boy and his Norwegian grandmother, who is an expert on witches, together foil a witches' plot to destroy the world's children by turning them into mice.
J-92-Dahl Boy: Tales of Childhood (1984) -- Presents humorous anecdotes from the author's childhood, which includes summer vacations in Norway and an English boarding school.
J-641.562-DAH Roald Dahl's Revolting Recipes (1994) -- These recipes will help children of all ages to create some tasty treats inspired by the books of Roald Dahl.
Videos Based on Dahl's Books
J-VID-Matilda Matilda (1996) -- Matilda is a super-smart little girl who is woefully misunderstood by her parents, her brother, and an evil school principal. With the help of a brave best friend and a wonderful teacher, Matilda discovers she doesn't have to get mad to get even.
"Dahl, Roald", Educational Paperback Assocation (http://www.edupaperback.org/authorbios/dahlroal.html) -- This brief biography provides a great deal of information about the life of Roald Dahl as well as a list of his works and a list of sources to find out more about him.
Roald Dahl (http://www.rotfl.org/~rotfl/me/r_dahl/r_dahl.html) -- A brief biography that looks at where some of the ideas for his stories came from.
Roald Dahl Book Talk (http://tqjubnior.thinkquest.org/5113/) -- This ThinkQuest project provides all sorts of areas for children to learn about Roald Dahl and his books. There are activities, quizzes, a biography, and a number of other resources available.
Roald Dahl Club (http://www.roalddahlclub.com) -- A site designed by a fan club dedicated to Roald Dahl and his books that provides visitors with a number of educational and fun areas with tie-ins to the author's books.
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