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Roald Dahl

(1916—1990) writer of fiction


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(1916–1990)

British writer with a gift for the grotesque and the subversive, known particularly for his children's stories.

Roald Dahl was born in Llandaff, south Wales, of Norwegian parents. Despite the early death of his father and elder sister, his early years were conventional – boarding school (Repton) followed by entry into a career with Shell Oil. At the outbreak of World War II he volunteered for the RAF and served as a fighter pilot, being twice shot down in action. He was subsequently posted to Washington, DC, as an assistant air attaché. When C. S. Forester, creator of the Hornblower naval adventures, challenged Dahl to write a story based on his own combat experiences, he produced a short story, ‘A Piece of Cake’, for which the Saturday Evening Post paid $1000.

In 1943 he wrote his first children's novel, The Gremlins, which was originally intended as a script for his friend Walt Disney. Dahl's first attempt at a novel for adults, Sometime Never: A Fable for Supermen (1948), proved unsuccessful but he found a ready market with The New Yorker for his violent and bizarre short stories, many of which were later republished as Someone Like You (1954) and Kiss, Kiss (1960). Both volumes not only sold well but were also televised – in the USA as Way Out; in the UK as Tales of the Unexpected. Although his only stage play, The Honeys (1955), failed, Dahl finally achieved financial independence in the 1960s and went on to produce the children's titles that brought him fame and fortune. These included James and the Giant Peach (1961), Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1964), Danny the Champion of the World (1975), The BFG (1982), and Esio Trot (1990).

In spite of his considerable wealth, Dahl's personal life was less happy; his son was permanently disabled by a road accident, while one of his daughters died of measles at seven. Divorce from his wife, the actress Patricia Neal (1926– ), came in 1983, after thirty years of marriage. While children continued to delight in Dahl's Revolting Rhymes (1982) and Dirty Beasts (1983) his editors were often exasperated by his increasingly xenophobic, misogynist, and racist outbursts. Dahl also wrote two volumes of anecdotal memoirs, Going Solo (1981) and Boy (1984).

Subjects: Literature.


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