Roald Dahl was a British novelist, short story writer, poet, fighter pilot and screenwriter. Born in Wales, to Norwegian parents, Dahl served in the Royal Air Force during the Second World War. He rose to prominence in the 1940s with works for both children and adults and he became one of the world’s best selling authors. He has been referred to as “one of the greatest storytellers for children of the 20th Century” and his Awards for contribution to Literature include the 1983 “World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement”, and the “British Book Awards’ Children’s Author of the Year” in 1990. In 2008, The Times placed Dahl 16th on its list of “The 50 greatest British writers since 1945”.
Dahl’s short stories are known for their unexpected endings and his children’s books for their unsentimental, macabre, often darkly comic mood, featuring villainous adult enemies of the child characters. His books champion the kind-hearted, and feature an underlying warm sentiment. Dahl’s works for children include “James and the Giant Peach”, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, “Matilda”, “The Witches”, “Fantastic Mr Fox”, “The BFG (Big Friendly Giant)”, “The Twits” and “George’s Marvellous Medicine”. His adult works include “Tales of the Unexpected”.
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.
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, Playboy and The New Yorker, then subsequently collected by Dahl into anthologies, gaining world-wide acclaim. Dahl wrote more than 60 short stories and they have appeared in numerous collections, some only being published in book form after his death. His stories also brought him three Edgar Awards: for the collection “Someone Like You” in 1959, for the story “The Landlady” and in 1980, for the episode of “Tales of the Unexpected”, that based on “Skin”.
Receiving the 1983 “World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement”, Dahl encouraged his children and his readers to let their imagination run free. His daughter Lucy stated “his spirit was so large and so big he taught us to believe in magic”.
Dahl’s children’s works are usually told from the point of view of a child. They typically involve adult villains who hate and mistreat children, and feature at least one “good” adult to counteract the villain(s). These stock characters are possibly a reference to the abuse that Dahl stated that he experienced in the boarding schools he attended.
Dahl’s books see the triumph of the child. While his whimsical fantasy stories feature an underlying warm sentiment, they usually contain a lot of darkly comic and grotesque scenarios, including gruesome violence. “The Witches”, “George’s Marvellous Medicine” and “Matilda” are examples of this formula.
He was born on 13 September, 1916 and he died on 23 November, 1990, at the age of 74, of a rare cancer of the blood, myelodysplastic syndrome, in Oxford. According to his granddaughter, the family gave him a “sort of Viking funeral”.
“The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More” featured a short extract called “Lurky Break”, in which Roald Dahl explains how he came to be a writer. It also includes tips on the qualities he thought necessary to anyone wanting to make a living out of writing fiction. So, for anyone who admire his writing style and want to learn more about his writing rules, here are 7 of his most famous advice for aspiring authors:
1. «You should have a lively imagination!»
2. «You should be able to write well. By that I mean you should be able to make a scene come alive in the reader’s mind. Not everyboby has this ability. It is a gift and you either have it or you don’t!»
3. «You must have stamina. In other words, you must be able to stick to what you are doing and never give up, for hour after hour, day after day, week after week and month after month!»
4. «You must be a perfectionist. That means you must never be satisfied with what you have written until you have rewritten it again and again, making it as good as you possibly can!»
5. «You must have strong self-discipline. You are working alone. No one is employing you. No one is around to give you the sack if you don’t turn up for work, or to tick you off if you start slacking!»
6. «It helps a lot if you have a keen sence of humour. This is not essential when writing for grown-ups, but for children, is vital!»
7. «You must have a degree of humility. The writer who thinks that his work is marvellous is heading for trouble!»
❧ Personal Note:
I’ll be honest (and maybe rude). Roald Dahl was never my favorite author and I only read one of his books. But that book changed my life and it gave me a path that probably I would never follow.
I was a kid when I read “Matilda” and now, 23 years later, I still remember that story, the characters and the scenes that still exist in my mind.
So, I would like to thank Mr. Roald Dahl because that man made me believe in power of reading, in magic of books and in power of my mind. He made believe that, if I really want it, I could change everything around me, even my whole life, as Matilda did with the power of her mind. So..
Thank you from the bottom of my heart, Mr. Dahl!
Rest In Peace!