"A little nonsense now and then, is cherished by the wisest men."
Roald Dahl Norwegian pronunciation: 13 September 1916 – 23 November 1990) was a British novelist, short story writer, poet, screenwriter, and fighter pilot. His books have sold more than 250 million copies worldwide.
Born in Wales to Norwegian parents, Dahl served in the Royal Air Force during the Second World War, in which he became a flying ace and intelligence officer, rising to the rank of acting wing commander. 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”. 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, The Twits and George’s Marvellous Medicine. His adult works include Tales of the Unexpected.
Dahl’s first published work, inspired by a meeting with C. S. Forester, was “A Piece of Cake” on 1 August 1942. The story, about his wartime adventures, was bought by The Saturday Evening Post for US$1,000 (a substantial sum in 1942) and published under the title “Shot Down Over Libya”.
His first children’s book was The Gremlins, published in 1943, about mischievous little creatures that were part of Royal Air Force folklore. The RAF pilots blamed the gremlins for all the problems with the aircraft. While at the British Embassy in Washington, Dahl sent a copy to the First Lady Eleanor Rooseveltwho read it to her grandchildren, and the book was commissioned by Walt Disney for a film that was never made. 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, James and the Giant Peach, The Witches, Fantastic Mr Fox, The BFG, The Twits and George’s Marvellous Medicine.
Dahl 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. The Mystery Writers of America presented Dahl with three Edgar Awards for his work, and many were originally written for American magazines such as Collier’s (The Collector’s Item was Colliers Star Story of the week for 4 September 1948), Ladies Home Journal, Harper’s, Playboy and The New Yorker. Works such as Kiss Kisssubsequently collected Dahl’s stories into anthologies, gaining worldwide acclaim. Dahl wrote more than 60 short stories; they have appeared in numerous collections, some only being published in book form after his death (See List of Roald Dahl short stories). His three Edgar Awards were given for: in 1954, the collection Someone Like You; in 1959, the story “The Landlady“; and in 1980, the episode of Tales of the Unexpected based on “Skin“.
One of his more famous adult stories, “The Smoker” (also known as “Man from the South“), was filmed twice as both 1960 and 1985 episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and also adapted into Quentin Tarantino‘s segment of the 1995 film Four Rooms. This oft-anthologised classic concerns a man in Jamaica who wagers with visitors in an attempt to claim the fingers from their hands. The 1960 Hitchcock version stars Steve McQueen and Peter Lorre.
Dahl acquired a traditional Romanichal gypsy wagon in the 1960s, and the family used it as a playhouse for his children at home in Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire. He later used the vardo as a writing room, where he wrote Danny, the Champion of the World in 1975. Dahl incorporated a Gypsy wagon into the main plot of the book, where the young English boy, Danny, and his father, William (played by Jeremy Irons in the film adaptation) live in a Gypsy caravan. Many local scenes and characters in Great Missenden inspired Dahl’s stories.
His short story collection Tales of the Unexpected was adapted to a successful TV series of the same name, beginning with “Man From the South”. When the stock of Dahl’s own original stories was exhausted, the series continued by adapting stories by authors that were written in Dahl’s style, including the writers John Collier and Stanley Ellin.[
Some 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. In his novel My Uncle Oswald, the uncle engages a temptress to seduce 20th century geniuses and royalty with a love potion secretly added to chocolate truffles made by Dahl’s favourite chocolate shop, Prestat of Piccadilly, London. Memories with Food at Gipsy House, written with his wife Felicity and published posthumously in 1991, was a mixture of recipes, family reminiscences and Dahl’s musings on favourite subjects such as chocolate, onions and claret.