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Roald Dahl
Roald Dahl
Dahl in April 1954
Born (1916-09-13)September 13, 1916
Cardiff, Wales
Died November 23, 1990(1990-11-23) (aged 74)
Oxford, England
Occupation Novelist, Poet, Screenwriter
Period 1942–1990
Genre Fantasy
Notable works
  • (m. 1953; div. 1983)
  • Felicity Crosland
    (m. 1983)
Children Olivia, Tessa, Theo, Ophelia and Lucy
Relatives Sophie and Phoebe Dahl (granddaughters)
Nicholas Logsdail (nephew)

Military career
Allegiance  United Kingdom
Service/branch Flag of the Royal Air Force Royal Air Force
Years of service 1939–1946
Rank Squadron Leader
Unit No. 80 Squadron RAF

Roald Dahl (September 13, 1916 – November 23, 1990) was a British novelist, short-story writer, poet, screenwriter, and wartime fighter ace of Norwegian descent. His books have sold more than 250 million copies worldwide. Dahl has been called "one of the greatest storytellers for children of the 20th century."

Dahl's short stories are known for their unexpected endings, and his children's books for their unsentimental, often darkly comic mood. His works for children include James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, The Witches, Fantastic Mr Fox, The BFG, The Twits, The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me, and George's Marvellous Medicine. His adult works include Tales of the Unexpected.

Early life


Roald Dahl was born in 1916 at Villa Marie, Fairwater Road, in Llandaff, Cardiff, Wales, to Norwegians Harald Dahl (1863–1920) and Sofie Magdalene Dahl (née Hesselberg) (1885–1967). Dahl's father, a wealthy shipbroker, had immigrated to the UK from Sarpsborg. Dahl was named after Norwegian polar explorer Roald Amundsen. His first language was Norwegian, which he spoke at home.

In 1920, when Roald was 3, his older sister Astri died from appendicitis. Several weeks later, his father died of pneumonia at age 57. Later that year, his youngest sister, Asta, was born. Dahl's mother decided to remain in Wales instead of returning to Norway to live with relatives, as her husband had wanted their children to be educated in English schools, which he considered the world's best.

Roald dahl mrs pratchetts sweetshop llandaff
Mrs. Pratchett's former sweet shop in Llandaff, Cardiff, has a blue plaque commemorating "his time at Cathedral School as recalled in his autobiography 'Boy'."

Dahl first attended The Cathedral School, Llandaff. When he was eight, he and four of his friends were punished by the headmaster after putting a dead mouse in a jar of gobstoppers at the local sweet shop, which was owned by a "mean and loathsome" old woman named Mrs. Pratchett. The five boys named their prank the "Great Mouse Plot of 1924." He later used this and other childhood experiences when he wrote about the everlasting gobstopper in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Dahl was transferred to St Peter's boarding school in Weston-super-Mare. He did not like it there, but he did not tell his mother this in his weekly letters to her.

Repton School

Repton School - - 1303684
Dahl attended Repton School in Derbyshire from 1929 to 1934

Beginning in 1929, when he was 13, Dahl attended Repton School in Derbyshire. He was never seen as a talented writer in his school years; however, Roald loved literature and photography. He often carried a camera with him wherever he went. Dahl was exceptionally tall, reaching 6 feet 6 inches (1.98 m) in adult life. He played sports including cricket, football, and golf, and was made captain of the squash team.

During his years at Repton, the Cadbury chocolate company occasionally sent boxes of new chocolates to the school to be tested by the students. Dahl dreamed of inventing a new chocolate bar that would win the praise of Mr. Cadbury himself; this inspired him in writing his third children's book, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1964), and to refer to chocolate in other children's books.

While he was at Repton School, Dahl noticed and disliked the way that older boys were cruel to younger boys. He later wrote about these times in Boy: Tales of Childhood. Some people believe that this is why many of his children's stories are not as happy as most stories. They usually feature adult villains of the child characters. Usually, there are good adults and bad adults in his stories. In Boy: Tales of Childhood, he also wrote about the pleasant times he spent with his mother's family on summer holidays during his childhood and adolescent years.

After school

After finishing his schooling, in August 1934 Dahl crossed the Atlantic on the RMS Nova Scotia and hiked through Newfoundland with the Public Schools Exploring Society. He also worked for the Shell Petroleum Company. After two years of training, he was assigned to live in Mombasa, Kenya, then to Dar es Salaam in the British colony of Tanganyika (now part of Tanzania). He had a cook and personal servants.

Fighter pilot

In November 1939, Dahl joined the Royal Air Force as an aircraftman. After his training was complete, he was commissioned as a pilot officer on August 24, 1940. He was judged ready to join a squadron and face the enemy.

Gloster Gladiator
Dahl was flying a Gloster Gladiator when he crash landed in Libya

On September 19, 1940, Dahl crashed in his aircraft on the territory of Libya. Dahl's skull was fractured and his nose was smashed; he was temporarily blinded. He managed to drag himself away from the blazing wreckage and lost consciousness. It was later revealed that he had mistakenly been sent to the no man's land between the Allied and Italian forces. He wrote about the crash in his first published work.

Dahl had a record of five aerial victories, which qualified him as a flying ace. It is most likely that he scored more than those victories on April 20, 1941, when 22 German aircraft were shot down.

Hurricane mk1 r4118 fairford arp
A Hawker Hurricane Mk 1, the aircraft type in which Dahl engaged in aerial combat over Greece.

Diplomat, writer, and intelligence officer

After being sent home because of migraines from his injuries, Dahl was posted to an RAF training camp in Uxbridge. He tried to recover his health enough to become an instructor. In late March 1942, while in London, he met the Under-Secretary of State for Air, Major Harold Balfour, at his club. Impressed by Dahl's war record and his ability to speak well, Balfour appointed Roald as assistant air attaché at the British Embassy in Washington, D.C.

During the war, Dahl supplied intelligence from Washington to Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Toward the end of the war, Dahl wrote some of the history of the secret organization.

Post-war life

Patricia Neal und Roald Dahl
Patricia Neal and Roald Dahl

Dahl married American actress Patricia Neal on July 2, 1953, at Trinity Church in New York City. Their marriage lasted for 30 years and they had five children:

  • Olivia Twenty (1955–1962);
  • Chantal Sophia "Tessa" (born 1957), who became an author and was the mother of the author, cookbook writer, and former model Sophie Dahl (after whom Sophie in The BFG is named).;
  • Theo Matthew (born 1960);
  • Ophelia Magdalena (born 1964);
  • Lucy Neal (born 1965).

Dahl worked with hydraulic engineer Stanley Wade and London's Great Ormond Street Hospital neurosurgeon Kenneth Till to develop the "Wade-Dahl-Till" (or WDT) valve, a device to improve the shunt used to lessen the pressure of hydrocephalus. He did this because his four-month-old son Theo suffered from hydrocephalus after his baby carriage was hit by a taxicab in New York City. The WDT valve has been used successfully on almost 3,000 children around the world.

In 1962, Dahl lost his daughter Olivia. She died of measles encephalitis at age seven. Three years later, his wife Patricia Neal suffered three burst cerebral aneurysms while pregnant with their fifth child, Lucy. Dahl took care of his wife while she re-learned how to talk and walk.

In 1983, Patricia Neal and Dahl divorced, and Dahl married Felicity d'Abreu Crosland, known as Liccy. She was a set designer that had worked with Patricia.


Dahl titled his first work "A Piece of Cake." It was the story of his wartime adventures. The Saturday Evening Post purchased it for $1,000 ($17,910 in 2024) and published it 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. Dahl went on to write 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. Tim Burton, Steven Spielberg, and Scarlett Johansson say that they have been positively influenced by Roald Dahl's stories.

Dahl also wrote morbid short stories for adults, which often blended humor and innocence with surprising plot twists. Dahl wrote more than 60 short stories.

Roald Dahl's gipsy caravan - - 112566
Roald Dahl's vardo in the garden of his house, "Gipsy Cottage", in Great Missenden, where he wrote Danny, the Champion of the World in 1975.

The last book published in his lifetime, Esio Trot, released in January 1990, marked a change in style for the author. Unlike other Dahl works (which often feature tyrannical adults and heroic/magical children), it is the story of an old, lonely man trying to make a connection with a woman he has loved from afar.

Children's fiction

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). Dahl also features characters who are very fat; they are usually children.

Dahl encouraged his children and his readers to let their imaginations run free. He was famous for his inventive, playful use of language, which was a key element of his writing. He built his new words on familiar sounds. Lexicographer Susan Rennie describes it this way: "You know that something lickswishy and delumptious is good to eat, whereas something uckyslush or rotsome is definitely not!"


For a short time in the 1960s, Dahl wrote screenplays. Two, the James Bond film You Only Live Twice and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, were adaptations of novels by Ian Fleming. Dahl's novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was rewritten by David Seltzer and changed to Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971). Dahl did not like the film. He was angry because the story was changed too much. He said it placed too much emphasis on Willie Wonka and not enough on Charlie.


In his younger days, Roald was an avid reader. He loved fantastic tales of heroism and triumph. His favorite authors were Rudyard Kipling, Charles Dickens, William Makepeace Thackeray, Lewis Carroll, and Frederick Marryat. Their works made a lasting mark on his life and writing.

Dahl said that his mother and her stories also had a strong influence on his writing. She used to tell him traditional Norwegian myths and legends from her native homeland. This helped him to like ghost stories. He based the grandmother character in The Witches on his mother as a tribute.


In 1961, Dahl hosted and wrote for a science fiction and horror television anthology series called Way Out. He also wrote for the satirical BBC comedy show That Was the Week That Was. Between 1979 and 1988, Tales of the Unexpected aired on ITV. The series was originally based on Dahl's short stories.

Death and legacy

Dahl's gravestone, Church of St Peter and St Paul, Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire

Roald Dahl died on November 23, 1990, at the age of 74 of a rare cancer of the blood, myelodysplastic syndrome, in Oxford. He was buried in the cemetery at the Church of St Peter and St Paul, Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire, England. Today, children continue to leave toys and flowers by his grave.

In September 2021, Netflix purchased the Roald Dahl Story Company in a deal worth more than $686 million (£500 million). This is equal to $741 million in 2024.

Roald Dahl Plass
Roald Dahl Plass illuminated at night
Plaque commemorating Roald Dahl

Some landmarks or items that have been named in honor of Roald Dahl include:

Matilda, Cambridge Theatre
Matilda the Musical has been shown in the West End (pictured) since November 2011, and on Broadway between 2013 and 2017.

Recognitions and Awards

  • Sixteenth of the 50 greatest British writers since 1945 (The Times)
  • One of the world's best-selling fiction authors
  • Britain's favorite author (2000)
  • On the list of Amazon's top five best-selling children's authors on the online store (2016)
  • The greatest storyteller of all time, ranking ahead of Dickens, Shakespeare, Rowling and Spielberg (2017 UK poll)
  • The top-earning dead celebrity (Forbes 2021)

Roald Dahl quotes

  • "Those who don't believe in magic will never find it."
  • "Life is more fun if you play games."
  • "A person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly. You can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely."
  • So please, oh please, we beg, we pray, go throw your TV set away, and in its place you can install a lovely bookshelf on the wall. Then fill the shelves with lots of books."
  • "Having power is not nearly as important as what you choose to do with it."
  • "If you are going to get anywhere in life you have to read a lot of books."

Interesting facts about Roald Dahl

  • Dahl wrote many of his stories in a little shed at the bottom of his garden.
  • He never learned to type. He wrote in a red book with a pencil.
  • Dahl invented over 250 new and fun words. There is a dictionary (the Oxford Roald Dahl Dictionary) that lists his words.
  • Many of Dahl’s characters were based on people he had met in real life.
  • In 1971, a real man named Willy Wonka wrote to Roald Dahl. He was a postman in Nebraska.
  • His nickname in the Royal Air Force (RAF) was "Lofty."
  • The famous book James and the Giant Peach was originally going to be called James and the Giant Cherry.


Writing roles

Year Title Role Notes
1950 Suspense Story 1 episode
1952 CBS Television Workshop
Lux Video Theatre
1954 Philip Morris Playhouse
1955 Star Tonight
Cameo Theatre
1958 Suspicion
1958–61 Alfred Hitchcock Presents 7 episodes
1961 'Way Out 1 episode
1962 That Was the Week That Was
1964 36 Hours Feature film
1965–67 Thirty-Minute Theatre 3 episodes
1967 You Only Live Twice Screenplay Feature film
1968 Late Night Horror Writer 1 episode
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Screenplay Feature film
Jackanory 10 episodes
1971 The Road Builder Feature film
Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory Story/screenplay
1979–88 Tales of the Unexpected Writer/story 26 episodes
1985 The New Alfred Hitchcock Presents Story 1 episode
1989 The BFG TV movie
The Book Tower Writer 1 episode
Danny the Champion of the World Story TV movie

Presenting roles

Year Title Role Notes
1961 'Way Out Host 5 episodes
1965 Thirty-Minute Theatre Narrator 1 episode

Non-presenting appearances

Year Title Role Notes
1969 The 41st Annual Academy Awards Himself Audience member
1978 Read All About It 1 episode
This Is Your Life 1 episode
1979–85 Tales of the Unexpected 32 episodes
1989 Going Live! 1 episode


See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Roald Dahl para niños

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