The aim of this essay is to give an outline of Roald Dahl’s life, highlighting the most important moments of his life, to point out his mayor works – specially the ones addressed to children-, and to mention many critics’ opinions of his writing. Roald Dahl was born in Llandaff, Wales on September 13th, 1916. He was the son of Norwegian parents. His father, Harald Dahl, died when Dahl was three. His mother, Sophie Magdalene Hesselberg had to raise him, his three brothers and two stepchildren.
He gave tribute to his mother in “The witches”, in which he tried to represent his mother through the character of the grandmother. Not only did he suffer his father’s death but also his sister Astri, who died from appendicitis. After both tragedies, Dahl’s mother decided to remain in Wales since it was her husband’s wish to have their children educated in British schools. During his adulthood he also suffered the loss of his eldest daughter Olivia and during an accident, his four-month year old son suffered from brain damage.
Roald Dahl had a miserable time at school and this had the greatest influence in his writing. His school days are the central theme in his autobiography “Boy”. In “Boy” he described horrible beatings, sadistic headmasters, prejudiced teachers, and even an abusive dormitory Matron. He first attended Llandaff Cathedral School. He used to keep a secret diary in which he recorded all the memories of his times. These memories recorded in the diaries would later be the seeds for “Charlie and Chocolate Factory”. Then he was sent to several boarding schools in England, including Saint Peter’s in Weston-super-Mare.
He had an unpleasant experience while being at Saint Peter’s. He was very homesick and wrote to his mother once a week – and continued to do so until he was thirty-two – but he never showed to her that he was missing her and the rest of the family. At the age of eighteen, Dahl decided he wanted to follow a career in which he could travel to places like China or African countries. So, he joined the Public Schools Exploring Society’s expedition to Newfoundland. Later he worked at Shell Petroleum Company –since he was sure they would sent him abroad.
After being trained for two years he was sent to Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania, where he got the adventure he wanted: great heat, crocodiles, snakes and safaris. When he was twenty-three, World War II broke out and he joined the Royal Air Force. He was made a pilot officer and went to Nairobi. All his war experiences are described in his autobiography “Going Solo”. They include dreadful episodes such as the survival of a direct hit during the Battle of Athens which Roald Dahl described as “an endless blur of enemy fighters whizzing towards me from every side. ” In 1942, he went to Washington as Assistant Air Attache.
There, he started writing short stories. His first work was published in “Saturday Evening Post”, where he described his experience and wrote his own version of the war. In 1943, he published his first children’s book “The Gremlins”. But for the first fifteen years Dahl’s career was focused on writing to adults. He wrote two novels for adults: “Sometime never” in 1948 and “My uncle Oswald” in 1979. As a children’s writer, he did not succeeded until the 60s, when he became a father. He himself claimed to be more satisfied with his children’s books rather than with his adult’s ones since “… children’s books are harder to write.
It’s tougher to keep a child interested because a child does not have the concentration of an adult…” He became fond of writing children’s books and stories when started to make up bedtime stories for his daughters Olivia and Tessa. So in 1961 “James and the Giant Peach” was published. Afterwards, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” was released in 1964 in the US and in 1967 in the UK. A UK journalist wrote in “The times”: “It’s the funniest children’s book I have read in years…” The book turned out to be a worldwide phenomenon.
So well-known was the book that it has nowadays two movie versions; one in 1971 and the other in 2005. Many bestsellers followed, including “Matilda”, “Danny the Champion of the World”, “The BFG”, “The Twits”, “The Witches”, “Boy” and “Going Solo”. “Matilda” for example, broke all the records of a children’s book by selling over a half a million books in six months. Many people tried to explain Roald Dahl’s success in writing children’s books. Robin Swicord, the writer of the Matilda’s movie version said “Dahl is keyed into the psychological life of a child better than any other writer.
He brings their fears right to the surface…” Also Danny de Vito said “Dahl will lead a child out onto a windy limb and then suddenly he will place a ladder underneath and the child will get safely to the ground” He was the greatest believer that reading was paramount for all human beings. He claimed that books should not be overwhelming but funny, exciting, moving and wonderful. In addition to being a writer, Roald Dahl was also a gifted poet. His children’s books are full of songs and poetry, and he wrote three books devoted to verse. He used to write his masterpieces in a hut which he found really cosy.
He used to write in the morning, stopped at midday for lunch and then in the afternoon he returned to the hut to keep on writing. Roald Dahl, a man who had many passions such as chocolates, arts, music, antiques, wine, medical inventions, onions, orchids and golf-, died in November 1990 at the age of seventy-four of a rare blood disease. Since his death, his books raised their popularity all around the world. List of major works: Autobiographies • Boy – Tales of Childhood • Boy and Going Solo • Going Solo • The Great Mouse Plot • My Year Children’s Books • The BFG The BFG, Matilda, and George’s Marvelous Medicine • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory • Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator • The Compete Adventures of Charlie and Mr. Willy Wonka • Danny, the Champion of the World • The Enormous Crocodile • Esio Trot • Fantastic Mr. Fox • George’s Marvelous Medicine • The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me • The Gremlins • James and the Giant Peach • The Magic Finger • Matilda • The Minpins • The Twits • The Vicar of Nibbleswicke • The Witches Adult Novels • My Uncle Oswald • Sometime Never Poetry • Dirty Beasts • Revolting Rhymes • Rhyme Stew
Our lesson on Roald Dahl during our literature seminar has inspired me not only to do my research for writing the final assignment on him but also to set myself a goal; to start reading as many of his masterpieces I can. I feel at a loss for words to describe what sensations does he make me feel every time I read something he wrote; the only thing I can say is that once I finish reading a piece of writing I end up with a smile and feeling as if I went back to my childhood. Within the masterpieces I found, I have read up to the moment “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and a book called “Roald
Dahl: Ten Short Stories” which brings ten absolutely catchy stories such as “The Umbrella Man”, “The hitch hiker”, “Mr Botibol”, “The Butler”, etc. “The Umbrella Man” tells us the story of a12-year-old girl –who happens to be the narrator of the story- who went to London with her mother on a rainy day. When they were to take a taxi, a man approached to them and offered them a really expensive umbrella in exchange of very little money. The story –as all Roald Dahl’s stories does- has a great twist in the end, an end that no one can imagine.
It is because of his way of writing, because of that twist in the end that you find in almost every single story or novel, because of the way he describes places, people’s physical appearance and attitudes that you cannot stop reading his pieces of writing. I also noticed some resemblance in the way of describing either people or things with J. K. Rowling, maybe she was inspired in Roald Dahl’s work… who knows! Web pages visited for this Essay: • http://www. roalddahl. com/ • http://www. roalddahlfans. com/ • http://en. wikipedia. org/wiki/Roald_Dahl • http://home. rotfl. org/me/r_dahl/r_dahl. html