If you went to a British school at any point in your life, chances are you probably read your fair share of Roald Dahl’s work during your studies, be it James and the Giant Peach, The Witches, or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Now, the author behind these classic children’s books is celebrating what would have been his hundredth birthday (13th September.)
Roald Dahl is famous for his imaginative stories, each with a dash of something a little less ‘child-friendly’ – who could forget the famous man-eating giants in The BFG? His stories have become synonymous with the phrase ‘children’s writer’, and 100 years after his birth, his books are still as popular as ever.
“He then attended Repton Public School near Derby from 1929”
Born in Llandaff in 1916 to Norwegian parents, Dahl was raised around the Cardiff area for much of his younger years, before moving to Weston Super-Mare, where he attended Boarding School from 1925 onwards. He then attended Repton Public School near Derby from 1929, after which he started working for Shell Oil. Once WWII broke out, Dahl joined the RAF, through which he served in Greece and Libya, before being invalided home in 1941 after a crash.
“A little-known fact about Dahl is that he also wrote screenplays”
It was after this that his career as a writer started to take off, as he was commissioned to write a piece in 1942 on being an RAF pilot. His career continued to grow, writing adult dystopian novels, stage productions and short stories before his first children’s book, James and the Giant Peach, was published in 1961. The success of this resulted in his many other books following afterwards; Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in 1964, The Magic Finger in 1966, Fantastic Mr. Fox in 1970, and on and on! A little-known fact about Dahl is that he also wrote screenplays, including those of the 1967 film You Only Live Twice, and 1968 children’s classic Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, both originally penned by fellow-author, and wartime friend, Ian Fleming.
“There has been much discussion about the impact that Dahl’s upbringing had on his later writing”
Since his death in 1990, there has been much discussion about the impact that Dahl’s upbringing had on his later writing; his daughter, Lucy Dahl, has commented that it was her father’s childhood experiences with poverty, loneliness and cruelty that allowed him to write about similar topics so easily. She said in an interview, “All children have darkness in their world, they all have worries and they all have fears. Dad was able to speak to that part of a child, and almost encourage them to carry on”.
“There are other correlations between Dahl’s life, and the life of his characters”
Dahl’s own father died when he was four years old, and it’s no coincidence that many of his characters, from James from James and the Giant Peach and Sophie from The BFG to Danny from Danny: Champion of the World, are either orphans, or raised by single parents. There are other correlations between Dahl’s life, and the life of his characters, from their education – horrible schools are a common feature in his books – to sweets, as whilst at Repton, pupils were able to taste-test chocolates for a famous confectionery company, which is thought to have been the inspiration behind Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
“More recently, his books are finding their way onto the stage”
100 years after his birth, Dahl has become one of the most celebrated children’s authors of all time. Together with Quentin Blake, who has illustrated many of his books, he has sold 250 million copies worldwide – that’s a book every five seconds since Dahl was first published. However, more recently, his books are finding their way onto the stage; Matilda opened in the West End in November 2011, and is currently booking up until May 2017, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory opened in the West End in July 2013. That’s not all, though – Dahl’s success on the silver screen is also growing, with The BFG being one of the latest and most popular adaptations of the beloved book. In 2015 the TV-film adaptation of the charming Esio Trot also premiered on the BBC to rave reviews.
Roald Dahl continues to be one of Britain’s most charming and celebrated authors, and 2016 has seen a myriad of celebrations of what would have been his 100th birthday. No doubt his popularity will continue in the years to come, and his stories will still be treasured many years down the line.
Image via Amy Wilcockson