Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Roald Dahl

It's Roald Dahl's birthday today. He was born in Llandaff, South Wales in 1916 to Norwegian parents, Harald and Sofie Magdalene Dahl and named after the explorer Roald Amundsen, who was a great national hero in Norway at the time. When Roald was just three years old, his seven year old sister, Astrid, died from appendicitis. Then a few short weeks later, his father Harald died of pneumonia at the age of 57. However, his mother was determined to keep the family in Britain rather than return to Norway to live with her relatives, because her husband had wished to have their children educated in English schools.

Roald attended several private schools and from the age of 13 he was educated at Repton School in Derbyshire, where he became the captain of the school Fives team and developed an interest in photography. During his time at Repton, the Cadbury chocolate company, occasionally sent boxes of new chocolates to the school to be tested by the pupils. Dahl took his duty seriously and of one of the sample bars, he wrote, "Too subtle for the common palate." Later in life he said that the experience of testing Cadbury's got him thinking about chocolate as something that was manufactured in a factory, which led to him spending a lot of time imagining what a chocolate factory might be like. The outcome of those speculations was his second children's book, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Dahl's mother expected him to attend university after leaving school, but instead he found a job with the Shell Petroleum Company in July 1934. He worked for them for five years before joining the Royal Air Force in November 1939.

Dahl save active service throughout the Second World War, enduring a bad plane crash that temporarily blinded him after he fractured his skull; he also smashed his nose in the crash. He saw service in Syria and then worked for military intelligence, ending the war as a Wing Commander. He began writing when in 1942 he was transferred to Washington as Assistant Air Attache. His first published work, in the August 1, 1942 issue of the Saturday Evening Post was 'Shot Down Over Libya', describing the bad plane crash. Originally Dahl's title for the work was 'A Piece of Cake' but this was changed to sound more dramatic, in spite of the fact the crash had nothing to do with enemy action.

He was married to American actress Patricia Neal from 1953 to 1983, having five children, including the author Tessa Dahl. Olivia Twenty Dahl, died of measles encephalitis at the age of 7 and Theo, his only son, was involved in a childhood accident that resulted in him developing hydrocephalus; as a result of this, Dahl became involved in the development of what became known as the 'Wade-Dahl-Till' (WDT) valve, a device designed to alleviate the condition. Tessa's daughter, and Dahl's granddaughter, Sophie was the inspiration for the "helpmate" character in The BFG. Sophie Dahl is now an author herself.

Roald Dahl died in November 1990, at his home in Great Missenden, at the age of 74, and is buried in the cemetery at the parish church of St Peter and St Paul there. In his honour, the 'Roald Dahl Children's Gallery' was opened at Bucks County Museum in nearby Aylesbury, and in June 2005 the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre opened in Great Missenden to celebrate his life and books, and to advance his work in literacy.


Martin LaBar said...

This comment has little to do with your Dahl post, but I wanted to thank you for your blog, and to tell you that I have mentioned it in my post of today.

Michele said...

That's OK - most comments are welcome, whether or not they're "on topic" !