Weaver of funny tales

Remembering Dahl


O

ne of the most successful, well known and loved of children’s writers with fans from the age of six to 80, maybe even more, was Roald Dahl. The readership for his books cut across all ages. Born on September 13, 1916, in Wales to Harald Dahl and Sophie Magdalene Dahl, he was named after the polar explorer Roald Amundsen, a national hero in Norway at the time. Though Roald Dahl wrote screenplays as well as short stories for adults, he is known best for his children’s books.

Dahl had very fond memories of his mother Sophie who raised two stepchildren as well as four of her own alone after his father passed away. “A real rock, always on your side whatever you’d done,” he used to say about his mother. He experienced a tremendous sense of security around her. The character of the grandmother in the book The Witches was based on his mother. It was a son’s tribute to his mother.

Dahl first attended The Cathedral School, Llandaff. During his school years, the chocolate company Cadbury sometimes sent boxes of new chocolates to the pupils for trial. The young Dahl, gorging on these chocolates would dream of inventing a new chocolate bar that would win high praise from Mr Cadbury himself. This dream formed the inspiration for his third book Charlie and the Chocolate factory.                         

He worked in the Shell Oil company in Africa before joining the RAF (Royal Air Force). Dahl’s writing career began quite by accident after he sustained a tremendous injury on his head as an RAF fighter pilot during the Second World War. He only rejoined his Squadron after a long period of rest and recuperation.

Roald Dahl’s interest in children’s fiction began when he started making bedtime stories for his children. Most of his children’s books are told from the point of view of a child. The plot often involves adult villains or villainesses who almost always hate children and mistreat them. Most people consider these bad adults to be a direct reference to the abuse that Dahl suffered in boarding schools. More often than not, these books contain one good adult to balance the villains. A case in point being the Big FriendlyGiant, who was a good adult, while the other giants were really bad. This good adult many considered a reference to his mother.

Roald Dahl specialised in writing short stories of unexpected horror, black humour, grotesque scenarios and macabre surprises. His sense of humour was strange and quirky, with crazy characters who the children fell in love with instantly. The BFG, as the Big Friendly Giant was known as, was an absolutely lovable character, as was Matilda and James the boy who suffered at the hands of his aunts, but his wonderful adventure in a peach lightened his torture.

Dahl explored unchartered territories long before they become fashionable, like the world of witches in the book by the same name. Many of Dahl’s books were stored in a notebook as ideas for stories for as long as 10 years before they went onto become enormously successful books. Dahl had a kind of outhouse in his compound which became his writing den. He retreated into it for hours together to write his wonderful books.

The anniversary of his birthday is celebrated as Roald Dahl Day. This will be his 93rd birth anniversary. Dahl died in 1990 at the age of 74 of a rare blood disease. He believed that children loved being spooked, loved chocolates, toys, money and that they loved being made to giggle. In him the children had a fantastic storyteller and a weaver of absolutely lovable tales.

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