Roald Dahl was born on September 13, 1916, in Llandaff, South Wales, to Norwegian parents, Harald and Sofie (Hesselberg) Dahl. After graduating from Repton School in 1933, he went to work for the Shell Oil Company of East Africa until World War II started in 1939. He then served in the Royal Air Force as a fighter pilot and he became a Wing Commander. In 1940 Dahl’s plane was hit by a machine gun fire, and he was severely injured. He was rescued by a fellow pilot and took him six months to recover. Although Dahl rejoined his squadron in Greece in the spring of 1941, the pain from his head and back injuries grew worse so that he had to be sent back to England on the disabled list.
Dahl was then reassigned to Washington, D.C., as an assistant air attache’. It was there that he accidently began his career as a writer. One day while Dahl was working in his office, C.S. Forester Came to ask if he could interview him for a piece he was writing for The Saturday Evening Post because he had “seen action” in the war. Forester took Dahl to lunch with the intentions of taking notes about his most exciting war experience. However, Forester was having difficulty taking notes while eating, so Dahl offered to write down some notes and send them to him. The notes ended up being a story which he called “A Piece of Cake.” Forester sent the story to The Saturday Evening Post under Dahl’s name. The Post liked the story so much, they paid Dahl $1,000 and then signed him to write others. Soon his stories were being published in several other magazines, and his writing career had started.
In 1943 Dahl wrote his first children’s book, The Gremlins. Eleanor Roosevelt read it to her grandchildren and liked it so much that she invited him to have dinner with her and the President at the White House. They had such a good time that he was invited again, and then the visits extended to weekends at their country house. During those visits, Dahl had the unique opportunity to talk with President Franlin Roosevelt about world events as casually as one might have a conversation with an very old friend. It was a very exciting experience for him.
In 1945, Dahl returned to England and moved into his mother’s cottage in Buckinghamshire. In addition to his writing, he spent time on his interests in wines, antiques, paintings, and breeding and racing some greyhounds.
Seven years later he met the actress Patricia Neal, and they married on July 2, 1953. They moved to New York because Patricia was working in a play, but they spent their summers in England. They had five children: Olivia(dead), Tessa, Theo, Ophelia, and Lucy.
James and the Giant Peach was written in 1961. It was the first children’s book he wrote since The Gremlins. Until that time, Dahl had written only some short stories and plays for adults. But when Olivia was born, he began making up stories to tell her each night at bedtime. He said, “If I didn’t have any children of my own, I would have never written books for children, nor would I have been capable of doing so.” Dahl had some very definite ideas about what children liked to read which were supported by the success of his books. However, some critics considered his work too violent for use in libraries and schools.
Dahl’s life was not always an easy one. He had to deal with much serious and tragic illness in his family. Theo had hydrocephalus as a young boy due to multiple head injures he suffered in an accident as an infant. Olivia died at age seven from measles encephalitis. His wife suffered three cerebral hemorrhages. Then he had to undergo two spinal operations for crippling back pains. In fact, throughout his life,Dahl had eight major operations and a few countless smaller ones. Trough it all, he always kept a wonderful perspective on his life which shines through in his writing.
On November 23, 1990, Roald Dahl had died of an infection in Oxford, England. He was an author and screenwriter whose awards include: Edgar Allen Poe Award from the Mystery Writers of America in 1954, 1959, and 1980 for being a ” master of the macabre and the suprise denouement”; Federation of Children’s Book Groups Award, 1983; Whitbread Award, 1983; and World Fantasy Convention Award, 1983. He had quite a distinguished career for a person who started out having no thoughts of being a writer or author.
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