Roald Dahl is easily one of the greatest children’s book authors of all time. Because yesterday was his birthday, (he would have been 101!) I wanted to write up a few lesser-known facts about his life.
Many people know that Dahl was Norwegian. That he was zany and fun and a bit wild. His books are in a league all their own and I believe his unique life experiences inspired a bit of his style.
7 Lesser Known Facts About Roald Dahl
1. His mother inspired him.
Like Theodor Geisel (or Dr. Seuss), Dahl’s inspiration began with his mother. Sofie Magdalene often told her children lively tales from Norse mythology. This, along with a 20+ year span of correspondence with his mother enabled his storytelling skills to take root.
2. He faced deep struggles in his life.
And he persevered. When he was just 4 years old, he lost his father and a sister.
In 1960, his infant son struggled to overcome severe head injuries after his stroller was hit by a taxi.
In 1962, his oldest child Olivia passed away. She had developed complications from the measles.
Then in 1964 his wife Patricia suddenly had a stroke. She was pregnant at the time and faced a long recovery. Her doctor doubted she would make it through but with her husband’s help she made a full recovery. And with that recovery came the birth of their 5th child (Lucy).
It was during these trying times that his first children’s books were published. James and the Giant Peach was written in 1961 and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in 1964.
Good writers don’t let personal struggles stop their dreams from becoming a reality.
3. He found faith in God difficult.
Dahl struggled with understanding faith and religion after the death of his daughter Olivia. A deep sadness overtook him during this time and he turned away from God and religion in general.
4. A severe head injury jumpstarted his writing career.
In 1939, when he was 23, Dahl enlisted in the RAF (Royal Air Force) at the onset of WWII. But in 1940, Dahl crash landed his plane and sustained severe head injuries. This resulted in headaches and blackouts which meant he was unfit for flying.
Though discouraged, I love Dahl’s humorous take on the situation:
“…I got a cracked skull which seemed to qualify me for being sent to Washington. There I began to write some stories in the evenings. Now I have become quite excited about it and writing stories is the only thing that I want to do.”
-from the jacket of Over to You, by Roald Dahl (1945)
5. He got to hang out with a lot of cool people.
After his life as a pilot came to an end, he went to Washington D.C to work for the British Embassy. His official title was Assistant Air Attaché. Essentially it was his job to get the American public excited and supportive of the war effort.
At any rate, he rose to popularity pretty quickly. He was charismatic and quickly made connections with Vice President Henry Wallace as well as the Roosevelts. Here is an awesome picture of Dahl with Ernest Hemingway.
6. He lived in the U.S. for many years.
Because Dahl was a British writer, I assumed he lived mostly in the UK. Not so. From 1942-45 and then from 1947-1962 he lived in Washington and New York. He had a few jobs that kept him busy but he also married an American woman (Patricia Neal) in 1953 and they raised a family together before they moved to England.
7. He did more than just write kids books.
Dahl proved to be surprisingly versatile as an author. He wrote for The Saturday Evening Post, published over 60 short stories for adults, a book of poetry, two screenplays (The James Bond film You Only Live Twice and everyone’s favorite movie Chitty Chitty Bang Bang), and he also wrote for a few tv programs. All in addition to the 10 children’s books we know and love today.
Love From Boy: Roald Dahl’s Letters to His Mother, edited by Donald Sturrock