Roald Dahl was born September 13, 1916, in Llandaff, South Wales. At the age of eight, he was sent to a boarding school in southwest England and went on to attend Repton, a prestigious boarding school near Derby. One of his most vivid memories of his Repton years concerns the testing of chocolate bars. Cadbury, a famous chocolate manufacturer, would occasionally give the students some new types of chocolate bars and ask the students to rate them. While he was performing this pleasant task, Dahl would fantasize about working in the lab where these chocolates were invented. He had no idea, though, that he would one day base a book on these daydreams.
Upon graduating from Repton in 1933, he went to work for Shell Oil Company and was stationed in East Africa. With the outbreak of World War II, he joined the Royal Air Force and became a fighter pilot. He survived a fiery crash in Libya and numerous dogfights over Greece before he was disabled and sent back to England. During the 1940s, he wrote a series of stories about his war experiences. The stories were well received, and he decided to become a full-time writer. Throughout the 1950s, he wrote numerous short stories, specializing in what one critic called "the eerie, macabre, chiller-type story."
Dahl began writing for young people in the early 1960s. His first children's book, James and the Giant Peach, was published in 1961 and was followed by Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in...
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Biography (Critical Survey of Short Fiction, Second Revised Edition)
Roald Dahl was born in Llandaff, near Cardiff, in South Wales, in 1916, to Norwegian-born parents. He was the only boy in his father’s second family. Dahl’s father and uncle had left Norway to seek their fortunes, and Dahl’s father found it in equipping ships sailing out of the busy Cardiff docks. By the time Dahl was born, his father, who died when Dahl was four, had become wealthy. Dahl attended an Anglican public school in Llandaff before going to a prepatory school in Weston-Super-Mare, across the Severn Estuary from Cardiff, and then to the Repton School in Yorkshire. Dahl hated the public school atmosphere and the separation from his family; he was prevented from becoming a prefect at the Repton School because of his lack of seriousness about school discipline.
After he was graduated from the Repton School in 1932, Dahl went on a school-sponsored exploration of the interior of Newfoundland before joining the Shell Oil Company. He spent several years working in London before being sent to Dar-es-Salaam as a Shell Oil representative. In 1938, he joined the Royal Air Force, and, despite his unusual height, he was trained as a pilot. Though he was wounded once, he served as a fighter pilot in Africa, Greece, and Syria. He also served in intelligence units and was made a wing commander. His stories collected in Over to You: Ten Stories of Flyers and Flying are based on these experiences.
In 1953, Dahl married actress Patricia...
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Biography (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Roald Dahl was born on September 13, 1916, to a Norwegian family living in Wales. When he was three, his older sister Astri suddenly became ill and died, and his father subsequently lost his will to live, dying from pneumonia shortly afterward. The elder Dahl’s last wish was to put the surviving children in English schools, which he perceived as being superior. As a result, Dahl’s mother could not return to Norway, where she could receive assistance from family.
However academically rigorous English schools might be, the young Dahl found their discipline policies monstrous and oppressive. Decades afterward he would vividly recall his terror at the continual threat of being beaten with a bamboo or wooden cane. This weapon could create vicious welts on its victim’s back and buttocks and leave painful bruises for weeks. Although some of the canings Dahl and his friends received may have been deserved, many of them were the result of the capricious exercise of authority by ill-tempered teachers and older students. The experience left him with a lifelong sympathy for the small and weak and an active detestation of bullies.
However, Dahl’s schooldays were not a period of unremitting horror. While at one school, he was part of a program by which the Cadbury Chocolate Company tested new formulations. At regular periods each student would receive...
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Biography (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Roald Dahl’s greatest strength lies in his mastery of the grotesque, by which he can evoke both humor and horror. Again and again in his works villains meet comeuppances at once bizarre and redolent of poetic justice. Bullies and abusers of authority come in for particular attention in Dahl’s fun-house-mirror worlds, regularly meeting absurd ends that perfectly match their vices. Yet at the same time Dahl never crosses the line to the gruesome or disgusting. The ends to which his villains come, particularly in his writing for children, are just absurd enough to be clearly divorced from reality, and thus the reader feels free to laugh.
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Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Roald Dahl was remarkable for having achieved wide acclaim in two distinct genres: macabre tales for adults and children’s literature. The son of Norwegian immigrants who found prosperity in Wales, his childhood was darkened by his father’s early death and his unhappy experiences at various English boarding schools. Rather than attend college, he went to work for Shell Oil. An assignment in Africa delighted him and provided materials for such stories as “Poison.”
During World War II Dahl enlisted in the Royal Air Force (RAF), where he was a successful fighter pilot but suffered injuries that would plague him all his life. He was reassigned to the British Embassy in Washington, D.C., to work as a spy. Here he met C. S. Forester, who wanted to do an article about Dahl’s experiences in the RAF. Dahl decided to write the article himself, however, and with Forester’s encouragement he sold several stories about pilots that he later collected in Over to You. A few of these stories, among them “An African Story,” veer into the fantastic and allow a glimpse of the macabre sensibilities for which Dahl later became known. He also wrote a children’s story, The Gremlins, about mischievous critters sabotaging fighter planes, which Walt Disney purchased, though the film was never made.
After the war Dahl decided to try...
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Roald Dahl was born in Wales to Norwegian parents. His father died the year he was born, and his mother remained in Great Britain. He attended the prestigious Repton public preparatory school, where he was a quiet, bookish student, but never went on to college. After graduation, Dahl went to work for the Dutch Shell Oil company, and was posted overseas in Africa. At the outbreak of World War I in 1939, he joined the Royal Air Force and became a fighter pilot. Shot down during a sortie over Greece, Dahl was injured and spent the rest of the war in Washington DC, as a spy. Among his colleagues in the United States at the time was another future writer, the creator of James Bond, Ian Fleming.
Dahl published a highly embellished account of his war escapades in Colliers magazine in 1942, and started writing regularly after that, gradually gaining success. By the end of the 1950s, he was a successful and well-known author. With James and the Giant Peach (1961) and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1964) he also established himself as a writer for young people. In 1954 he married the film actress Patricia Neal. In part through Neal, he made acquaintances in the film industry and worked in Hollywood as a screen writer. His most famous screenplay may have been his adaptation of Fleming’s James Bond novel You Only Live Twice (1967). He also adapted his own work for motion pictures, writing the screenplay for Willy Wonka & the...
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Although Dahl was one of the world’s most successful children’s authors, parental critics have charged that his books revelled in vulgarity and cruelty. Criticism of his books has come from both the Right and the Left, as well as from other ideological factions. Feminists, for example, have denounced The Witches (1983) for its unflattering portrayals of women, while Christian Fundamentalists have attacked the book out of fear that it will entice impressionable children into the occult. Dahl’s private opinions—especially anti-Semitism expressed in letters to friends—have also fueled arguments against exposing children to his books. Critics have also objected to unflattering racial depictions in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1964) and The BFG (1982).
Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes (1982), one of the most frequently banned books in U.S. schools, parodies traditional fairy tales. Objections to it center on both its language and its violence— such as the beheading of Cinderella’s stepsisters. Dahl’s other banned works include George’s Marvelous Medicine (1981), in which a boy allegedly murders his grandmother, and James and the Giant Peach (1961), which has been targeted for its language, sexual imagery, and abusive situations.
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