Many of our readers are familiar with the much loved author Roald Dahl and his characters; The brilliant Matilda, the ingenious inventor Willy Wonka, the terrifying Witches… But it may come as a surprise that outside of his writing his life was also very much like that of a novel. This year marks the centenary of Roald’s birth, and to celebrate OISE reveals 11 intriguing facts about this extraordinary storyteller.
1. Although he was born in Wales and wrote all his books in English, his mother tongue was actually Norwegian. His parents were both immigrants and the Dahl family spoke Norwegian at home. Roald was named after renowned Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, first man to reach the South Pole.
2. Roald Dahl was an imposing figure at 1.98 m tall (6ft 5) and very sporty; in his youth he was the captain of his school’s squash team and an avid footballer. He was passionate about literature from an early age, as well as being a great photographer.
3. Roald’s school received parcels every year from Cadbury’s, who loved testing the reaction of the students to their new chocolate creations. Dahl dreamed of creating a chocolate bar that would impress Mr. Cadbury himself; and it was this experience, of course, which sparked the initial ideas for Willy Wonka; most eccentric chocolatier ever invented.
4. Apart from chocolate, Roald had bad memories from his high school, where corporate punishment was prevalent. This trauma is particularly evident in his description of Miss Trunchbull, detestable dictator of Matilda’s school.
5. At the age of 17, Roald boarded a ship to Canada to start work for Shell. The company also sent him to Kenya and Tanzania, and the people and animals he encountered there greatly inspired many of the imaginative creatures that were to populate his books.
6. Dahl was a fighter pilot during WWII. Flying mainly in Africa, he never had much of a chance to work on his writing until his plane crashed in Libya. He ended up as squadron leader and was decorated after the war.
7. Roald Dahl also worked for MI6 as an intelligence agent posted in the US. He described his mission there as “trying to help Winston support Roosevelt” He much later admitted that he was annoyed with Washington and would much rather have taken part in the fighting.
8. After one of his children got seriously injured in a traffic accident, Roald teamed up with a group of scientists to create the Wade-Dahl-Till valve, designed to relieve pressure on the brain after a head trauma.
9. His first novel was actually an account of his adventures in Africa and combat experience with the RAF (Royal Air Force), titled Going Solo, and definitely not a children’s book. His first of those was The Gremlins, which described a myth that circulated among the pilots of the RAF: That damage to their aircraft was caused by little creatures who got a kick out of dismantling their engines.
10. In addition to children’s stories, Roald also wrote short stories and novels for adults, often quite grim and with a very dark sense of humour.
11. Roald Dahl was an inventor of words as well as a writer, and among his many creations in Gobblefunk (Roald’s own language.) Some examples: An Oompa-Loompa is a small person working in Willy Wonka’s factory, Lixivate means being liquefied and squashed at the same time Snozzcumber, a gruesome vegetable the BFG (Big Friendly Giant) eats.
Roald Dahl was so much more than a writer of children’s stories, his life truly was a marvel. His autobiography Boy is a fascinating read about growing up in a boarding school in England. Happy Birthday Mr Dahl, from all of us at OISE.