Roald Dahl has cemented his place in history as one of the most renowned children’s authors in the world. His books are found in classrooms and libraries across the globe, loved by children and teachers alike. If you’re looking for people fun facts for your own enjoyment, or doing research for a school project, you’re in the right place. Continue reading to find out about Roald Dahl’s childhood, what he did before becoming an author, what makes him stand out, and his most popular books.
Roald Dahl’s Childhood
Roald Dahl was born in Wales on the 13th of September 1916 to parents Herald Dahl and Sofie Magdalene Dahl. Both his parents immigrated to the UK from Norway. His first language was Norwegian, which he spoke at home with his parents and four sisters Asta, Astri, Alfhid, and Else. Dahl’s sister, Astri, and his father passed away in 1920, when he was only three years old. Following Herald’s passing, the family remained in the UK so the children could attend English schools, which Herald considered best.
When Dahl was eight, he and four of his friends put a dead mouse in a jar of gobstoppers (also known as jawbreakers- they are a type of hard candy) at the local sweet shop. Mrs Pratchett, who was the owner of the sweet shop, was known as a mean and loathsome woman. She is said to have inspired the character Miss Trunchbull in his novel Matilda. As punishment, they were caned (hit) by the headmaster. Dahl spoke about the cruel and unjust abuse the boys faced in his autobiography Boy: Tales of Childhood.
Despite later going on to become an author, Dahl was never a good writer at school. One of his English teachers even wrote on his report “I have never met anybody who so persistently writes words meaning the exact opposite of what is intended.” This would soon go on to become his signature writing style. Dahl almost always spent the summer holidays in Norway, with his mother’s family.
Roald Dahl’s Fighter Pilot Career
In November 1939, Dahl joined the Royal Air Force (RAF) as an aircraftman, which is the lowest rank. His service number was 774022. Following six months training, he was commissioned as a pilot officer, and went on to fight in the second world war. Dahl was assigned to No. 80 Squadron RAF. On the 19th of September 1940, he crash landed in the dessert on his way to the Western Desert of Libya.
Luckily, he managed to get out of the aircraft in time before it caught on fire. Dahl was rescued the following morning by the Suffolk Regiment. His recovery time was four months, after which he was deemed fit to fly again. He was assigned to fly the Hurricane MK1 – the first aircraft with an enclosed cockpit. This proved to be a challenge, due to Dahl’s great height.
It was when flying the Hurricane MK1 that Dahl shot down his first enemy aircraft. This is further documented in his second autobiography Going Solo. After the war ended, Dahl took a job working for the British Government as a public speaker in Washington DC. He attempted to persuade Americans in favour of the British war effort.
Roald Dahl’s Family
In 1953, Dahl married American movie star Patricia Neal. They went on to have five children: Olivia, Chantal, Theo, Ophelia, and Lucy.
In 1960, a taxi careened into the pram holding his four-month-old son Theo, causing the baby and carriage to fly 40ft into the air before crashing into a parked bus. Theo’s skull was shattered. He was diagnosed with traumatic hydrocephalus, which is a painful build-up of cerebrospinal fluid in the skull. He underwent several surgeries to get rid of the fluid, but they were painful, and not a good long-term solution.
This led Dahl to invent a better device alongside neurosurgeon Kenneth Till and engineer Stanley Wade. The Wade-Dahl-Till (WDT) is a one-way valve that drains the cerebrospinal fluid. In 1962, Dahl’s seven-year-old daughter Olivia unfortunately passed away due to measles. The death affected Dahl in many ways, including his ability to write.
10 Fun Facts about Roald Dahl
- During his military days, his height earned him the nickname “lofty”. Dahl was over 6ft tall.
- The first story Dahl had collaborated on with illustrator Quentin Blake was The Enormous Crocodile, published in 1978.
- Dahl’s first children’s book was published in 1943, and it was called The Gremlins. The novel was about mischievous tiny creatures that were part of Royal Air Force folklore.
- The Gremlins was commissioned by Walt Disney for a movie that was unfortunately never filmed.
- Dahl could speak three languages: English, Norwegian, and Swahili.
- Dahl wrote his stories and novels using HB pencils on yellow notepads.
- He had a shed at the end of his garden where he used to write, which can be seen at the Roald Dahl Museum.
- In James and the Giant Peach, Dahl was originally going to write about a giant cherry. He changed the fruit to a peach because a peach is “prettier, bigger, and squishier than a cherry”.
- Out of all the stories Dahl had written, The BFG was his own favourite.
- Roald Dahl Day is held annually on the 13th of September. The first one was held in 2006, when Dahl would have turned 90.
Roald Dahl’s Children Literature
Throughout his life, Roald Dahl published 49 books, out of which only 21 were written for children. 18 of these are novels, and 3 are poetry books for young readers. Below are some of his most popular and well-noted children’s books:
James and the Giant Peach
- Dahl published James and the Giant Peach on the 17th of July 1961.
- It went on to become a musical fantasy film, released in 1996. The film was directed by Henry Selick and produced by Tim Burton and Denise Di Novi. The protagonist, James, was played by Paul Terry.
- The book was also made into a musical in 2010, with music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul.
- The novel tells the story of James Henry Trotter, a young English orphan boy who enters a ginormous, magical peach. He has a surreal adventure with seven magically altered bugs that he meets.
- This book was dedicated to Dahl’s daughter Olivia, following her passing.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
- Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was published on the 17th of January 1964.
- The novel has a sequel called Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator released eight years after the original book, in 1972. Dahl had also planned a third book, but never got to finish it.
- The book has two film adaptations: Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory directed by Mel Stewart in 1971, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory directed by Tim Burton in 2005.
- The novel tells the story of Charlie Bucket, and his adventures inside Willy Wonka’s famous chocolate factory.
- The BFG, short for Big Friendly Giant, was published on the 14th of January 1982.
- The novel is an expansion of a short story from Dahl’s novel Danny, the Champion of the World, published in 1975.
- Walt Disney Pictures produced a live-action film adaption of the novel, directed by Steven Spielberg. The BFG was played by actor Mark Rylance.
- The novel tells the tale of Sophie, an eight-year-old girl in an orphanage, and her adventures with the BFG.
- Similarly to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Dahl dedicated the book to his daughter Olivia, following her passing.
- The Witches was published on the 27th of October 1983.
- There have been two film adaptations, one in 1990 directed by Nicolas Roeg, and another 30 years later in 2020 directed by Robert Zemeckis. There has also been an opera adaptation in 2008.
- The novel features the experiences of an unnamed seven-year-old English boy and his Norwegian grandmother in a world where societies of child-hating witches secretly exist in every country.
- Dahl stated that the character of the grandmother was inspired by his own mother.
- The novel had mixed reviews and was criticised for misogyny due to the depiction of the witches.
- Matilda was published on the 1st of October 1988.
- The novel tells the story of a gifted little girl named Matilda Wormwood with uncaring parents, and her time in school run by the infamous headmistress Miss Trunchbull.
- There have been two film adaptations of the novel, one released in 1996 directed by Danny DeVito and starring Mara Wilson as Matilda, and a musical released in 2022.
- It took Dahl two years to write Matilda.
Roald Dahl’s Death
Roald Dahl unfortunately passed away on the 23rd of November 1990 in Oxford, England, due to a rare cancer of the blood. He was 74 years old.
Fun Facts for Kids about Roald Dahl
After reading this article, we hope you agree that Roald Dahl is one of the greatest storytellers for children of the 20th century. His books have left a lasting impact upon children’s literature. Look below to check out some more fun facts about people!