Roald Dahl has been said to be one of the most-beloved children’s authors of all time. It’s hard to find someone who has never read a book by Dahl in their childhood, from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, to Matilda, to The BFG. Many of Dahl’s stories were inspired by his own childhood, but he was initially published in The Saturday Evening Post in 1942 with his story about how his fighter plane crash-landed in Egypt. It wasn’t until the 1960’s that he began publishing children’s books. So what happened in between?
Roald Dahl was born in Wales on September 13, 1916 to Norwegian immigrant parents. He was sent to two different boarding schools, both of which inspired the stories featured in many of his children’s books, such as the invention of the “Everlasting Gobstopper.” In school, his teachers repeatedly told him that they didn’t think he was talented enough in his English and writing classes to amount to much. After he left school, he traveled to Canada and then to East Africa, where he worked for an oil company until World War II broke out. Dahl then enlisted in the Royal Air Force and became a pilot.
In 1940, Dahl’s plane crashed between the Allied and Italian forces. Dahl suffered injuries to the head, nose, back, and was temporarily blind from the accident. It only took him six months to recover and then he was back in action as a fighter pilot. In 1942, Dahl came to the United States to work in the British Embassy in Washington, D.C., where he served as an intelligence officer for Great Britain, passing information along to Winston Churchill. The author C.S. Forester was commissioned by The Saturday Evening Post to write an article about Dahl’s plane crash. Forester asked Dahl for some notes for the article, but Dahl ended up writing the entire story that was printed in 1942.
Dahl’s first children’s book, James and the Giant Peach, was published in 1961, followed rapidly by the rest of Dahl’s collection. Dahl also wrote screenplays for television shows and movies, including Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and short stories. He died on November 23, 1990.
Roald Dahl’s children’s stories often feature good children and evil adults, and are typically told from the point of view of a child. Dahl acknowledges that children are important, maybe even more important than adults sometimes.