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Who is Roald Dahl?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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Roald Dahl is a British author well known for writing books and stories for children and adults. He was born in Cardiff, Wales in 1916 to Norwegian parents and named for Roald Amundsen, a popular Norwegian polar explorer of the time. When he was four, his sister Astri and his father both passed away within the period of one month. His mother decided to remain in England, because Dahl's father had specified that the children be educated in British schools, which he firmly believed to be the best in the world. It was an unusual decision for the time, when women were not generally encouraged to strike out on their own.

Dahl started at Llandaff Cathedral School, and later went to a series of boarding schools, an experience he profoundly disliked. He often wrote about his experiences in boarding schools, detailing them at length in his autobiography Boy: Tales of Childhood. After he graduated from school, he went to work for the Shell Oil Company, which posted him in Africa. There he lived in relative luxury with a handful of other Shell employees in company housing until the outbreak of the war.

As one of the British citizens in Dar-es-Salaam, Roald Dahl was pressed into service to round up the Germans living there at the outbreak of the war. This surreal experience is described in Going Solo, a continuation of Dahl's autobiography. Dahl quickly saw that the war was going to drag on, and he terminated his employment with Shell to join the Royal Air Force, to fly planes during the war.

Roald Dahl ended up crashing in Libya, and in 1942, the Saturday Evening Post printed Shot Down Over Libya, his first published work. After his recovery, he joined the rest of his squadron in Greece, where most of the men were later shot down. He began to suffer from blinding headaches related to his crash injuries and was sent back to England.

From 1953 to 1983, Dahl was married to Patricia O'Neal, and they had five children, one of whom later died. Several of the children, as well as O'Neal herself, had health problems, which spurred Dahl to donate to several health related causes, a legacy his widow has carried on since his death through the Roald Dahl Foundation, which also supports literacy efforts. Dahl married Felicity Crosland after his divorce from O'Neal, and they remained together until his death in 1990 of leukemia.

Roald Dahl's writing is very well known, and some of his work has won awards. His adult writing includes many macabre short stories which were published in a variety of magazines and collected into anthologies. He also wrote for television and adapted several movie scripts, including the script for Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971).

Dahl also wrote a number of books for children, famously including Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1964), Danny the Champion of the World (1975), The BFG (1982), The Witches (1983), and Matilda (1988). All of his children's books include children teaming up against evil adults, with one good adult figure assisting. Many of them also include the themes of class and social status, issues that he felt passionately about.

PublicPeople is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a PublicPeople researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon170943 — On Apr 28, 2011

did roald dahl accept any big time awards for his children's books?

By GrumpyGuppy — On Nov 19, 2010

@anon126603 and @anon71123:

In 1990, Roald Dahl was diagnosed with a very rare blood disorder called Myelo-dysplastic syndrome. He died on November 23, 1990 at the age of 74. He died in his home (Gipsy House) in Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire. He was buried in the cemetery at St. Peter and St. Paul’s Church in Great Missenden.

According to his granddaughter, the family honored him with a “Viking-like” funeral. He was buried with some good burgundy, chocolates, snooker cues, a power saw and some HB pencils.

By anon126603 — On Nov 13, 2010

how did he die?

By anon71123 — On Mar 17, 2010

roald dahl: is he alive or is he not?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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