Roald Dahl Biography

Roald Dahl was born on September 13, 1916 in Llandaff, Cardiff, Wales, to Norwegian immigrants Harald and Sofie Dahl. He grew up speaking Norwegian at home with his parents and sisters. When Dahl was three years old, he lost his older sister Astri to appendicitis, and then weeks later his father died of pneumonia. Despite these tragedies, Dahl was an imaginative and rambunctious child. When Dahl was eight, his primary school headmaster beat him for playing a practical joke on the owner of a local sweet shop, which led Dahl’s mother to transfer him to a British boarding school. After that, Dahl attended the prestigious Repton School. Dahl chafed under Repton’s strict rules, and despised the student hazing culture. However, Cadbury, a British chocolate company, often sent boxes of new chocolate bars to Repton for the students to sample and review. The chocolate sampling would later inspire one of Dahl’s most famous novels, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1964). Although Dahl’s mother was willing to pay for his university education, Dahl craved adventure. After graduating from Repton in 1934, he went on a sea expedition in Newfoundland and then took a job with Shell Oil in Tanzania.

At the outbreak of World War II, Dahl joined the Royal Air Force (RAF) and flew in campaigns throughout the Middle East and northern Africa. In 1940, Dahl’s plane crashed over Libya, and he sustained severe head, neck, and back injuries that kept him out of battle for months. After recovering from his injuries, Dahl took part in the Battle of Athens. After that, he became assistant air attaché at the British embassy in Washington, D.C. He supplied intelligence back to Britain, with the goal of helping the British government encourage the United States to join the war. Here Dahl met British novelist C. S. Forester, who encouraged Dahl to write stories about his time in the air force. The American magazine The Saturday Evening Post published one of Dahl’s accounts in 1942 under the title “Shot Down Over Libya.” In 1953, Dahl married American actress Patricia Neal, with whom he had five children: Olivia, Sophie, Theo, Ophelia, and Lucy. They divorced thirty years later, and Dahl married a British film producer named Felicity Crosland seven years before his death.

In 1943, Dahl wrote his first children’s book, The Gremlins. Dahl then turned his focus to writing short stories for adults, primarily mysteries and thrillers. After becoming a father, Dahl began telling stories to his children, which led to his return to writing children’s fiction. His first successful children’s novel was James and the Giant Peach (1961), which introduces Dahl’s hallmark dark humor and gore along with a sense of adventure and imagination. In 1970, he wrote Fantastic Mr. Fox, whose greedy farmer villains typify Dahl’s antagonists: miserly and violent. In the 1980s, Dahl wrote some of his best-loved novels, including The BFG (1982), The Witches (1983), and Matilda (1988). Like many Dahl classics, these novels feature kind and bright children who must defeat tyrannical adult figures. In the 1980s, Dahl also wrote two memoirs, Boy (1984), which told of his childhood, and Going Solo (1986), which described his time in the RAF.

In addition to his novels, Dahl wrote extensively for film and television. Like Dahl’s novels and short stories, his screenplays run the gamut of adult thrillers and children’s fantasy. In 1961, Dahl wrote for and presented the 1961 science fiction anthology television series “Way Out” for the BBC. He collaborated on the script for the James Bond movie “You Only Live Twice” (1967) and the musical family film “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” (1968). He also contributed to the screenplay for the 1971 film adaptation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (called “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory”). In 1979, the BBC adapted Dahl’s short story collection, Tales of the Unexpected, into an anthology television show that coincided with the book’s release.

In 1983, Dahl received the World Fantasy Award for Lifetime Achievement, recognizing his great contribution to fantasy literature. He died of an infection in 1990 at the age of 74. His final children’s book, The Minpins, was published posthumously in 1991.

Roald Dahl Study Guides

Roald Dahl Quotes

“A person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly. You can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.”

“All the reading she had done had given her a view of life that they had never seen. If only they would read a little Dickens or Kipling they would soon discover there was more to life than cheating people and watching television.”

“I don't want a grown-up person at all. A grownup won't listen to me; he won't learn. He will try to do things his own way and not mine. So I have to have a child. I want a good sensible loving child, one to whom I can tell all my most precious candy-making secrets-while I am still alive.”

Roald Dahl Novels

The Gremlins

Published 1943

Some Time Never: A Fable for Supermen

Published 1948

James and the Giant Peach

Published 1961

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Published 1964

The Magic Finger

Published 1966

Fantastic Mr. Fox

Published 1970

Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator

Published 1972

Danny, the Champion of the World

Published 1975

The Enormous Crocodile

Published 1978

My Uncle Oswald

Published 1979

The Twits

Published 1980

George's Marvellous Medicine

Published 1981


Published 1982

The Witches

Published 1983

The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me

Published 1985


Published 1988

Esio Trot

Published 1990

The Minpins (posthumous)

Published 1991

Roald Dahl Short Stories

Over to You: Ten Stories of Flyers and Flying

Published 1946

Someone Like You

Published 1953

Kiss Kiss

Published 1960

Twenty-Nine Kisses from Roald Dahl

Published 1969

Switch Bitch

Published 1974

The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More

Published 1977

Tales of the Unexpected

Published 1979

More Tales of the Unexpected

Published 1980

Two Fables

Published 1986

Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life: The Country Stories of Roald Dahl

Published 1989

Roald Dahl Nonfiction

Boy: Tales of Childhood

Published 1984

Going Solo

Published 1986

Measles, a Dangerous Illness

Published 1988

Roald Dahl Plays

The Honeys

Published 1955

Roald Dahl Poetry

Revolting Rhymes

Published 1982

Dirty Beasts

Published 1983

Rhyme Stew

Published 1989