Roald Dahl: Legendary Writer and Children's Book Author

Updated on April 3, 2020
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Readmikenow enjoys writing about unique and interesting people. He likes to learn about individuals who live or have lived unusual lives.

Roald Dahl
Roald Dahl

Roald Dahl is a well known British author who wrote 19 children's books during the decades he was writing. Many of them are considered classics. His children's books are known for having unexpected endings. They often include the macabre, unsentimental, dark comic portrayals as well as villainous adults who are enemies of the children’s characters. Some of his best-known works are The BFG, Matilda, James and the Giant Peach, Danny, Champion of the World, The Witches, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Great Glass Elevator, and The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More, as well as many others.

Roald Dahl as a young boy
Roald Dahl as a young boy

Roald Dahl's Early Years

In 1916, Roald Dahl was born in Wales on Fairwater Road in Llandaff, Cardiff, Wales. His parents were both Norwegians. His father's name was Harold Dahl and his mother's name was Sofie Magdalene Dahl. He was named after Roald Amundsen who was a famous Norwegian polar explorer. The first language Dahl spoke was Norwegian. This is what was spoken in his home with his family. Roald Dahl and his siblings were raised as Lutherans. They were all baptized in Cardiff at a Norwegian Church.

Roald Dahl at boarding school
Roald Dahl at boarding school

School Years

At the age of eight, Dahl attended The Cathedral School in Llandaff. He was soon transferred to St. Peter's boarding school. This was the nearest English public school. Starting in 1929 when Dahl was 13, he attended The Repton School. He often referred to this place as filled with ritual cruelty and domination by status. The younger boys were forced to be personal servants of older boys. During his time in school, none of the teachers felt he had any talent at writing. He grew to be over 6 feet 6 inches tall. He played a variety of sports and developed a passion for literature. Dahl also enjoyed photography and was usually seen carrying a camera.

Roald Dahl in the middle is in Africa
Roald Dahl in the middle is in Africa

After School

Dahl completed school in August 1934. He went to Newfoundland as a member of the Public Schools Exploring Society and spent time hiking around Newfoundland. In July of this year, Dahl became part of the Shell Petroleum company. He was assigned to Kenya and Tanzania. During this time, he had a cook and other personal servants working for him. He routinely explored the African bush and encountered different types of wildlife including lions, black mambas and more.

Roald Dahl as World War II pilot
Roald Dahl as World War II pilot

World War II

In August 1939, Dahl was given a commission in the King's African Rifles as a lieutenant. He commanded a platoon of indigenous troops attached to the colonial army. In November of this year, Dahl joined the Royal Air Force. His application for flight training was accepted. Dahl completed his training in August of 1940. He was commissioned as a pilot officer.

After being involved in a crash, Dahl recovered and was ready for flying duties during February of 1941. He participated in the Battle of Athens but after this, his squadron was evacuated to Egypt. Dahl then flew sorties every day and began to get headaches so bad he would blackout. He was sent back to Britain and placed on probation.

During this time, he was able to meet well-known British novelist C.S. Forester. The Saturday Evening Post requested Forester write a story about the flying experiences of Roald Dahl. Forster asked Dahl to help. Forester read what Dahl provided for the article and decided the story should be published just as Dahl had written it. The story was published in the August 1942 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Dahl left the Royal Air Force in August of 1946. He had a record of more than five aerial victories. This qualified him to have the title of flying ace.

Writing Career

After his success with The Saturday Evening Post, Dahl began writing articles for magazines and newspapers. His first book for children was titled The Gremlins. It was published in 1942. The book was not very well received, so Dahl then focused his efforts on writing for adults. During the next 15 years, his writing centered on creating books for adults. Each of them required a significant amount of time. He would work hard on making the best possible plot and the characters.

Roald Dahl with first wife and young family
Roald Dahl with first wife and young family

Writing Children's Books

Dahl married his first wife in 1953. Her name was Patricia and the couple had five children. Dahl started to get the idea of writing children's books when his children were young. He would make up stories for them at their bedtime. During his writing career that spanned decades, Dahl wrote 19 children's books. He quickly became a well-known children's author in 1961. This is when he published James and the Giant Peach.

Most Successful Children's Books

Roald Dahl wrote many successful children's books, including the following.

James and the Giant Peach

This was published in 1961 and tells the story about a lonely little boy who lives with his two mean aunts. The boy meets the Old Green Grasshopper and his insect friends. They all live in a giant, magical peach. The book received wide commercial and critical success.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

This was published in 1964. It quickly proved to be another huge success for Dahl. It tells the story of a quirky and solitary businessman named Willy Wonka. He stays in his fantastical chocolate factory until he releases five golden tickets. The tickets are located inside the wrappers of candy bars. The five winners are awarded a chance to visit the chocolate factory. This includes a poor little boy named Charlie Bucket. Two events in Dahl's life provided him with the inspiration to write Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

  • The Cathedral School: When Dahl was attending this school he and some friends were punished by the headmaster for placing a dead mouse in a jar of gobstoppers at a local sweet shop. Gobstoppers were a popular sweet among British schoolboys. Everlasting Gobstopper was featured in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
  • The Repton School: During the time Dahl attended this School, the Cadbury chocolate company would occasionally send boxes of new chocolates to the school. The students were supposed to test the chocolate. Dahl often had a dream he could create a new chocolate bar that would impress Mr. Cadbury when he met him. This provided him with the idea for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Fantastic Mr. Fox

This was published in 1970 and the story of three farmers who are trying to capture the cunning trickster Mr. Fox, who outsmarts them all the time. Mr. Fox lives in a large tree with his wife and family. The inspiration for this was a 150-year old beech tree that stood outside Dahl’s house.


This was published in 1982. Dahl said this was his favorite among all the children's books he wrote. It is a story about a giant who stores dreams in bottles. These dreams are then able to be enjoyed by children as they sleep.

The Witches

This was published in 1982. It tells the story of a boy who comes upon a witch convention. He hears how the witches are planning to get rid of all the children in England. The boy enlists his grandmother to help him battle the witches and save the children.


This was published in 1988 and is Dahl's last long story. It tells about the adventures of a five-year-old girl who is a genius. Her name is Matilda Wormwood. She uses her intelligence to help her beloved teacher outsmart the cruel headmistress.

Roald Dahl's grave marker
Roald Dahl's grave marker


On November 12, 1990, Roald Dahl was feeling very sick and was admitted to John Radcliffe Hospital located in Oxford, England. He was 74 at the time and had a very serious infection. On November 23, 1990, Roald Dahl died from a rare blood disease known as myelodysplastic anemia. He was buried at St. Peter and St. Paul's Church in Buckinghamshire, England. Dahl wanted a Viking ritual burial. His coffin and grave were filled with his favorite items. This included his expensive burgundy, favorite HB pencils, and chocolates as well as his highly valued snooker cues and more.

Roald Dahl busy writing
Roald Dahl busy writing

Writing Legacy

Roald Dahl is considered to be one of the greatest children's storytellers of the 20th century. He has made the list of the 50 greatest British authors since 1945. Dahl is also one of the best-selling fiction writers in the world. He has book sales estimated to be more than 249 million. Dahl's books have been translated into over 59 languages.

© 2020 Readmikenow


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    • Readmikenow profile imageAUTHOR


      4 months ago

      Linda, thanks. Interesting to know you have a small connection to Roald Dahl. I agree about his books. They are amazing. He was a real talent.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      4 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      I enjoyed reading this article very much. I've read some of Roald Dahl's books and found them interesting. Your article brought back memories of my childhood and early teenage years. I used to attend a school in Llandaff. The second Llandaff house that the Dahl family lived in is now part of the school, though it wasn't when I was a child.

    • Readmikenow profile imageAUTHOR


      4 months ago

      Flourish, thanks. My daughter read all of his books and watched the movies based on his books. He was such a gifted writer.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image


      4 months ago from USA

      My experience is that precocious kids are too often mistaken as “slow” because they don’t conform to expectations. This was an interesting read. I recall reading a number of his books as a kid.

    • Readmikenow profile imageAUTHOR


      5 months ago

      Todd, Thanks. I agree. He accomplished many things during his life.

    • Readmikenow profile imageAUTHOR


      5 months ago

      Pamela, thanks. I agree with you.

    • Wesman Todd Shaw profile image

      Wesman Todd Shaw 

      5 months ago from Kaufman, Texas

      I recall reading a thing about how Albert Einstein was thought to possibly be retarded because he hadn't learned to speak much by an age when most children can.

      So it's no surprise how Dahl had had teachers who thought of him as least likely to have any sort of writing ability at all. I'm pretty sure most of us had at least one teacher who had thought pretty lowly of us.

      It's really pretty frustrating. Humans can say a thing, and other humans completely misunderstood what was attempted.

      Writing stories for children would have to be a major challenge. Mr. Dahl lived what looks like an outstanding life.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      5 months ago from Sunny Florida

      This is a truly interesting article about Robert Dahl. He was a gifted writer for sure.

    • Readmikenow profile imageAUTHOR


      5 months ago

      Eric, thanks. I agree. He was a fascinating man.

    • Readmikenow profile imageAUTHOR


      5 months ago

      Liz, thanks. I found him so interesting. A flying ace who also wrote children's book. His is quite a story.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      5 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Very interesting to learn about this fellow.

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      5 months ago from UK

      You have done Roald Dahl credit with this biographical article. I remember reading his books with our children. No doubt I will soon be getting them back out of the loft for my grandchildren. He had an amazing imagination. It's not surprising that some of his books have been made into films.


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