Roald Dahl is adored by children and adults alike. His beloved novels immersed us in worlds of chocolate, talking animals and flying peaches, igniting the imaginations of generations. Here are 10 times he inspired us.
1. When he reminded us about the importance of reading
“So Matilda’s strong young mind continued to grow, nurtured by the voices of all those authors who had sent their books out into the world like ships on the sea. These books gave Matilda a hopeful and comforting message: You are not alone.”
― Roald Dahl, Matilda
Dahl was an avid reader and hated the thought of children forgetting the joy of books with all the temptations TV had to offer. This is never more clear than in his creation of the square-eyed Mike Teavee in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, a violent, angry, seven-year-old television fanatic who meets a sorry fate at the hands of Willy Wonka's Oompa Loompas.
Charles Dickens and Lewis Carroll were among Dahl's own favourite authors. In an interview with Puffin Books, he cited Midshipman Easy by Frederick Marryat as his favourite novel.
2. When he stood up for his beliefs
Roald Dahl was married to the American actress Patricia Neal for 30 years, and the couple had five children together. Tragedy struck, however, in 1962, when his eldest daughter Olivia contracted measles encephalitis and died. She was just seven-years-old. Olivia's death profoundly affected the author and Neal claimed that his grief was so intense that he would never speak of her death. It left him "limp with despair".
Frustrated that he could do nothing to save his eldest child (immunisations were not available), Dahl became a great proponent of immunisation later in life. In 1986, 24 years after her death, he spoke out about the tragedy in an open letter entitled 'Measles: A dangerous illness'.
"There is today something that parents can do to make sure that this sort of tragedy does not happen to a child of theirs. They can insist that their child is immunised against measles. I was unable to do that for Olivia in 1962 because in those days a reliable measles vaccine had not been discovered. Today a good and safe vaccine is available to every family and all you have to do is to ask your doctor to administer it.
"I should think there would be more chance of your child choking to death on a chocolate bar than of becoming seriously ill from a measles immunisation. So what on earth are you worrying about? It really is almost a crime to allow your child to go unimmunised."
Read 'Measles: A dangerous illness' in full
3. When he spoke for beard-haters everywhere
Roald Dahl notoriously hated beards, and his disgust at them formed the inspiration for one of his most horrible characters, Mr Twit. In fact, he decided to pen The Twits in an effort to "do something against beards".
Dahl's biographer, Micahel Rosen, recalls the first time the pair met, Dahl leant across to his son Joe and told him he found his father's beard disgusting. "It’s probably got this morning’s breakfast in it. And last night’s dinner. And old bits of rubbish, any old stuff that he’s come across. You might even find a bicycle wheel in it."
With the current trend for facial fuzz, the above extract from The Twits is as relevant today as it was when Dahl first wrote it.
Read more: The evolution of beards
4. He reminded us not to take life too seriously
One of the reasons Dahl believed he had such success with his writing is that he laughed "at exactly the same jokes that children laugh at."
Amelia Foster, director of the Roald Dahl Museum remembers with great fondness how "Dahl refused to take anything seriously, even himself."
5. …and that as long as you are good, you will always be beautiful
Image via The Twits
6. When he extended our vocabulary
Roald Dahl's handwritten nonsense words. Image via Roald Dahl Foundation
It's estimated that Roald Dahl invented over 500 new words in his children's books, many of which can be found in the delightful nonsense language of The BFG.
From Oompa Loompas to snozzcumbers, gobblefunk to trogglehumpers, Dahl created a colourful language of fun words, with satisfying sounds. Here are a few of our favourites:
Biffsquiggled: A biffsquiggled person is confused or puzzled
Zozimus: This is what dreams are made of. In The BFG, the Big Friendly Giant himself whisks up zozimus until it forms big soap-like bubbles
Gobblefunk: If you gobblefunk your words, you are playing around with language, inventing new meanings and phrases. So Roald Dahl was the biggest gobblefunker of all!
7. He understood the importance of patience
Roald Dahl in his famous writing hut. Image via Wiki
"When you’re writing it’s rather like going on a very long walk, across valleys and mountains and things, and you get the first view of what you see and you write it down. Then you walk a bit further, maybe up on to the top of a hill, and you see something else, then you write that and you go on like that, day after day, getting different views of the same landscape. The highest mountain on the walk is obviously the end of the book because it’s got to be the best view of all, when everything comes together and you can look back and see everything you’ve done all ties up. But it’s a very, very long slow process."
He also reminded us that when we're reading something new, it's okay to not understand everything at once. With reading, as with writing, understanding comes with patience and perseverance.
“Don’t worry about the bits you can’t understand. Sit back and allow the words to wash around you, like music.”
― Roald Dahl, Matilda
8. He reminded us to always do our best
“If you are interested in something, no matter what it is, go at it at full speed ahead. Embrace it with both arms, hug it, love it, and above all become passionate about it. Lukewarm is no good. Hot is no good either. White hot and passionate is the only thing to be.”
― Roald Dahl, My Uncle Oswald
9. He proved that it's never too late to discover your talent
Roald Dahl didn't start writing children's books until he was in his 40s. Before then he was employed by Shell, living and working for some time in Kenya and Tanzania. As WWII broke out, Dahl became a lieutenant in the King's African Rifles before joining the RAF.
His service was eventful, and as well as surviving a dramatic plane crash he served as a spy, providing intelligence from Washington to Winston Churchill himself. It was in the latter role that he met his colleague Ian Fleming, whose novels Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and the James Bond classic You Only Live Twice would later be adapted for the silver screen.
Read more: (00)7 of the best Bond books
Dahl's first novel for children was called The Gremlins, inspired by RAF folklore about mischievous little creatures who got into engines and caused all manner of technical hiccups.
10. He made us want to call our mothers more often
A prolific letter writer throughout his life, Dahl wrote to his mother so often that the correspondence has been published in a collection entitled Love from Boy.
The letters are funny, descriptive and full of Dahl's distinctive, colourful style. When he describes one of his schoolmasters, for example, it's easy to see that this is the same genius behind The Twits. Young Dahl calls him "a short man with a face like a field elderberry, and a moustache which closely resembles the African jungle. A voice like a frog, no chest, and a pot belly, no doubt a species of Rumble-hound." Ouch!
Dahl had no idea that his mother was keeping his letters, and we can all be very grateful that she did. After her death, the author visited his mother's home and discovered every letter he'd sent her, "in neat bundles with green tape".
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