Dahl, Roald

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Dahl, Roald

Roald Dahl (rō´äl däl), 1916–90, British writer known for inventive, often macabre children's books and horror-tinged adult fiction. Dahl spurned a university education in favor of world travel, journeying to Newfoundland and Dar es Salaam, where he worked (1937–39) for an oil company. He was a Royal Air Force (RAF) fighter pilot during World War II, serving in North Africa, Greece, and Syria. Severely injured, he survived a crash in Libya, and was posted (1942–43) to Washington, D.C., as assistant air attaché (and, it was later disclosed, as a British spy). Dahl's first fiction, stories drawn from his RAF experiences, was published in a popular American magazine, and the first of his 19 children's books, The Gremlins, appeared in 1943. During the later 1940s and 50s, while working as a television writer, Dahl wrote compelling short stories filled with strange characters and eerie twists that were published in such collections as Someone like You (1953, rev. ed. 1961) and Kiss Kiss (1959); his collected stories were published in 2006. He returned to young people's tales with James and the Giant Peach (1961, film 1996). Extremely successful, it was followed by such popular books as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1964, filmed as Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, 1971, and as originally titled, 2005), Fantastic Mr. Fox (1970, film 2009), The Witches (1983, film 1990), and Matilda (1988, film 1996). He also wrote three novels and several screenplays. Dahl was married (1953–83) to the actress Patricia Neal.

See his autobiographies, Boy (1984) and Going Solo (1986); biographies by J. Treglown (1994) and D. Sturrock (2010); J. Conant, The Irregulars, Roald Dahl and the British Spy Ring in Wartime Washington (2008); studies by M. I. West (1992) and A. Warren (1988, rev. ed. 1994).

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