Creator / Roald Dahl

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"I don't write horror stories, I write funny stories. I think they're funny, anyway"

Roald Dahl was a Norwegian-British author (1916-1990) most famous for his distinctively dark but often whimsical children's novels and poetry collections, though he started out as a writer of short stories for adults.

His style is exemplified by Black Comedy, and as a result even his juvenile stories contain a good deal of more-than-usually sophisticated Nightmare Fuel. The fact that said young target audience has been happily lapping all this up for decades now seems to imply that many kids actually like to be terrified (hey, it works for Doctor Who).

Trademarks include his love of nostalgia for his own childhood (with which he generally manages to avoid alienating his younger readers) and his great love of Food Porn. Almost all of the happy endings in his work revolve, in some way, around food... although many of them aren't exactly happy. He had less wonderful memories about the headmasters at his school terrorizing, humiliating and caning pupils as was common in those days, as mentioned in his autobiographical novel Boy. His not-unreasonable conclusion that all Humans Are Bastards would inspire a lot of his later stories.

His works for adults are almost universally cynical and pessimistic about human nature; his works for children take the same attitude to a whole other level, featuring arrogant, wicked and/or just plain mean adults who menace innocent youngsters (or, in a couple of memorable cases, fuzzy little animals) more or less just because they can. Sometimes these are traditional boogeymen (e.g., The Grand High Witch in The Witches, the Giants in The BFG), but more often they're simply irredeemably vile grownups. Just how irredeemable is spelled out in exquisite detail on almost every page.

It would be a case of Beauty Equals Goodness, except that most of his small heroes and heroines are themselves deliberately pretty average. They're also in large part Aesop-proof by virtue of their already-innate goodness, intelligence, and/or resourcefulness. They generally succeed in foiling the bad guys simply by first recognizing and then rising above the relentless nastiness and/or or stupidity around them. If you're starting to suspect that there were very few grey areas in Dahl's POV, you're right.

Dahl himself grew up to have quite the exciting life. After graduation he went to fulfill his military service in Africa, where he became an Ace Pilot for the Royal Air Force during World War II. C. S. Forester (author of the Horatio Hornblower series) asked Dahl to write down his account of his survival after a desert crash, with the understanding that Forester would edit it into a proper magazine article. Dahl did as asked — and Forester refused to change a word. In fact, he encouraged Dahl to publish it under his own name. Thus began Dahl's career as a writer. Dahl was later assigned to cover the British ground forces in Greece, where his squadron fought valiantly against long odds and he was shot down. The second crash injured his back and left him with recurring headaches that eliminated him from flight duty.

Although Dahl's flying career was ended by the crash, his military service was not. He found himself assigned as Assistant Air Attache to the British Embassy in Washington DC. While there, his natural charm and ability with words and conversation got him a second, unofficial position with the British Security Co-Ordination, an office officially meant to coordinate security i.e. counterespionage with the United States, but actually a quasi-espionage organization in itself, giving the British Government an inside view of American political activity, tracking down and discrediting pro-Nazi individuals, groups, and businesses, and working to make sure the United States maintained its commitment to assisting the British in their war effort. Dahl's part in this was to hobnob with the president and his wife, a young congressman named Lyndon Johnson, and other notables, sometimes with his penis. Yes, he was also very popular with the ladies, almost to the point of a real-life James Bond (and coincidentally, another intelligence officer he worked with on occasion was none other than Ian Fleming).

While in Hollywood during the war Dahl had also met Walt Disney and pitched him a story called The Gremlins, about creatures who sabotage army airplanes. Disney was interested in making it into a cartoon, but after a lot of preparation the idea was eventually cancelled, much to Dahl's chagrin. It was however eventually published as his first novel.

In the 1950s Dahl finally earned lasting fame as a writer of suspenseful Black Comedy magazine short stories for adults, later collected into the book and TV series Tales of the Unexpected, earning him the title of "Master of the Macabre" on both sides of the Atlantic. His short stories were also adapted to episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. In his increasingly rare spare time, he wrote the screenplays for the James Bond film You Only Live Twice and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, both adaptations of books by his good friend Ian Fleming.

Dahl's eventual emergence as a full-time children's writer began in the early 1960s, after James and the Giant Peach and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory became a huge success. Other popular titles followed in quick succession, accelerating into the 1980s, when Dahl was well into his sixties/seventies: The BFG, The Witches, Matilda... Traditionally, his books are illustrated by Quentin Blake, master of loopy sketchiness. Almost all of his juvenile books have been made into movies the iconic Charlie and the Chocolate Factory more than once though he so disliked Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory that it was nearly 15 years before he allowed another of his books to be adapted (and he didn't like The Witches much either). Curiously, no two of these movies were made by the same person. Particularly in the U.K., stage adaptations of his work are numerous as well; in The New Tens, Matilda and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory have both become successful West End musicals.

Dahl's personal life was far less lucky, and considerably more complex. He was married for many years to Oscar-winning actress Patricia Neal. They had five children; Olivia, the oldest, died of measles at age 7. Dahl was an utterly shameless womaniser, but when Neal suffered burst cerebral aneurysms and told that she would never walk or talk again Dahl wouldn't hear of it, and personally took control of her rehabilitation. Over the next few years he, for want of a better word, bullied her back to health.

Most controversially (and the obvious reason why he never received a knighthood or other official UK honours, other than an OBE which he turned down as he wanted his wife to be Lady Dahl) he was also quite the anti-Semite. note :
There is a trait in the Jewish character that does provoke animosity; maybe it's a kind of lack of generosity towards non-Jews. I mean there is always a reason why anti-anything crops up anywhere; even a stinker like Hitler didn't just pick on them for no reason.


Works with a page on this wiki:

Dahl's work provides examples of

  • Black Comedy: His work is quite macabre and sadistic.
  • Bloodier and Gorier: His poems Revolting Rhymes are re-tellings of classic fairy tales, but more true to the cruelty and goriness of the original tales, though with his own sense for Black Comedy and fantasy twisting the tales. Dahl had the belief that children can take horror in stories as long as they have comedy in them and that they are actually quite interested in this stories, as long as they are told well.
  • Boarding School of Horrors and Sadist Teacher: Dahl never forgot the strict and repressive rules at his old schools and describes being beaten in his autobiographical novel "Boy". One scene from this book was almost re-used line-by-line in his novel Danny, the Champion of the World, with the appearance, behaviour and name of the teacher almost literally the same. Another book about sadist teachers is Matilda, where principal Mrs. Trunchbull leads an even more grotesque reign of terror.
  • Cool and Unusual Punishment: The methods characters use to punish, torture and/or act revenge on others are often quite crafty.
  • Creator Cameo: In Danny, the Champion of the World Danny's father tells a story about a giant who blows dreams into children's bed rooms when they are sleeping. This is a nod to own of Dahl's later stories The BFG.
  • Creator Thumbprint: He loved nostalgia for his childhood, and food. Almost all of his books revolve around food in some way, and most of the Happy Endings his heroes get are based on food in some way.
  • Darker and Edgier: Compared to many children's stories Dahl's books do have a dark edge to them. They often showcase Black Comedy and scenes that have worried parents and teachers because they fear they are too horrifying or sadistic for young readers. Yet Dahl has been popular with children for decades.
  • Darwinist Desire: In My Uncle Oswald, Oswald collects the sperm of geniuses in order to sell it to women who want to have genius babies.
  • Eat the Evidence: In "Lamb to the Slaughter", a housewife murders her callous husband by hitting him with a leg of lamb, then cooks it and serves it to the police who investigate the death.
  • Famous Last Words: "Ow! Fuck!" Really. note 
  • Fantastic Foxes: Fantastic Mr. Fox.
  • Femme Fatale Spy: Almost singular instance of gender inversion. After recovering from his near-fatal plane crash, Dahl was assigned to British Intelligence with the cover of an RAF attaché in Washington, where his assignment was to bed as many powerful American women as possible in order to gather intelligence on the US government [1]. His conquests included even Claire Booth Luce, a senator and wife of the publisher of Time Magazine.
  • Florence Nightingale Effect: In the autobiographical Going Solo, Roald Dahl recounts falling in love with a nurse who assisted him through a period of blindness after a plane crash in the North African desert during World War II. His infatuation ended once the bandages came off and he found that she was not quite as beautiful as he had imagined her to be.
  • Food Porn: Nobody could describe food, especially sweets, in such a tasty way that makes your mouth water when you read it as Dahl.
  • Fractured Fairy Tale: Revolting Rhymes, where he transforms Little Red Riding Hood, The Three Little Pigs, Goldilocks, Jack and the Beanstalk, Cinderella, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
  • Gaslighting: The Twits is all about this - the titular dysfunctional couple do it to each other to begin with (for example, adding a small segment to the bottom of a walking stick every day to make the wife think she's shrinking), and have it spectacularly turned on them at the end (they're tricked into gluing themselves to the floor, and end up shrinking down into nothing in their efforts to get themselves unstuck).
  • Genre Adultery: Dahl, world famous for his children's novels, also wrote My Uncle Oswald, an erotic soft core satire. Exactly why becomes more clear when one learns that he was an inveterate womanizer. One of his jobs in World War II actually required him to seduce well-connected American women into political compliance.
  • Genre Anthology: Tales of the Unexpected, a 1979 ITV series, started out exclusively adapting his short fiction, although it later widened its scope to include other authors' works.
  • Gentle Giant: The BFG is about a giant who calls himself the "Big Friendly Giant", because he is the only giant who doesn't eat children.
  • Giving Someone the Pointer Finger: His book The Magic Finger is about a girl who points people who had enraged her with her finger and converts the ponted person into an animal.
  • Griping About Gremlins: His 1943 book The Gremlins was the first book about these creatures, though the urban legend had been around for many years already.
  • Harmful to Minors: His works can be considered this by some, featuring very bleak situations that put children at the mercy of cruel and selfish adults as well as other violent or dark content (such as cannibalistic giants)—all aimed at kids (even if they usually escape this by the end). This is likely inspired by his own childhood, exposed to abusive violence at his school.
  • Humans Are Bastards and Humans Are Morons: Dahl had a rather cynical way of looking at people. Characters like Mrs. Trunchbull, Matilda's parents (Matilda), the parents and children whom Charlie and his grandfather have to compete with (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), Henry Sugar (The Wonderful Story Of Henry Sugar), James's aunts (James and the Giant Peach), Captain Lancaster (Danny, the Champion of the World), Mr. and Mrs. Twit (The Twits), George's grandmother (George's Marvelous Medicine), the giants (The BFG), the witches (The Witches), ... are all despicable buffoonish beings who love to torment other people.
  • Infant Immortality: Children get tortured, humiliated, beaten, but seldom die. Two notable exceptions are the novels The Witches and The BFG where children are victims of witches and cannibalistic giants.
  • Inspiration Nod: The story "Pig" is clearly written as an homage to Candide, including a ridiculously idealistic protagonist and a bitingly satirical tone. As a reference to this, the hero's aunt, who raised him, is named Glosspan- a Significant Anagram for Voltaire's Pangloss.
  • I Should Write a Book About This: Used this ending twice in James and the Giant Peach and The BFG.
  • Nightmare Fuel Station Attendant: Dahl earned his title "Master of the Macabre" thanks to a series of mysterious, unpredictable and often bone chilling short stories for adults collected in Tales of the Unexpected. His children's novels are also notorious for disturbing and scary scenes. Let's just say there is a good reason why he has his own Nightmare Fuel page.
  • Pop-Cultural Osmosis: Dahl started his career as a writer for adults, but is nowadays much better known as a children's author, a demographic he only started writing for when he was already in his 50s.
  • Some Dexterity Required: "The Great Automatic Grammatizator" has an inventor build a (kind of) computer which can write stories. At first, you set the general parameters, like Settings, Genre and the main characters, during the writing process (which takes about fifteen minutes), you can pull registers for details, and have two foot pedals to add passion. The narrator compares using the machine to driving a car or flying plane and playing an organ at the same time.
  • Story Within a Story: A good example would be The Wonderful Story Of Henry Sugar in which Dahl tells how Henry reads an account of a doctor about a man in India who can see with his mind and at one point asks this Indian man to read him a passage from Alice in Wonderland without using his eyes and only touching the pages. So this particular moment would be a story-within-a story- within-a story-within-a story.
  • Toilet Humour: Dahl thanks a lot of his popularity among children for this. The most well known example is the BFG whizzpopping note  after having drank his favorite drink.
  • Wicked Stepmother: James in "James And The Giant Peach" is an orphan who is forced to live with his aunts, who treat him bad.
  • Would Hurt a Child: His books often feature adults who make it their jobs to sadistically abuse and taunt children. Even his autobiography about his childhood involves physically violent school teachers.

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