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Monday 13 September 2010

Roald Dahl

Born in Cardiff on 13th September 1916, Roald Dahl is one of the most prolific and recognised writers for children. But before that, he led an eventful life. He attended The Cathedral School, Llandaff. At the age of eight, he and four of his friends (one named Thwaites) were caned by the headmaster after putting a dead rat in a jar of gobstoppers at the local sweet shop, which was owned by a "mean and loathsome" old woman called Mrs Pratchett. Roald and his five friends involved refered to this as The Great Mouse Plot of  1924. After that he was sent to several boarding schools in England, including Saint Peter's in Weston-super-Mare. His parents had wanted Roald to be educated at a British public school. His time at Saint Peter's was an unpleasant experience for him. He was very homesick and wrote to his mother almost every day, but never revealed to her his unhappiness, being under the pressure of school censorship. Only after her death in 1967 did he find out that she had saved every single one of his letters, in small bundles held together with green tape. He later attended Repton School in Derbyshire, where, according to his autobiography Boy: Tales of Childhood, a friend named Michael was viciously caned by headmaster Geoffrey Fisher, the man who later became the Archbishop of Canterbury and crowned the Queen in 1953. 

Roald went on to serve in the RAF during World War II. On one eventful occasion, he could not find the airstrip and, running low on fuel and with night approaching, he was forced to attempt a landing in the desert. The undercarriage hit a boulder and the aircraft crashed, fracturing his skull, smashing his nose, and temporarily blinding him. He managed to drag himself away from the blazing wreckage and passed out. Later, he wrote about the crash for his first published work.

Dahl was rescued and taken to a first-aid post in Mersa Matruh, where he regained consciousness, but not his sight, and was then taken by train to the Royal Navy hospital in Alexandria. There he fell in and out of love with a nurse, Mary Welland. Dahl had fallen in love with her voice while he was blind, but once he regained his sight, he decided that he no longer loved her. An RAF inquiry into the crash revealed that the location to which he had been told to fly was completely wrong, and he had mistakenly been sent instead to the no man's land between the Allied and Italian forces.

So I think you'll agree he certainly had an eventful life. His publishing career began in 1943 with a book called The Gremlins, which was commissioned by Disney for a film that was never made. But it wasn't until 18 years later that his publishing career would really take off with 1961's James and the Giant Peach. Many many books followed in the years to come including Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1964), Fantastic Mr. Fox (1970), The Witches (1983) and Matilda (1988).

Roald wrote and published 64 pieces of work in total during his career including children's books, 2 adult novels, screenplays, poetry and short story collections.

But it's not just the reading world that has had the Roald Dahl effect. Several of his books have taken to the silver screen. With two adaptations of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (the 2005 Tim Burton version being my favourite), The Witches, Matilda, James and the Giant Peach, and Danny, The Champion of the World have also entertained masses. It just seems that where ever you are, you cannot escape the power of Roald's storytelling.

It is estimated that over 100 million Roald Dahl books have been sold world wide, and to be honest, that isn't hard to believe. He enthralls and amazes with every piece he writes. He teaches good morals, and crafts spell-binding stories that keep even those who suffer with a short attention span with their head in a book. He is simply a master storyteller. Both in life, and death. It's amazing to think that this year it's the 20th anniversary of his passing and yet every year millions of new children are introduced to his work. I can't help but envy all those millions who will discover him over the decades to come.

His work certainly means a lot to me. Many a time I have read one of his books and longed to be Charlie in that legendary Chocolate Factory. Many times I have dreamed of going into the woods with my father and saving all the pheasants from certain death by drugging them with sleeping pill laced raisins. And many times I have pitied Matilda because I know that my parents will never ignore me the way hers have. I have learnt so much from Dahl, don't be greedy, appreciate what you have, remember that there is always someone less fortunate than you and you shouldn't judge them for it, that everyone is different from one another and that's okay, and not to get on the wrong side of a witch as I might just end up as a mouse, and for that I am eternally grateful. 

One thing is for sure. He sure won't be forgotten. One of the best. A true literary legend. 

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