He would pronounce it "Roo-all," as any good Norwegian would.
Dahl is one of the most endearing writers of children's books, this century (possibly only second to Theodore "Dr. Seuss" Geisel) as well as a writer of often macabre and wickedly amusing adult fiction. He was able to create wonderful, surreal worlds and characters that entertain and speak to readers and was able to transcend the limits of children's fiction to write stories that can appeal to adults as well.
His father, Harald Dahl, married his second wife Sofie Magdalene Hesselberg in 1911 and moved to Llandaff, Wales. Both parents were Norwegian. On September 13, 1916, Roald was born (he was the only son from that marriage). A few years later, he lost both his sister Astri (appendicitis) and shortly later, his father (pneumonia). He was only three. His mother moved the six children (two from the previous marriage and four of her own) to a smaller home in order to make sure the children were educated in English schools, something his father had desired. Dahl's mother, whose strength, perseverance, creativity, and tenderness in raising and caring for the children, was the basis for the grandmother character in The Witches. She also told the children wonderful stories based on Norwegian folklore involving trolls and other mythical creatures (something that must have stayed with him all his life). He also read a great deal.
His first school was the Llandaff Cathedral School, memories of which were part of his autobiographical book Boy - Tales of Childhood. Important memories from that time included trips to the sweet shop. He also attended other English boarding schools, all of which became fodder for his autobiographical novels.
Being a fan of adventure stories, Dahl wanted an exciting career that would let him travel to far-off places. He was able to get a job with the Shell Oil Company and, after training in England, was posted to East Africa. In 1939, he joined the RAF where he learned to pilot war planes. There was a terrible crash in the Libyan desert which required months of recuperation. He was then allowed to return to his squadron, which was now in Greece where he was involved in much aerial combat. He had to leave due to blinding headaches, a result from his earlier crash (his head had been fractured and his nose had been pushed in, causing temporary blindness). He was sent home because of his condition, ending his career (much of which is recounted in Going Solo).
In 1942, Dahl managed to get a job as an "assistant air attache" in the United States, working for the British War Effort. One of the tasks of his job was to help create what amounted to soft propaganda to keep the Americans and others supportive and sympathetic to the British effort. British novelist C.S. Forester asked for Dahl's story to be used in this capacity. Dahl wrote it out himself and it was published, without any changes, anonymously in The Saturday Evening Post as "Shot Down Over Libya." (Technically the crash was not due to being shot down but rather being given incorrect coordinates in an area unfamiliar to him, nightfall, and runnning out of fuel.) Roald Dahl had discovered what was to be his lifelong career: writing.
A short time later, he wrote a short story about Gremlins that, due to his position in the War Effort, had to be reviewed by British Information Services (any written material had to be). The person who read it, found it so good, he passed it to a friend at Walt Disney where is was optioned to become an animated feature. While that never came to pass, it did get released as a picture book in 1943, becoming his first published book.
By 1944, he had an agent and was publishing short stories in various magazines (primarily adult fiction). He wrote his first novel in 1948, titled Sometime Never: A Fable for Supermen, a book about the possibilities of a nuclear war (only three years following Hiroshima/Nagasaki). The book did poorly but didn't stop him from continuing writing for magazines. Of his (in)famous story "Lamb to the Slaughter," he said "It wasn't nasty. I thought it was hilarious. What's horrible is basically what's funny. In fiction." His dark sense of humor is another of those traits that make his fiction (adult and children's) so memorable.
He met actress Patricia Neal in 1951 and married her two years later, eventually having five children (they divorced in 1983). Becoming a father was a large influence on his next direction as a writer (though he continued writing for adults). It was through making up bedtime stories for his daughters that he became interested in writing stories for children and in 1962, he published the novel James and the Giant Peach.
He went on to a long string of successful children's books and awards (see below) and became a phenomenal best-selling author (Matilda broke records in the UK for sales of a children's book: over half a million copies in six months).
Shortly after the divorce, Dahl remarried to Felicity Crossland (with whom he'd been in love for a while and had apparently had an affair). In 1990, he was diagnosed with Myelodysplastic anaemia (a rare blood disorder) and on November 23, he died in Oxfordshire, England at the age of 74. To date, the sales of his books still remain high and his popularity hasn't leveled off and may have actually grown.
- Edgar Allen Poe Award (Mystery Writers of America): 1954, 1959, 1980
- New York Times Outstanding Books Award: 1983
- Federation of Children's Book Groups Award: 1982, 1983, 1988
- Whitbread Award: 1983
- World Fantasy Convention Lifetime Achievement Award: 1983
(primarily his children's books, not including treasuries or collections)
Additionally, Dahl wrote some scripts for film and television, including:
(Sources: www.roalddahlfans.com and the official site www.roalddahl.com)