“If you have good thoughts, they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely” – The Twits, Roald Dahl
Roald Dahl Story Day takes place annually on the 13th September, Dahl’s birthday, and celebrates his stories and characters. In a nod to this day of celebration we have put together this selection of facts all about his stories and of course, the man himself.
Roald Dahl – The Man
Often referred to as one of the greatest children’s storytellers of all time, is Roald Dahl. Born in Cardiff, Wales in 1916, he was a novelist, poet, screenwriter and wartime fighter pilot. He was born on 13th September 1916 and died 23rd November 1990 aged 74. He was married twice and had five children.
Roald Dahl served in the Royal Air Force during the Second World War, becoming first a fighter pilot and then an intelligence officer, rising to the rank of acting wing commander. No longer able to fly, in 1942 at the age of 20, Dahl was posted to Washington DC where he joined the British Embassy. It was here that British novelist C.S. Forester encouraged him to write about his experiences. This led to the publication of “Shot Down Over Libya”his first piece of paid writing which was published anonymously in The Saturday Evening Post.
Roald Dahl’s first book was The Gremlins, written in 1943 for Disney. It was anticipated that the story would be made into a feature length animated film but the project was eventually abandoned. In total, he wrote wrote 19 children’s books including James and The Giant Peach, The Twits, George’s Marvellous Medicine and, of course, Charlie and The Chocolate Factory.
From Book to Film
A number of Dahl’s children’s books have been turned into films, with each release introducing his stories to a new, younger audience.
Charlie and The Chocolate Factory has been adapted twice, with the first film being released in 1971 (with Gene Wilder starring as Wonka) and the second in 2005 (with Johnny Depp starring as Wonka).
The BFG has been adapted twice, in 1989 and 2016.
The Witches was first adapted in 1990 and featured Anjelica Huston, Rowan Atkinson, Brenda Blethyn and Jane Horrocks. The 2020 version featured Anne Hathaway, Octavia Spencer and Stanley Tucci.
Matilda was adapted to film in 1996, featuring Mara Wilson as the gifted Matilda and Danny De Vito and Rhea Perlman as her uncaring parents. Matilda has also been turned into ‘Matilda the Musical’ which features music and lyrics by Tim Minchin.
In 2009 The Fantastic Mr Fox was released. This animated film features the voice of George Clooney as the voice of the sly fox and Meryl Streep as his wife.
The Roald Dahl Story Company
The Roald Dahl Story Company Limited manage the copyrights and trademarks of Roald Dahl, working with publishers, filmmakers and other licensees worldwide. 10% of all profit goes to charity, with Roald Dahl’s Marvellous Children’s Charity providing specialist nurses and support for seriously ill children across the UK.
The Roald Dahl Museum
The Roald Dahl Museum is located in Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire, the author’s home village. The museum is housed in an old coaching inn and yard and was officially opened on the 10th June 2005 by Cherie Blair. The aim of the museum is to inspire excitement about reading, writing and creativity.
Despite his popularity, Dahl caused some controversy both during his lifetime and following his death. In 1983, Dahl was quoted in the New Statesman as saying that Hitler had his reasons for exterminating 6 million Jews. An undated apology was added to the Roald Dahl Story Company website in 2020 apologising for “… the lasting and understandable hurt caused…”
Dahl’s books often feature tyrannical adults who dislike and mistreat children, a good example being Miss Trunchbull in Matilda, twirling them around by their pigtails or using “the Chokey”, a nail studded cupboard, as punishment. In the United States, Matilda was challenged by some school boards and pulled from their libraries because of its depiction of neglectful parenting.
Dahl has also been accused of racism. The oompa-loompas in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory were originally black whilst in James and the Giant Peach, the Grasshopper declared “I’d rather be fried alive and eaten by a Mexican”.
Despite the controversy, Roald Dahl’s books are still loved and read worldwide. Their humour, sarcasm and nonsense words appeal to adults and children alike.
In celebration of Dahl’s characters, in recent years Steiff have released a number of limited edition pieces. The BFG is superbly crafted and dressed in shirt, waistcoat, trousers, belt and shoes. He is limited to just 1,916 pieces worldwide so once he is sold, that’s it! As with all limited edition pieces, Steiff BFG comes with a Steiff box and certificate confirming provenance and is designed to be admired by an adult collector rather than as a toy piece.