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The Magical World of Roald Dahl

By Ashly Moore Sheldon • September 13, 2021

Roald Dahl was born 105 years ago on September 13, 1916. Though he passed away in 1990 at the age of 74, he left behind a rich legacy in his fantastical tales. While he is primarily known for his children’s books, he also had a successful side hustle writing macabre ghost stories for adults. Here, we share the eight key rules Dahl applied to his wildly wonderful, bestselling children’s stories.

1. Just add chocolate.

For who could hate or bear a grudge
Against a lovely bit of fudge.

During Dahl’s years in an English boarding school, the Cadbury company occasionally sent boxes of new chocolate to the school to be tested by the pupils. Dahl dreamed of inventing a new chocolate bar that would impress Mr. Cadbury himself. This fantasy inspired Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and the use of chocolate in many of his other stories, as well.

2. Adults can be scary.

I'm right and you're wrong, I'm big and you're small, and there's nothing you can do about it.

In Dahl’s autobiography, Boy: Tales of Childhood, he shares the memory of a friend who was violently caned by the headmaster. This and other formative experiences became the root for stories like The Witches and James and the Giant Peach about children who are antagonized by villainous adult characters.

3. Bad things happen.

‘Hooray!’ said the Chief of the Army. ‘Let's blow everyone up! Bang-bang! Bang-bang!’

When WWII broke out, Dahl joined the Royal Air Force. With very little training, he was sent on a complex mission and ended up crash landing in the desert in Egypt. His skull was fractured and his nose smashed. Temporarily blinded, he managed to drag himself away from the blazing wreckage and was rescued. He wrote about this experience in his first published short story, A Piece of Cake, which can be found in this collection.

4. Revenge is sweet.

We all have our moments of brilliance and glory, and this was mine.

As previously mentioned, many of Dahl’s stories involve children who are suffering at the hands of cruel and selfish adults. His Matilda is one of many where the clever and good child at the center of the story uses her unique intelligence and skill to gain the upper hand over the mean and careless grownups. And it is very sweet indeed!

5. Keep a wicked sense of humor.

If the Good Lord intended for us to walk, he wouldn't have invented roller skates.

From his inventive use of made up words like biffsquiggled and uckyslush to his offbeat characters and outrageous situations, Dahl’s fiction is consistently playful and terrifically funny. In his Revolting Rhymes, Dahl offers humorous interpretations of standard nursery rhymes and fairy tales.

6. Pick perfect pictures.

And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don't believe in magic will never find it.

The iconic illustrations in Dahl’s books came from longtime collaborator Sir Quentin Blake. Dahl’s last book, The Minpins, published shortly after his death, originally contained illustrations from a different artist, but the publication was met with disappointing sales. Twenty-six years later, in an attempt to bring the book to a wider audience, it was republished as Billy and the Minpins with art by Blake.

7. Films are fun . . . but books are better!

Go throw your TV set away, And in its place you can install A lovely bookshelf on the wall.

We can certainly agree with this sentiment! Many of Dahl’s protagonists are booklovers, while many of his villains prefer the screen. Nonetheless, many of his books have been adapted into excellent movies including:

8. Food is fun!

Do you know what breakfast cereal is made of? It's made of all those little curly wooden shavings you find in pencil sharpeners!

Food takes on special meanings in Dahl’s stories. He often used it as a way to demonstrate someone’s character. Unpleasant or mean characters may be seen eating revolting things, while the hero of the story is rewarded with delicious treats. In Fantastic Mr. Fox, the entire story is centered around Mr. Fox’s need to provide for his family by stealing food from his wicked and dim-witted farmer neighbors.

And that’s it! Roald Dahl’s formula for writing clever and hilarious tales reaped enormous success. We’ve certainly had fun exploring the way it played out in his scrumdiddlyumptious stories.

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Read more by Ashly Moore Sheldon

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