Reviews, articles, rants & ramblings on the darker side of the media fringe

Roald Dahl

Roald Dahl (13 September 1916 – 23 November 1990) was a British novelist, short story writer, fighter pilot and screenwriter. Born in Llandaff, Cardiff, to Norwegian parents, he served in the Royal Air Force during the Second World War, rising to the rank of Wing Commander. Dahl rose to prominence in the 1940s with works for both children and adults, and became one of the world’s best-selling authors. He has been referred to as “one of the greatest storytellers for children of the 20th century”. In 2008 The Times newspaper placed Dahl sixteenth on their list of “The 50 greatest British writers since 1945″. His short stories are known for their unexpected endings, and his children’s books for their unsentimental, often very dark humour.

Dahl’s first published work, on 1 August 1942, about his wartime adventures, was bought by The Saturday Evening Post for US$1000 (a substantial sum in 1942) and published under the title “Shot Down Over Libya”. His first children’s book was ‘The Gremlins’, about mischievous little creatures that were part of RAF folklore. All the RAF pilots blamed the gremlins for all the problems with the plane. The book, which First Lady of the US Eleanor Roosevelt read to her grandchildren, was commissioned by Walt Disney for a film that was never made, and published in 1943. Dahl went on to create some of the best-loved children’s stories of the 20th century, such as ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, James and the Giant Peach, The Witches, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator,  The BFG, George’s Marvelous Medicine and Fantastic Mr Fox.

Dahl’s children’s works are usually told from the point of view of a child. They typically involve adult villains who hate and mistreat children, and feature at least one “good” adult to counteract the villain(s). They usually contain a lot of black humour and grotesque scenarios, including gruesome violence. His books are all the better for it..!

Dahl also had a successful parallel career as the writer of macabre adult short stories, usually with a dark sense of humour and a surprise ending. The Mystery Writers of America presented Dahl with three Edgar Awards for his work, and many were originally written for American magazines such as Harper’s, Playboy and The New Yorker. Dahl wrote more than 60 short stories; they have appeared in numerous collections, some only being published in book form after his death. His three Edgar Awards were given for: in 1954, the collection Someone Like You; in 1959, the story “The Landlady”; and in 1980, the episode of Tales of the Unexpected based on his short story “Skin”.

One of his more famous adult stories, “The Smoker” (also known as”Man From the South”), was filmed twice as both 1960 and 1985 episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and also adapted into Quentin Tarantino’s segment of the 1995 film ‘Four Rooms’. This oft-anthologised classic concerns a man in Jamaica who wagers with visitors in an attempt to claim the fingers from their hands. The 1960 Hitchcock version stars Steve McQueen and Peter Lorre.

His short story collection Tales of the Unexpected was adapted to a successful TV Series of the same name, beginning with “Man From the South”. When the stock of Dahl’s own original stories was exhausted, the series continued by adapting stories by authors that were written in Dahl’s style. The show was required viewing when I was a kid, we watched it avidly.

For a brief period in the 1960s, Dahl wrote screenplays. Two, the James Bond film ‘You Only Live Twice’ (1967) and ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ (1968), were adaptations of novels by Ian Fleming, though both were rewritten and completed by other writers. Dahl created the Child Catcher, the supporting antagonist in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and in a 2005 poll, it was voted the scariest villain in children’s literature. It terrified me as a child and is still unnerving to this day. Dahl also began adapting his own novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which was completed and rewritten by David Seltzer after Dahl failed to meet deadlines, and produced as the film ‘Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory’ (1971). Dahl later disowned the film, saying he was “disappointed” because “he thought it placed too much emphasis on Willy Wonka and not enough on Charlie”. He was also “infuriated” by the deviations in the plot devised by David Seltzer in his draft of the screenplay. This resulted in his refusal for any more versions of the book to be made in his lifetime.

5 responses

  1. judith ripka

    It’s hard to search out knowledgeable individuals on this topic, but you sound like you recognize what you’re speaking about! Thanks

    September 13, 2011 at 11:34 am

    • Thank you Judith. I’m not that knowledgable on most of these subjects, I ‘m just interested in them enough to find out more and post those findings.

      September 13, 2011 at 9:35 pm

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