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Guest Post: Celebrating Roald Dahl Day: The True Stories of Roald Dahl

Most writers are inspired by other writings, world events, and in most cases their own personal experiences. Roald Dahl Day is September 13th, so to celebrate the mischief and mayhem in so much of Dahl’s writing, here is a list of some of his work most heavily influenced by his life experiences.

Matilda
When Roald Dahl was just eight years old he and four of his friends participated in what they named “The Great Mouse Plot of 1924.” All five boys were caned by the headmaster after they placed a dead mouse in a jar of gobstoppers at the local sweet shop. The shop was owned by a “mean and loathsome” old woman called Mrs Pratchett. This event lead to Dahl being shipped off to boarding school, which was an unpleasant experience for him. 
Dahl was extremely homesick while away at school and wrote to his mother every day (after her death Dahl discovered that she had kept every single letter he had sent to her). These experiences were a heavy influence on the children’s novel Matilda, about a young girl who has a terrible time at school until she discovers she has telekinetic powers.  

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
In 1929 Dahl began attending Repton in Derbyshire, England. While at the preparatory school the chocolate company Cadbury would occasionally send boxes of new chocolates and candies to be tested by the students. Dahl soon began to dream of inventing a new kind of chocolate bar that would impress Mr. Cadbury himself, and this idea proved to be the inspiration for his third book for children, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Dahl included references to chocolate in many of his other children’s books as well.

James and the Giant Peach
In 1920, when Dahl was three years old, his seven-year-old sister, Astri, died from appendicitis. Weeks later, his father died of pneumonia at the age of 57 while on a fishing trip in the Antarctic. The early loss of both his sister and father influenced the adventure of the orphan James Henry Trotter in the children’s novel James and the Giant Peach. James was just four years old when his parents were trampled by an escaped rhinoceros. Dahl was just one year younger when his sister and father died.

The Witches
Roald Dahl was born at Villa Marie, Fairwater Road in Llandaff, Cardiff, Wales, in 1916, to Norwegian parents, Harald Dahl and Sofie Magdalene Dahl. Dahl’s father had immigrated to the United Kingdom from Sarpsborg, Norway, and settled in Cardiff in the 1880s. His mother came over and married his father in 1911. Dahl was named after the polar explorer Roald Amundsen, a national hero in Norway at the time. He spoke Norwegian at home with his family.
Dahl and his sisters were christened at the Norwegian Church in Cardiff, where their parents worshipped. This Norwegian background is evident in The Witches. In the children’s book a young boy goes to live with his grandmother after his parents deaths. The grandmother in the story is based on Dahl’s real-life mother and was intended as a tribute to her. The Witches was published in 1983, sixteen years after his mother’s death.

The BFG

In 1962, Dahl’s daughter, Olivia, died of measles encephalitis at age seven. He dedicated his 1982 children’s novel The BFG to her and it is thought that the little girl in the novel, Sophie, was loosely based on his late daughter.
Walter “Wally” Saunders, who died in 2004 at age 91, was said to be a “huge, sweet natured Norfolk builder with a long, pale wrinkled face”. He was employed by Dahl after he moved to Buckinghamshire in 1954 and helped with a number of building jobs including erecting the famous writing shed where Dahl composed most of his works. Saunders’ hands were said to have been like a “bunch of bananas”, his ears and nose “enormous” and he was to speak with a strange accent and get “all his words wrong”. It was revealed in a book by Eamon Evans entitled The Godfather was a Girl that Wally may have been the influence for the Big Friendly Giant himself.
Like many influential writers, Roald Dahl took his life experiences and used them as a drive and source of ideas for his writing, and he is how widely considered one of the best storytellers of the 20th century. His classic tales will live on and continue to be read to and by eager children drifting off to sleep. Dahl’s memories may not have always been pleasant, but he always found a way to make them well worth it. Happy Roald Dahl Day!

Author Bio: Blake Meredith is an arts and entertainment blogger for DirectTVcomparison.com. She grew up on Roald Dahl books and was particularly fond of Matilda. She currently resides in Chicago, IL where she enjoys longboarding and exploring the city to find her inspirations for writing.
  • What a lovely guest post for Roald Dahl day! We recently took the boys to the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Gallery and E in particular was fascinated to learn about Roald Dahl’s influences for his stories.