Having already written a fairly thorough tribute to Roald Dahl on the anniversary of his death, I'm not sure what else I can say about the man on the anniversary of his birth that I haven't already said... Clearly I'm not alone in this, as today is widely celebrated in the English-speaking world as Roald Dahl Day, and indeed the month of September is considered (among other things) Roald Dahl Month.
Then again, there are those people whose accomplishments are so integral to my own life and career that I have no problem running my mouth or even repeating myself when it comes time to eulogize them. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that without exposure to his works in those impressionable years before the age of ten I might not be a writer at all... Had he only ever written Charlie and the Chocolate Factory I would still find myself endlessly rhapsodizing about his literary achievements; as it is, he was also responsible for such masterpieces of kid-lit as James and the Giant Peach, Matilda, The Witches, as well as the decidedly grown-up My Uncle Oswald.
Apart from his literary achievements, Dahl was a pilot with the Royal Air Force during World War II, participating in the airborne battle to liberate Athens from the Axis menace. It was during this engagement that his friend, the distinguished flier Marmaduke 'Pat' Pattle, was fatally shot down. Fortunately Dahl survived, and his wartime adventures later provided him with rich fodder for his earliest works, a series of magazine articles and short stories relating these and other experiences; he'd also been employed during the war writing propaganda for the consumption of Allied forces. In fact his first work for kids, The Gremlins, was published while he was still enlisted in 1943, and concerns those mythical creatures well-known to the men of the RAF who fly and service airplanes.
Turbulently married for thirty years from July 1953 to the American actress Patricia Neal, together they had five children and their fair share of heartache into the bargain. Their first child, Olivia, died of measles encephalitis at the age of seven in 1962; then came Tessa, Theo*, Ophelia, and Lucy. It was while pregnant with Lucy in 1965 that Neal famously suffered three cerebral aneurysms, nearly killing her; thanks in large part to Dahl's persistence, Neal re-learned to walk and talk - and in fact only died in August 2010, at the grand old age of 84!
Born on this day in 1916, Roald Dahl died in November 1990; since June 2005 his home in Great Missenden has been maintained for the Nation as the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre.
*Whose childhood collision with a New York taxi caused the infant to develop hydrocephalus, and his father to develop the Wade-Dahl-Till valve still used to treat such conditions; ironically, by the time work on the valve was completed, Theo had recovered enough that he no longer required it!
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