Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Dahl, Roald

(1916-1990) UK writer, long famous for a succession of Children's Fantasies running from his first publication, The Gremlins (1942 Colliers; 1943 chap US) to the end of his life, when tales like Esio Trot (1990 chap) and The Minipins (1991 chap) continued to demonstrate his uncanny ability to think as a child. It is perhaps the huge perceived gap between the clarity of his telling and the seemingly amoral ruthlessness of his writing that has caused many to so distrust him as an author to whom children should be exposed.

For many years RD showed little inclination towards children's literature. The Gremlins came about solely through the interest of Walt Disney, who flirted over making an Animated Movie of the tale (> Gremlins). After the WWII stories assembled in Over to You (coll 1946 US) and the arch sf/fantasy novel, Some Time Never: A Fable for Supermen (1948 US), RD began to publish the tales for adults which made him famous, and for which he was long primarily known. They were assembled over the years as: Someone Like You (coll 1953 US; exp 1961 UK); Kiss Kiss (coll 1960 US); Twenty-Nine Kisses from Roald Dahl (coll 1969), a compilation; Switch Bitch (coll 1974 US); The Best of Roald Dahl (coll 1978 US); Tales of the Unexpected (coll 1979) and More Roald Dahl Tales of the Unexpected (coll 1980; vt More Tales of the Unexpected 1980; vt Further Tales of the Unexpected 1981), both assembled as Roald Dahl's Completely Unexpected Tales (omni 1986); Two Fables (coll 1986 chap); Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life (coll 1989); the posthumous The Collected Short Stories (coll 1991), which includes some new work; and Lamb to the Slaughter (coll 1995 chap UK), which includes nothing new. There is occasionally a tone of Slick Fantasy in these stories – in this RD resembles authors like Saki and John Collier. Several are Supernatural Fictions whose twists seem, at times, compulsively cruel. Many are mundane studies of characters arraigned by plots which expose their awfulness.

In 1961 RD hosted a tv series called Way Out that was seemingly modelled on The Twilight Zone. The tv series Roald Dahl's Tales of the Unexpected (1979) was based on various of his twist-in-the-tale macabre stories, each introduced by him. Further series, sans Dahl and with stories by other writers, were simply called Tales of the Unexpected (1980-1988). This tv exposure gave his adult stories a new lease of life, so that by the time he died he was a hugely bestselling author in both adult and juvenile markets.

The tales for children began with James and the Giant Peach (1961 US), filmed in stop-motion animation in 1996. Young James travels across the Atlantic inside a giant peach, befriended by the insects he discovers within. RD's next tale is his most famous. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1964 US), filmed as Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971) – assembled with its sequel, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator (1972 US) as The Complete Adventures of Charlie and Mr Willy Wonka (omni 1987) – is both hated (by some adults) and loved (by many adults and most children) for the exorbitant punishments meted out to gluttons; but the events themselves, though fantastic in the direction of Technofantasy, do not quite cohere as fantasy, for there is a mildly absurdist, Wonderland feel about Charlie's world. Further children's stories include The Magic Finger (1966 chap US), Fantastic Mr Fox (1970 chap), Danny, the Champion of the World (1975) – filmed as Danny, the Champion of the World (1989) – The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More (coll 1977; vt The Wonderful World of Henry Sugar 1977 US), The Enormous Crocodile (1978), The Twits (1980 chap), George's Marvellous Medicine (1981); The BFG (1982), The Witches (1983) – filmed as The Witches (1989) – The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me (1985) and Matilda (1988). Some are fantasy, some verge on other realms. They have given considerable joy, and it is in terms of that – in terms of the exuberance of story they display – that they will, perhaps, finally be judged. [JC]

other works: My Uncle Oswald (1979), erotic Technofantasy; Roald Dahl's Book of Ghost Stories (anth 1983); Boy: Tales of Childhood (1984) and Going Solo (1986), memoirs.

further reading: Roald Dahl (1983) by Chris Dowling; Roald Dahl (1988; exp vt Roald Dahl: From the Gremlins to the Chocolate Factory 1994) by Alan Warren.

Roald Dahl

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This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.