Apr 12, 2011

Roald Dahl

A few weeks ago I finished reading Roald Dahl's first autobiography, Boy.  After realizing that 6 of the books on The List are from Dahl's mind, I figured it would be wise to learn about his background to see what evidence of his life can be found in his stories.  The answer: practically everything!

5 Things You Didn't Know About Roald Dahl:

1.  His nose was cut almost clear off of his face.  When his 21 year old sister learned to drive and got her first car, she took the family out for a drive.  However, she didn't know how to slow down to take a sharp turn and consequently crashed into a hedge. Yes, this is why girls are stereotyped as bad drivers, but I digress.  Everyone went flying through the windshield and Roald's nose sliced almost completely off.  It only stayed on by just a small bit of skin and because his mother held it in place as his sister figured out how to drive out of the mess and straight to the doctor.  They almost didn't make it because a man delivering 1000 fresh laid eggs wouldn't get out of their way: "If I don't get 'em to the market by noon today...they won't be fresh-laid anymore, will they?"  To be fair, he was right.

2.  Not exactly the model child for good behavior, Dahl decided to put a dead mouse into a jar of Gobstoppers in a candy store.  His friends found this dead mouse and Dahl came up with "The Great Mouse Plot" in order to seek revenge on the mean sweet-shop's owner, Mrs. Pratchett.  Not exactly as smooth as some of Matilda's pranks, but this act made him a hero in his group of friends.  That is, until she got her own revenge and had his headmaster cane them all.  

3.  Dahl had a sort of Snape-Harry relationship with one of his professors.  Granted, there's no backstory of Dahl's father saving/endangering the professor's life, but the hatred sentiment between student and professor can't be denied in this situation.  Captain Hardcastle (the people in his life have awesome names) caught him asking another boy for a new pen and accused him of being a liar and a cheater.  As a result, Dahl was caned by the Headmaster.  Even worse, Hardcastle opened the door to the Common Room so everyone could hear as Dahl was being caned.  I had a teacher that used to make you stand up behind your desk and cover your mouth if he caught you talking in class.  If you tried to defend yourself, he'd just tell you "he who hesitates is lost" and keep on with the lesson.  

4.  In one of his private schools, Dahl had to deal with the weird hierarchy of power that comes from the prefect system.  The prefect-like older students were called Boazers and their servants (essentially) were Fags.  They had to do whatever the Boazer wanted them to, usually scrub the studies clean, and had to drop whatever they were doing in order to keep the Boazer happy.  Dahl's main duty was to be a toilet seat warmer.  Seriously.  The bathrooms at his school were all outhouses and in the winter, it got pretty icy.  He became his boazer's "favorite bog-seat warmer" and as a consequence, walked around with a paperback book at all times so he wouldn't get bored while performing his seat warming duties. 

5.  Dahl didn't dream of becoming a children's author.  The only thing he wanted was a job that would let him travel, especially to Africa or China.  He ended up working for the Shell Company and after two years was given the chance to work in Egypt.  But Dahl wanted to explore a world of jungles, not a desert, and got out of this assignment by claiming that Egypt was "too dusty."  His supervisor agreed to let Dahl wait for the next assignment, but swore that he would have to take it regardless of how "dusty" the place was.  The next assignment ended up being East Africa, where he got malaria, but had a blast. 


  1. I've loved every book of Roald Dahl's that I've read (including some of his more saucier ones). Boy was a real eye-opener for me since it showed some background for several of his on-going themes. BTW: in reference to your 4/4 post about reading non-adult books on the T, I read Boy on the bus when I was 41. Got a few looks. But not as many as when I when I would read a whole pile of picture books on the way home!

  2. Trevor - I got some looks while reading Boy as well! But I'm fairly used to it by now. *Sigh* I was so surprised by Dahl's life! I can't wait to read his next autobiography. And what are these "saucier" titles you're referring to?! I'm only familiar with his children's books.