This week marks the release of The BFG in India. The movie, directed by Steven Spielberg, promises to be the most exciting take on Roald Dahl’s Big Friendly Giant yet.
A giant in his own right, Dahl is a literary treasure and one of Britain’s most famous modern authors. He is world-famous for his children’s stories, but had an extraordinary life where he served as a fighter pilot, diplomat, and screenwriter.
Dahl’s life and career is a story in and of itself. To commemorate the release of the film, we’ve put together a biography that’s sure to tell you something new:
A tale of the unexpected
Roald Dahl was born in 1916 to Norwegian parents in Cardiff, Wales, where he spent his early life. World War 2 began during his early 20s, and he joined the Royal Air Force and became a fighter pilot. He was later confirmed to be a “fighter ace”, a designation given to aircraft pilots that shoot down multiple enemy combatants.
Dahl’s literary career began in 1942, and was informed by his war service. His first published work, ‘Shot Down Over Libya’, recounted his time as a pilot. After the war ended, Dahl had 5 children. Though he had already made a splash as a writer, he did not start writing for children until he had his own. He was involved in a number of other ventures, including the development of the ‘Wade-Dahl-Till valve’, a sort of brain implant, after one of his children was struck by a car.
His first children’s book, Gremlins, was released shortly afterwards, and was about evil creatures who damaged RAF aircraft, causing problems for the pilots. He would soon branch out into writing the more fantastical Children’s literature he is best known for, writing for a younger audience from a modest wooden hut in his back garden. Dahl was a prolific writer of children’s books, and for decades managed to maintain a unique style. The BFG was published in 1982, nearly 40 years after he wrote his first children’s book.
Dahl also enjoyed a parallel career as a writer of darker, adult-oriented fiction. He wrote many short stories, best chronicled in his Tales of the Unexpected. An accomplished screenwriter, he also wrote the script for major films such as Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and the James Bond film You Only Live Twice.
Critics recognise Dahl as one of the most important authors of the 20th century. The Times listed him 16th on their list of the 50 greatest British writers since 1945, and he was awarded the World Fantasy Special Award for Life Achievement in 1983 in recognition of his work.
Dahl passed away in 1990 at the age of 74. But he left behind tens of thousands of words scattered across hundreds of stories, both fiction and nonfiction. Like Shakespeare, Dahl invented hundreds of words which have entered the English language and taken on a life of their own, spawning a dictionary dedicated solely to words he made up.
An ongoing legacy
Spielberg's imagining of The BFG is just one of many adaptations of his work. We have Wes Anderson’s unmissable Oscar-nominated Fantastic Mr Fox in our library, as well as Tim Burton’s brilliant reimagining Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Outside of the world of film, a broadway adaptation of Matilda is currently on London’s West End and is very popular.
His relatives continue to impress. Many of them, inspired by his career, went on to become authors themselves. His granddaughter, Sophie Dahl, was the inspiration for the protagonist of the BFG (who shares her name) who befriends the titular friendly giant; a former supermodel, she now writes about food and cooking.