Roald Dahl – What Was He Thinking?

“And if they get you, don’t forget, just your name, rank and number. Nothing else. For God’s sake, say nothing else.”

I remember reading those chilling words from a collection of short stories, when I was in grade school – my first introduction to the macabre stories of Roald Dahl.   Much later, it was hard to reconcile the thrilling Tales of the Unexpected with the creator of Charlie, James, Matilda, and my favorite BFG (Big Friendly Giant).

In his biography of Storyteller: Roald Dahl,  Donald Sturrock introduces  a literary giant – both literally (Dahl was six-foot five) and figuratively (although Dahl never won prestigious writing awards). The life that inspired his characters – like the man – was never boring.

Despite coming from a wealthy family – or maybe because of it – Dahl’s survival in a brutal boys’ boarding school, his subsequent shunning of a university education, and his tour as an RAF pilot in World War II, form the foundation for stories and characters that later made him famous.  This is an “authorized” biography, which means Sturrock had access to letters, journals, interviews, pictures, and the man himself before he died.  He cleverly manages the pieces as Dahl’s life progresses from a stalwart Norwegian background to the irascible “geriatric child.”

If you are a history lover, you will appreciate Sturrock’s ease with famous events and people, making them all the more interesting because of their relationship to the quirky, strange, and funny man who lived through them to write all those wicked stories.

Be prepared, however, to curl up with this book for a while – it’s over 600 pages, with footnotes and references, but worth it to peek inside the psyche of what made this writer write.

Most of Roald Dahl’s short stories are in the public domain; if you haven’t read any, the link for “classic shorts” below has two of my favorites – from before he became a famous children’s book author.