Roald Dahl (13 September 1916 – 23 November 1990) was a British novelist, short-story writer, poet, and screenwriter, known as a writer for both children and adults. A wartime fighter pilot of Norwegian descent, his writing career began in 1942 when a story about his experiences in World War II was first published. In 2008, The Times of London placed Dahl 16th on its list of "The 50 greatest British writers since 1945". His short stories are known for their unexpected endings, while his children's books (which include James and the Giant Peach and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) are often examples of unsentimental, dark humour.
- Must Israel, like Germany, be brought to her knees before she learns how to behave in this world?
- Never before in the history of man has a race of people switched rapidly from being much pitied victims to barbarous murderers. Never before has a race of people generated so much sympathy around the world and then, in the space of a lifetime, succeeded in turning that sympathy into hatred and revulsion.
- [Closing comments] Now is the time for the Jews of the world to follow the example of the Germans and become anti-Israeli. But do they have the conscience? And do they, I wonder, have the guts?
- "Not a chivalrous affair" Literary Review (August 1983), as cited in Michael Coren "From the NS archive: Tale of the unexpected" New Statesman (26 August 1983, republished 8 October 2021)
- From a review of God Cried by Tony Clifton and Caroline Leroy (Quartet, 1983), an account of the 1982 war between Israel and Lebanon.
- [M]akes one wonder in the end what sort of people these Israelis are. It is like the good old Hitler and Himmler times all over again.
- From the Literary Review article of August 1983, as cited by Anna Steinman in "Roald Dahl: Proudly antisemitic" The Jewish Chronicle (15 September 2011)
- [Responding to criticism as to how he ended his Literary Review article] Perhaps I shouldn't have said that, but it came from my wartime experience [in the RAF], we saw almost none of them in the armed forces then. I mean if you and I were in a line moving towards what we knew were gas chambers I’d rather have a go at taking one of the guards with me; but they were always submissive.
- This I did not dare to say, but there is a trait in the Jewish character that does provoke animosity, maybe it's a kind of lack of generosity towards non-Jews. I mean Hitler, I mean there’s always a reason why anti-anything crops up anywhere; even a stinker like Hitler didn't just pick on them for no reason...
- A person is a fool to become a writer. His only compensation is absolute freedom. He has no master except his own soul and that, I am sure, is why he does it.
- "Goodbye school" in Boy: Tales of Childhood (1984)
- It was all this, I think, that made me begin to have doubts about religion and even about God. If this person, I kept telling myself, was one of God’s chosen salesmen on earth, then there must be something very wrong about the whole business.
- "The Headmaster" in Boy: Tales of Childhood (1984)
- I find that the only way to make my characters really interesting is to exaggerate all their good or bad qualities and so if a person is nasty or bad or cruel, you make them very nasty and very bad and very cruel. And if they're ugly, you make them extremely ugly. That I think is fun and makes an impact.
- From Todd McCormack The Author's Eye (1988 documentary on Dahl) cited in Donald Sturrock Storyteller: The Authorised Biography of Roald Dahl New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010, p. 512
- It began in 1982 when the Israelis invaded Lebanon. They killed 22,000 civilians when they bombed Beirut. It was very much hushed up in the newspapers because they are primarily Jewish-owned. I’m certainly anti-Israeli and I’ve become anti-Semitic in as much as that you get a Jewish person in another country like England strongly supporting Zionism. I think they should see both sides. It’s the same old thing: we all know about Jews and the rest of it. There aren’t any non-Jewish publishers anywhere, they control the media – jolly clever thing to do – that’s why the president of the United States has to sell all this stuff to Israel ...
- You know, I'm not frightened. It's just that I will miss you all so much.
- Dahl's second-to-last words, hoping they will be profound
- Oh, f**k!
- Dahl's last words, after being injected with morphine to help him die more easily.
- As quoted in Storyteller: The Authorized Biography of Roald Dahl (2011) by Donald Sturrock, p.561
- Dahl's last words, after being injected with morphine to help him die more easily.
- "There's enough chocolate in there to fill every bathtub in the entire country! And all the swimming pools as well!"
- Ch. 15, "The Chocolate Room"
- All page numbers are from the paperback edition, published by Puffin Books in 2007 ISBN 978-0-14-241032-5, 37th printing
- “We must hurry!” said Mr. Wonka. “We have so much time and so little to do! No! Wait! Strike that! Reverse it!”
- Chapter 1, "Mr. Wonka Goes Too Far" (p. 3)
- "It is very difficult to phone people in China, Mr. President," said the Postmaster General. "The country is so full of Wings and Wongs, every time you wing you get the wong number."
- Chapter 4, "The President" (p. 30)
- “Hooray!” said the Chief of the Army. “Let's blow everyone up! Bang-bang! Bang-bang!”
- Chapter 4, "The President" (p. 31)
- “It soon began to dawn on me
He wasn’t very bright,
Because when he was twenty-three
He couldn’t read or write.
‘What shall we do?’ his parents sob.
‘The boy has got the vapors!
He couldn’t even get a job
Delivering the papers!’
‘Ah-ha,’ I said, ‘this little clot
Could be a politician.’
‘Nanny,’ he cried, ‘Oh Nanny, what
A super proposition!’
‘Okay,’ I said, ‘let’s learn and note
The art of politics.
Let’s teach you how to miss the boat
And how to drop some bricks,
And how to win the people’s vote
And lots of other tricks.
Let’s learn to make a speech a day
Upon the T.V. screen,
In which you never never say
Exactly what you mean.
And most important, by the way,
Is not to let your teeth decay,
And keep your fingers clean.’
And now that I am eighty-nine,
It’s too late to repent.
The fault was mine the little swine
Became the President.”
- Chapter 9, "Gobbled Up" (pp. 63-65)
- “I’m afraid the camera got smashed against the side of the Space Hotel, Mr. President,” Shuckworth replied. The President said a very rude word into the microphone and ten million children across the nation began repeating it gleefully and got smacked by their parents.
- Chapter 9, "Gobbled Up" (p. 66)
- "A little nonsense now and then, is cherished by the wisest men.”
- Chapter 12, "Back to The Chocolate Factory" (p. 88)
- Not original to this work, the proverb dates from at least the 18th century.
Danny, the Champion of the World (1975)
- Grown-ups are quirky creatures, full of quirks and secrets.
- A Message to Children Who Have Read This Book - When you grow up and have children of your own, do please remember something important: a stodgy parent is no fun at all. What a child wants and deserves is a parent who is SPARKY.
My Uncle Oswald (1979)
- "I began to realize how important it was to be an enthusiast in life. If you are interested in something, no matter what it is, go at it full speed ahead. Embrace it with both arms, hug it, love it and above all become passionate about it. Lukewarm is no good. Hot is no good, either. White hot and passionate is the only thing to be."
- "The matter with human beans," the BFG went on, "is that they is absolutely refusing to believe in anything unless they is actually seeing it right in front of their own schnozzles."
- "Dreams is very mystical things," the BFG said. "Human beans is not understanding them at all. Not even their brainiest professors is understanding them."
- "Cool Dreams"
- Two rights don't equal a left.
- "Ah, but they is not killing their own kind," the BFG said. "Human beans is the only animals that is killing their own kind."
The Witches (1983)
- It doesn't matter who you are or what you look like so long as somebody loves you.
- "The Heart of a Mouse"
The Minpins (1991)
- Little Billy’s mother was always telling him exactly what he was allowed to do and what he was not allowed to do. All the things he was allowed to do were boring. All the things he was not allowed to do were exciting. One of the things he NEVER NEVER was allowed to do, the most exciting of them all, was to go out through the garden gate all by himself and explore the world beyond.
- And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don't believe in magic will never find it.
Quotes about Dahl
- In alphabetical order by author or source.
- [Initially referring to Dahl's attitude towards Jews.] This raises the question whether this is a man whose fictions should be allowed into our children's minds. But the point is that, as he hides himself away in his hit to play with the slapstick-horrific side of a child's imagination, he also sloughs off the world. Israel, his own life, modern novelists all slip away, leaving him to create in peace and innocence. He says he does not even observe his four grand children for inspiration — it all comes over him in the hut.
But this dissociation is not as neat as Dahl would like to believe. His own childhood traumas and adult misanthropy are all too obviously present in the books — passages from his autobiography read precisely like one of his stories. Life and Dahl's art do walk hand in hand, even if he has no desire or obligation to ponder the fact. The stories are not the detached fantasies he imagines. They are anti-authoritarian tracts.
And the truth is that Dahl himself should disapprove of his own books, for all his attitudes are those of a hard authoritarian, disgusted by indiscipline, television and all the other seductions of the modern world.
- [After his comments to Michael Coren in the 1983 interview cited above] Firmly but not rudely I told him that my father was Jewish, that my grandfather had won all sorts of medals in North Africa and Europe, that Jews fought in enormous numbers in all of the Allied armies, were often over- rather than under-represented, and that this slimy canard of Jewish cowardice was beneath him. At which point he coughed, mumbled something about "sticking together", and then promptly ended the interview.
- There was never any apology from Dahl, clearly because he thought that there was nothing to be sorry about. The paragraph of contrition on his official website took a very long time to come, and while my interview has been quoted every few years, Dahl’s reputation has hardly been trashed.
- Michael Coren "Roald Dahl’s anti-Semitism was grotesque. I should know – I saw it first hand" New Statesman (8 October 2021)
- Published following the acquisition by Netflix of the adaptation rights to Dahl's children's books.
- The Dahl family and the Roald Dahl Story Company deeply apologise for the lasting and understandable hurt caused by some of Roald Dahl's statements.
Those prejudiced remarks are incomprehensible to us and stand in marked contrast to the man we knew and to the values at the heart of Roald Dahl's stories, which have positively impacted young people for generations.
We hope that, just as he did at his best, at his absolute worst, Roald Dahl can help remind us of the lasting impact of words.
- Statement on the official Roald Dahl website, as cited in "Roald Dahl family sorry for author's anti-Semitic remarks" BBC News (6 December 2020)
- No matter how you spin it – and at times Donald Sturrock spins quite hard – Roald Dahl was an absolute sod. Crashing through life like a big, bad child he managed to alienate pretty much everyone he ever met with his grandiosity, dishonesty and spite. Tempered by the desire to be very wealthy, he was able to finesse this native nastiness into a series of compelling books for children who loved to see their anarchic inner world caught on paper.
- From a book review by Kathryn Hughes "Storyteller: The Life of Roald Dahl by Donald Sturrock" The Guardian (11 September 2010)
- My mother is English, and as she was the one who read to us, my early world was A. A. Milne, Beatrix Potter, Kenneth Grahame, Lewis Carroll and Roald Dahl. None of them thought it necessary to protect children from darkness. On the contrary, they guided their readers right toward it. This gives one an enormous sense of being respected as a child. Not just of being trusted to handle things as they are, but to be accepted as not entirely good. To be recognized as having darkness within oneself, too.
The 2023 "sensitivity readers" controversy
- In the original text of Matilda, there is a fantasy section where the heroine "goes on olden-day sailing ships with Joseph Conrad. She went to Africa with Ernest Hemingway, and India with Rudyard Kipling." That has now been changed, so that Matilda goes to "nineteenth century estates with Jane Austen. She went to Africa with Ernest Hemingway, and California with John Steinbeck."
I know why these have been changed. Austen is there so the authorial names aren't all men, and Kipling has been swapped for Steinbeck, as Rudyard is associated with British colonialism.
But here’s the problem. Nineteenth century estates, like the ones Austen wrote about, were mainly financed by the slave trade. John Steinbeck has been portrayed as a violent misogynist by his first wife. And Hemingway, who survived the sensitivity edit, was also a misogynist, and a mad trophy-hunter of magnificent wild animals. Oh, and by the way, a writer who describes a central character in The Sun Also Rises, as a "rich Jew" and a "kike".
Point being, if you dig deep enough, everyone, especially great writers and artists, is problematic. But in a universe where – sorry to say it - Jews don't count, some problems are, it seems bigger than others. These good progressive people making these edits deleting Kipling and Conrad because of their historically sinful associations are doing so to buff up the legacy of – I’m going to put this in italics - Roald Dahl.
- David Baddiel "Either cancel antisemitic Dahl completely or leave his books alone" The Jewish Chronicle (24 February 2023)
- When I think back over the most memorable parts of Dahl's work, it’s always the nastiness that lingers. ... The awful married couple at the center of The Twits subject each other to a campaign of relentless psychological harassment. The message of George’s Marvelous Medicine is "Why not brew up all the chemicals you can find in your house and feed the resulting concoction to your grandmother?" This is not an easy fit for an era when peanut packets carry a warning that they contain nuts.
- A few edits, though, are so contrary to the spirit of Dahl that they feel like a violation. In The Witches, for example, the protagonist's grandmother warns him to watch out for the evil women who rule the world. They are bald, and cover this up with wigs, as well as hiding their claws under gloves. The grandmother used to say: "You can't go round pulling the hair of every lady you meet, even if she is wearing gloves. Just you try it and see what happens." Instead, in the 2022 Puffin edition, she warns the youngster that "there are plenty of other reasons why women might wear wigs and there is certainly nothing wrong with that."
- Daughter and son became gleeful co-conspirators (and devout readers) of this remarkable writer, a World War II fighter pilot who once, having suffered a fractured skull in a crash, crawled away from the burning wreckage of his aircraft in a hail of machine-gun fire unleashed by the heat. After that, you could surely forgive Dahl a certain impatience with polite, adult society, and a mockingly macabre attitude to life, and death.
No such tolerance is to be extended, however, by po-faced Puffin. The publisher, for whom Dahl continues to make a fortune, has unleashed "sensitivity readers" – the cultural vandals formerly known as "censors" – on his work. As the Telegraph revealed, hundreds of changes have been made in Dahl's books despite ample evidence that millions of kids have grown up pretty well after being exposed to the trauma of words such as "ladies and gentlemen" (now rendered as "folks". Ugh), "fat", "hag" and "black" (even when it's the colour of a tractor, not a person, bizarrely).
- Allison Pearson "There is a real scandal in children’s books – and it has nothing to do with Roald Dahl" The Telegraph (22 February 2023)
- Roald Dahl was no angel but this is absurd censorship. Puffin Books and the Dahl estate should be ashamed.
- Tweet posted by Salman Rushdie, as cited in "Changes to Roald Dahl's classic children's books spark censorship spat" CNN Style (21 February 2023)
- He was a self confessed antisemite, with pronounced racist leanings, and he joined in the attack on me back in 1989 ... but thanks for telling me off for defending his work from the bowdlerizing Sensitivity Police.
- Slightly later tweet by Salman Rushdie as cited in "Salman Rushdie attacks Roald Dahl rewrites as ‘absurd censorship’" The Telegraph (19 February 2023)
- For "the attack on me back in 1989", the Iranian fatwa leading Rushdie to live in safe houses for a decade, see the Satanic Verses controversy.
- When it comes to our rich and varied literary heritage, the prime minister agrees with the BFG that we shouldn’t gobblefunk around with words. I think it's important that works of literature and works of fiction are preserved and not airbrushed. We have always defended the right to free speech and expression.
- Official spokesman for UK prime minister Rishi Sunak, as cited in Kevin Rawlinson Mabel Banfield-Nwachi and Sarah Shaffi "Rishi Sunak joins criticism of changes to Roald Dahl books" The Guardian (20 February 2023)
- Official website
- Roald Dahl Foundation website
- Roald Dahl Museum
- Roald Dahl on IMDb
- Roald Dahl at the Notable Names Database
- Find-A-Grave profile for Roald Dahl
- Bibliography at Fantastic Fiction
- Bibliography at ISFDB
- A guide to finding sources and literature about Roald Dahl, by Kelly Harkrader
- "The Candy Man" by Margaret Talbot in The New Yorker (11 July 2005)
- The Way Out television series