Roald Dahl is one of the most famous authors of children’s stories in the world, and since he was born in Cardiff on 13 September 1916 he is considered a native son of Wales, which the Welsh are justifiably proud of.
However, this is cheating a bit; he was the son of two Norwegian immigrants and even spoke Norwegian rather than English at home as a little boy. Considering the huge celebrations occurring in Cardiff to celebrate his life as a Welsh author, I don’t bring up the fact he was actually Norwegian a whole lot around here.
I’m not a complete idiot, you know.
My daughters are doing all sorts of things at their school to commemorate the great writer’s 100th birthday, but here I’ll honor him by mentioning some of the lesser known facts about his life that deserve a spotlight of their own.
He was a WWII fighter pilot, and his “record of five aerial victories, qualifying him as a flying ace, has been confirmed by post-war research and cross-referenced in Axis records, although it is most likely that he scored more than that during 20 April 1941 when 22 German aircraft were shot down”.
In 1953 he married an actress, Patricia Neal, and when she had three ruptured intracranial aneurysms during her 5th pregnancy in 1965 Dahl dedicated himself to her rehabilitation with such vigor that she was able to go back to acting afterwards.
If he had been a writer he would have been a brilliant doctor. Not only did he help his wife recover after her brain was damaged, when his baby son was injured Dahl helped invent the “Wade-Dahl-Till” (or WDT) valve, a device to drain fluid off of the brain of children suffering from hydrocephalus.
Dahl was also a profound advocate of childhood immunizations. His eldest daughter Olivia died of measles encephalitis at age seven in 1962, and he made it his life’s mission to encourage immunizations so that no one else would have to endure losing a child to measles.
Of course, no one is perfect. In 1983 he left his wife and married his mistress, Felicity “Liccy” Ann d’Abreu Crosland. (Interesting side note: Dahl’s second wife’s mother’s maiden name was Throckmorton, and she was a descendant of the instigators of the Throckmorton Plot that tried to murder Queen Elizabeth I and replace her with Mary Queen of Scots.) He also said some remarkably anti-Semitic things in the when he was irked by Israel’s attack on Lebanon in 1982. However, several of his Jewish friends defended him vociferously, claiming that Dahl was speaking from vexation rather than ethnic hatred. Still, he did edge perilously close to hate speech in his vehemence. He also hated the 1971 movie version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory wherein Gene Wilder played Willy Wonka, which is ludicrous because that is a great movie.
Regardless of all his other accomplishments or flaws, Roald Dahl’s greatest legacy is one that came from pure imagination.