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somewhere over the chocolate waterfall

August 17, 2012

It’s challenging to imagine how a World War II flying ace could go on to write about Oompa-

Loompas, Whangdoodles, a giant peach and a fantastic fox.  But if L. Frank Baum can ad-

vocate genocide AND create Munchkins, it’s simpler to ease on down that road.


Roald Dahl, best known for writing Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, was born in Wales

to Norwegian parents in 1916.  One of his first educational experiences was being caned

for putting a dead mouse in a jar of gobstoppers at a sweet shop.


He became known more as an athlete than a scholar.  One of his teachers noted that “I have

never meant someone who so persistently writes words meaning the exact opposite of what

is intended.”


In 1939, Dahl joined the Royal Air Force in Kenya.  With less than eight hours of practice,

he flew his first solo.  He attended advanced training in Iraq, but received no instruction

in aerial combat.  In September 1940, he was mistakenly sent into no man’s land between

Allied and Italian forces in Egypt.


Low on fuel, he crashed in the desert.  His skull was fractured and he was blinded, yet he

managed to crawl out of his burning plane.  When he had healed five months later, he was

reassigned to a base near Athens, Greece.  His first air fight occurred when he singlehand-

edly took on six Luftwaffe pilots, shooting down one.  He grounded another one the next



Four days later, Dahl and 11 other RAF pilots fought “The Battle of Athens”, downing 22

German planes.  His group lost five planes and four fliers, including Pat Pattle, the highest

decorated British Commonwealth ace of the war.


Shortly after that, Dahl began blacking out from severe headaches.  He was returned to

England.  When he was transferred to Washington, D.C., he started writing.  His first piece

to be published was about his desert crash.  He was asked to write it by C.S. Forester,

a fellow countryman who had moved to America to write propaganda encouraging the

U.S. to join the war effort.


Forester would later write many novels, including The African Queen and the Horatio

Hornblower series.


Dahl became involved in espionage, working with Canadian spymaster William Stephenson

and a British intelligence officer named Ian Fleming.  Fleming not only created the James

Bond series later; he, too, wrote a famous children’s book, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.


In 1953 Dahl married Patricia Neal.  She had already won the first Tony ever as Best Fea-

tured Actress for appearing in Another Part of the Forest, and would win an Oscar as Best

Actress for her role in Hud in 1963.


The couple produced five children.  Daughter Olivia died of measles encephalitis at age 7.

Four-month-old son Theo’s baby carriage was hit by a taxi, causing him to suffer from

hydrocephalus.  Dahl helped develop a valve to drain the excessive cerebrospinal fluid

from the brain.


In 1965, Neal had three burst cerebral aneurysms when she was carrying their last child.

Dahl took charge of her recovery, helping her regain her ability to walk and talk.  The two

divorced in 1983 and Dahl married Felicity Crosland.  He died in 1990.


According to his granddaughter Sophie, Dahl had “sort of a Viking funeral”.  He was buried

with his snooker cues, some burgundy, pencils, a power saw and — of course — chocolates.

  1. wkmtca permalink
    August 17, 2012 7:54 pm

    well there was an interesting life.. and what is better than to have an interesting life…

  2. August 18, 2012 12:43 pm

    Man I love reading your posts as they are much much better than anything I had to read in school involving history. I am totally hooked!!! What’s next????

    • August 19, 2012 9:17 am

      I’m never quite sure. There have been days when I’ve sat down at the keyboard not knowing what I’d talk about. But I certainly appreciate your readership.

  3. wkmtca permalink
    August 19, 2012 7:43 pm least you write something a few times a week. i appreciate that. i read (or check) about 20 – 30 blogs a day.. i am still checking on one where the person died in december… she writes more than some of the others..

    • August 20, 2012 8:40 am

      She died in December and she’s still writing?

      • Gordon permalink
        August 20, 2012 10:38 am

        Just more than some of the others, I bet.

      • August 22, 2012 8:48 pm

        yes.. she writes as much as some of the others.. nothing at all.. at least she has a reason.. and i bet she would love to be able to write her blog again..

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