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The Life Of Roald Dahl

The life and times of the one-of-a-kind children’s writer.

Children’s storyteller Roald Dahl was as dark and fabulous as they come.

His enormously popular books – “The BFG,” “James and the Giant Peach,” “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and many more – have been read to millions of children around the world.

But as every parent – and child – knows, these are not cute little stories. Horrible, peculiar, nasty things happen all the time. They happened to Roald Dahl, too.

Family dying. Planes crashing. He had charm, a big mean streak, and irresistible talent.

Today, we hear the story of the storyteller, Roald Dahl. And his daughter’s here.

-Tom Ashbrook


Donald Sturrock, author of “Storyteller: The Authorized Biography of Roald Dahl.” He is a former producer and director at the BBC Television’s Music and Arts Department, where he directed a biopic about Roald Dahl.  He was also artistic director of the Roald Dahl Foundation, where he created a library of new orchestral works and operas for children based on the stories of Roald Dahl.

Ophelia Dahl is the fourth of five children of Roald Dahl and actress Patricia Neal. She is co-founder and executive director of Partners in Health, which works to improve health in poor communities and has been especially active in Haiti.

Sam Anderson, book critic for New York Magazine. His article titled “Big Sometimes Friendly Giant: Roald Dahl – the storyteller as benevolent sadist,” was published earlier this month.

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  • figures

    It figurew that on point will broadcast a show about the Jew hater Roald Dahl (he said that the Jews were at fault for the holocaust).

    It seems that there is no scumbag Jew hater (Chomsky, etc.) that you will not broadcast or talk about.

    Shame on you.

  • Figures

    Here is a quote from yout precious racist Dahl.

    “Dahl told a reporter in 1983, “There’s a trait in the Jewish character that does provoke animosity … I mean there is always a reason why anti-anything crops up anywhere; even a stinker like Hitler didn’t just pick on them for no reason.”[44″ Roald Dahl

  • emily

    THANK YOU for this show about Roald Dahl. I am now 29 years old, and I read his books over and over as a child. They held a humor, and an honesty, that appealed to me then–and appeals to me now. I hope you will also touch upon Quentin Blake’s wonderful illustrations.

  • Kathryn

    Yes, because people are static beings and sound bites are reliable for understanding someone’s opinion or ideas.
    Who are you to judge?

  • Mark

    If one does not like Roald Dahl, then do not listen to the program. It’s a simple as that.

    I must admit to being unfamiliar with Dahl’s alleged anti-Semitism, but I do know that he wrote some of the greatest childrens books of all time, so I will be listening.

  • Robert B. Pierce

    How can forget the nifty “horror” stories Roald Dahl wrote in the ’40s and ’50s? Tales such as “Man From the South,” “Galloping Foxley,” “Lamb to the Slaughter,” “Neck,” “Skin,” and “Taste” are hard to forget.

  • Leah

    I love love love Roald Dahl’s stories, including his adult short stories. They were such an important part of my childhood (reading by the light of my digital clock). His books are so important to me that I always give a copy of “James and the Giant Peach” (my favorite) to new parents. Thank you for highlighting his work.

  • Christopher

    I have read many, many of the children’s classics to my twin children (age 9). James and the Giant Peach has been our favorite along with the “Little House” series.

  • Ellen Dibble

    Speaking of anti-semitism, does it lurk under the plots Dahl wrote? Hmm. I wonder how many children’s writers were/are racists?
    It is interesting to see the way re-confronting difficulties in childhood can inform children’s literature, can spark its creation.
    I guess I sort of assume writers absorb a lot of the biases and attitudes of those around them. Don’t we all. Do any of you recall the anti-semitism that existed during his lifetime? I can’t speak for England, only New England.

  • Ellen Dibble

    Consider Peter and the Wolf. Horrifying. Absolutely horrifying. Any illustration on the cover will terrify any child.
    Consider Beatrix Potter’s The Roly Poly Pudding. The cat that was wrapped up and tied and — was it eaten? Absolutely terrifying. I can’t get that picture out of my head either.

  • Dora Coates

    As youths we LOVED reading “Kiss Kiss”!! Thought the weird and dark stories were the best. Later I saw he wrote childrens’ books which I bought for my children.

  • Ward Cheney

    To Ophelia Dahl, I’m asking this as a father of a daughter, now twenty-six-years old: What of him do you carry with you? What has been and continues to be useful to you. Useful, however you wish to define it.

  • Ellen Dibble

    Of callousness in Dahl’s stories. I was reading in Jeff Kinney’s website or reviews of his work (Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, mainly for middle school age boys), that boys are not interested in relationships; they are interested in their impact on the world.
    OMG. Isn’t that the same thing? The implication was that girls and girl readers want to read about relationships and emotions, while boys want to read about action. I was astonished because I thought Kinney was nailing it as to emotion and relationship in a way no other writer does.
    Dahl included. I didn’t see boy-style observations of the world-boy interface. Kinney is saying the world has a lot of surprises for children, both interpersonally and, um, scientifically.
    I am not one who “gets” a lot about story-telling or the world at large from Dahl, but I read it. I’m curious about who does get this or that from it and why.

  • judy k. (judy kummer )

    As a child, I loved his books. I think he got many kids to read who might not have otherwise. He also got many folks to imagine in wondrous ways. I think of him now as the J.K. Rowling of our time.

  • Mari

    It is so annoying to have this long pledge break right in the middle of a fascinating segment of On Point. I would abstain from giving, myself, just because of this.

    On Dahl: Does the biographer believe him to have been a narcissist? Does Ophelia?

  • Mari

    “Success did not mellow my husband. Quite the contrary, it only enforced his conviction that although life was a two-lane street, he had the right of way.” – The late, great Patricia Neal

    I guess that answers my question.

  • John

    The pledging should just be frequent but brief announcements at every scheduled break (like they do for the underwriting). The begging is painful to listen to.

  • Jennifer

    My family was in a phase where we made celebrity Mii’s(avatar for the Nintendo Wii). My seven-year-old daughter made a “Roald Dahl” “Mii”. It’s great playing tennis with him.

  • Liza

    I enjoyed these books both as a child and now again as an adult(over and over again) with my children. Of course, this is a matter of taste, but I feel that the dark side of Dahl’s books and the question of their appropriateness for children has been overblown here. Children are aware of both the dark and light sides of life, and able to understand and relate to much more than we often give them credit for. And when written with so much humor, the darkness of some of these stories is nicely balanced. Who ever met a child munching crocodile that spoke in humorous rhyme anyway? Dahl’s books are treasures to be enjoyed by those of all ages.

  • hmw

    Roald Dahl was and is one of my favorite authors, a master of his craft. Yet in the middle of all his dark works is “The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar”, a beautifully optimistic short story that I would love to believe is true, even though I know it is fiction. This work stands out for me and to me is on the same level as his great childrens’ work.

  • Jacob

    People can love Dahl’s stories just they love the Arthurian stories of Mallory, but they shouldn’t forget that one was a Jwe hater as Figure says and the other was a rapist who spent years in jail for abusing women.

  • Joshua Hendrickson

    Ellen Dibble:

    I’m with you on Beatrix Potter’s THE ROLY POLY PUDDING. That one got under my skin as well. It wasn’t just the cat getting rolled up; it was the whole labyrinthian nature of the house’s secret mouseholes and chimneys and such–it seemed like a place where anything could happen, and what we did see happen was of a dark nature, which colored those possibilities. Looking back, I see that story as an influence on my development as a writer.

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    Uh, what just happened?  You announced a program about special effects in movies, but now you’ve switched to this?

  • Obliopia

    This sucks! What happened to the original story of Sci-Fi films?

  • Obliopia

    This is a repeat from Sept of 2010. Boooooooooooo. GooodBye

  • Erin from Cambridge

    My third grade teacher read “Boy”, a book of true stories from Roald Dahl’s childhood, aloud to us. I think it was the first time I started to understand that there were real people behind books, and that the stories came from their real lives. For a nine year old who loved to read and wanted to write, the idea that I could write about my own experience instead of making things up out of thin air was revolutionary. That idea is not immediately apparent to kids, and Roald Dahl brought it to life.

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    On Point, you owe us an explanation.  What happened to the science fiction movies program?

  • Taryn

    I have been a lifelong fan of Dahl, and the illustrations that seemed to so perfectly convey the flippant tone of his stories. Could you talk about the origin of his relationship with the illustrator, Quentin Blake? 

  • Eve

    I grew up in France, reading Roald Dahl in translation, when I had children in America, I could not wait to read with /to them Roald Dahl.  The human emotions are all true, magic happens to erase evil, as it should…it reminds us of the strength and infinite resources of human beings.  A good lesson to learn early in life.

  • Dh001g

    My wife got me a book of Roald Dahl short stories for Christmas. Those are dark. Great but almost misanthropic. I think he had a very clear idea of what humans were capable for good and bad. I think his children’s stories just help prepare children for life.

  • Gretta

    My husband and i loved Roald Dahl’s books as kids. But something magical has happened as our quirky 6 year old daughter has started reading them. She has always had a rich and vivid imaginary life, but Dahl’s books have allowed her to find another voice like hers, and she has developed a most rich sense of humor: it is as if his words have given her permission to see the world as a hilarious, naughty, and fantastical place.

  • Jeannie Boyce

    Hi Ophelia and Tom,
    My grown children and I are dyslexic.  My children listened to all of Roald Dahl’s stories on audio tapes later to read them. The great visualizations created their link to learning how to read.  Imagination is a gift that is a birth right of all children.  So many of us are fortunate to have imaginations that have been nurtured by Roald Dahl.
    PIH is a wonderful organization.  Ophelia’s parents gifted her with the ability to nurture others through her PIH work.  Thank you to the Dahls for bettering this world.
    Jeannie Boyce

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    People, this is a rebroadcast.  You can’t ask the guests questions today.

  • Carriechalmers6694

    One of the first books I read on my own as a child was James and the Giant Peach. I was mesmerized from the first page, and it launched a love for reading, an obsession with ripe peaches , and a fascination with insects. Now I read his books to my children and we laugh! And, when they are sick they lie on the couch and listen to him reading the audio book version of Fantastic Mr. fox. What a voice. what a storyteller

  • Ken O’Brien

    Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the Harry Potter books.  But it never really lived up to those first few chapters where J.K. Rowling is basically channeling Roald Dahl: odd boy abused and made to live under the stairs by his nasty relatives and who has odd powers that seem to spring up from time to time.  James? Matilida?

  • http://onpoint.wbur.org/about-on-point/sam-gale-rosen Sam Gale Rosen

    For those bummed about Douglas Trumbull and special effects being pushed off: us too.  He ran into icy roads and couldn’t get to the studio on time.  But he’ll be here Monday second hour.

    • Obliopia

      Thank You  :)

    • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

       It would have been better for you to have announced that on air and on the website, rather than just bumping the program in secret.

    • Hidan

       Still a cool show anyways. better to reschedule than risk an accident.

      Good call with The Life Of Roald Dahl


  • james

    I wanted to ask if you thought Roald Dahl would have like either of the film versions of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

  • J. Arnon

    Thank you “Figures”

    I was just going to post that quote.

    Here are some others:

    “In 1983, the British periodical Literary Review published a book review by Mr. Dahl in which he referred to “those powerful American Jewish bankers” and charged that the United States Government was “utterly dominated by the great Jewish financial institutions over there.”Later that same year, defending these outrageous statements, Mr. Dahl stated in an interview that was published in the British magazine New Statesman:”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 there is always a reason why anti-anything crops up anywhere; even a stinker like Hitler didn’t just pick on them for no reason.””

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