Happy Birthday Mr. Dahl

‘The small girl smiles. One eyelid flickers.
She whips a pistol from her knickers.’

One can be forgiven for not recognising this as a passage from Little Red Riding Hood, albeit an unconventional version of the story. Of course, Roald Dahl’s stories could never be accused of being conventional.

Photo of legendary children's author, Roald Dahl

Legendary children’s author, Roald Dahl

Today, 13 September, is Roald Dahl Day which coincides every year with the author’s birthday. This year it is made all the more special as it also marks the 30th anniversary of the BFG.

Born in Wales to Norwegian parents and eventually settling in England, Dahl led a varied life serving as a pilot in the Royal Airforce before embarking on his decades-long writing career.

His first work, published in the 1940s, was based on his experiences of war but it’s his children’s books that captured the hearts and imaginations of youngsters the world over.

Image of the 'BFG' (Big Friendly Giant)

The ‘BFG’ (Big Friendly Giant)

Every day for 30 years Roald Dahl religiously visited his writing hut where he concocted his magical stories. A quaint DIY structure at the bottom of his garden, the hut was erected by his friend from bricks and polystyrene blocks. It is said he allowed no-one else in there.

In 2011 the hut made headlines in the UK when his granddaughter Sophie Dahl, a famous model and author in her own right, called out for public donations of a considerable sum to have the hut relocated to a museum.

Although Dahl is a much-loved author in Britain, the public baulked at the plea, wondering how continuing royalties from his books wouldn’t cover the cost. But back to the man and his dark-humoured creations.

Little Red Riding Hood is not the only fairytale that succumbed to the wit of Roald Dahl’s pen. Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk and The Three Little Pigs have all been treated to makeovers by his deliciously colourful imagination. This trademark wickedness is a common trait amongst the characters in his books from Matilda’s nasty adversaries to the spoilt, golden ticket-winning children in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Image of Charlie Bucket eating chocolate in 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory'

Charlie Bucket from ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’

With the popularity of Dahl’s stories came their transfer to the big screen and his characters lost none of their charm in the translation. Charlie Bucket’s story has been told twice in films made almost 30 years apart; Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971) and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005), with iconic actors Gene Wilder and Johnny Depp respectively lending their eccentricities to the role of Willy Wonka.

Here’s a reminder of that scrumdiddlyumptious adventure that many of us have taken:

James and the Giant Peach (1996) received a different filmic treatment, a delightful mix of live action, featuring Ab Fab alumnus Joanna Lumley and British actor Pete Postlethwaite, and stop animation voiced by Simon Callow, Richard Dreyfuss and Susan Sarandon.

More recently Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009), an animation deemed by the Guardian as ‘eccentric, whip-smart and very funny’, employed some big guns of the film industry including director Wes Anderson (The Royal Tenenbaums and Moonrise Kingdom) and the voices of George Clooney and Meryl Streep.

The retelling of Dahl’s stories doesn’t end there. Matilda, released as a film in 1996 is currently playing on Broadway as a musical, presented by England’s renowned Royal Shakespeare Company with songs and lyrics by our own Tim Minchin.

Mr.Fox holding a lantern underground in the 'Fantastic Mr. Fox'

A still from ‘Fantastic Mr. Fox’

Although Roald Dahl passed away in 1990, his legacy lives on through his books and the films they inspired. Happy birthday Mr. Dahl!


Celebrate this legendary children’s author with us and catch a film in our special Kids’ Flicks Roald Dahl Season, playing now until Sunday 27 October.

The season is presented in association with the British Council Australia as part of GREAT Britain Arts 13.

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