The Inspirational Innovator – Roald Dahl

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Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka and Peter Ostrum as Charlie Bucket on the set of the fantasy film 'Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory', based on the book by Roald Dahl, 1971. (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)

Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka and Peter Ostrum as Charlie Bucket on the set of the fantasy film ‘Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory’, based on the book by Roald Dahl, 1971. (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)

Things you might not know about Roald Dahl

Roald Dahl is one of Britain’s most beloved writers, the creator of more than 20 children’s books including MatildaCharlie and the Chocolate Factory and The BFG. But did you know that Roald Dahl was also a medical innovator and a Second World War spy?

Roald Dahl’s first story for children wasn’t James and the Giant Peach but The Gremlins

While James and the Giant Peach (1961) was Dahl’s first novel aimed at children, The Gremlins (1943) “has a very good claim to being Roald Dahl’s first piece of writing for children” according to Inspired by pilots’ folklore tales, the story is about creatures responsible for mechanical failures on aeroplanes, garnered during his time in the RAF.

The Gremlins was first published as a short magazine story then, marketed for children, as a book by Walt Disney, who decided to turn it into a film. It is thought that the 1984 film Gremlins, directed by Joe Dante and produced by Steven Spielberg, is loosely inspired by Dahl’s story.

Like Charlie, Roald Dahl was himself a schoolboy chocolate-tester

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, published in the US in 1964, was inspired by Dahl’s time at the famous public school Repton. While boarding there, Dahl and his classmates had been guinea pigs of the chocolate-making company Cadbury: each year, Roald and his friends would be sent Cadbury’s newest creations to test. “It was then I realised that inside this great Cadbury’s chocolate factory there must be an inventing room, a secret place where fully grown men and women in white overalls spent all their time playing around with sticky boiling messes, sugar and chocs, and mixing them up and trying to invent something new and fantastic,” he wrote.

Dahl’s famous tale was adapted for the silver screen as Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, released in 1971. Roald’s biographer Donald Sturrock claims that, among other things, Roald “regretted that the producers had chosen neither Spike Milligan nor Peter Sellers to play the role [of Willy Wonka]”. Instead, Gene Wilder was cast.

Some of Dahl’s most popular works underwent a number of early drafts

James and the Giant Peach, Dahl’s first novel aimed at children, was reportedly almost called James and the Giant Cherry, but was changed because Dahl said a peach was “prettier, bigger and squishier than a cherry”. The first draft is also much scarier than the published book – in the original version, James meets a witch who wants to cut off his legs in exchange for magic green crystals.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory went through several early drafts. In one, Charlie Bucket visited Willy Wonka’s home and fell into a chocolate mould, while in another 10 children visited the factory (rather than the five who appeared in the published book), according to

In early drafts of The BFG, Roald Dahl “described the BFG as wearing big black boots and a leather apron. However, after seeing Quentin Blake’s preliminary drawings, Roald Dahl didn’t think this looked right,” says A few days later Dahl sent Quentin one of his own Norwegian sandals. “If you look closely at the pictures of the BFG, you’ll see that he’s wearing the same ones.”

The author said of his 1988 novel Matilda: “I had awful trouble with it… I got it wrong… the main character, the little girl kept changing”. At first, says, “Matilda was a wicked child who plagued her poor, kind parents and caused havoc at school, ultimately redeeming herself through helping her teacher – an early version of Miss Honey – get out of financial difficulty by fixing a horse race.” The author quickly realised his mistake and rewrote what would become his last long children’s book.

Roald Dahl was a medical innovator

He is best remembered for his writing for children, but you might be surprised to learn that Dahl contributed to the invention of the modern ventricular catheter and shunt valves used in neurosurgery.

The innovation came in the wake of personal tragedy. In December 1960, while the family was living in New York City, Dahl’s four-month-old-son Theo was hit by a taxi and suffered traumatic brain injury. As a result Theo developed a medical condition called hydrocephalus – a build-up of fluid on the brain.

Adapted from the following article: 10 Things you might not know about Roald Dahl


Here is the full list of all his works, broken down by category and listed in order of publication. In total, there are 39 works listed here that were created by Roald Dahl directly, and an additional seven anthologies and further collected writings inspired by his work.

Books, stories, curated collections, and other published works

  1. The Gremlins (1943)
  2. Over To You (1946)
  3. Some Time Never (1948)
  4. Someone Like You (1953)
  5. Kiss Kiss (1960)
  6. James and the Giant Peach (1961)
  7. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1964)
  8. The Magic Finger (1966)
  9. Fantastic Mr Fox (1968)
  10. Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator (1972)
  11. Switch Bitch (1974)
  12. Danny, the Champion of the World (1975)
  13. The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More (1977)
  14. The Enormous Crocodile (1978)
  15. My Uncle Oswald (1979)
  16. The Twits (1980)
  17. George’s Marvellous Medicine (1981)
  18. Revolting Rhymes (1982)
  19. The BFG (1982)
  20. Dirty Beasts (1983)
  21. The Witches (1983)
  22. Roald Dahl’s Book of Ghost Stories (1983)
  23. Boy: Tales of Childhood (1984)
  24. The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me (1985)
  25. Two Fables (1985)
  26. Going Solo (1986)
  27. Matilda (1988)
  28. Rhyme Stew (1989)
  29. Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life (1989)
  30. Esio Trot (1990)
  31. The Vicar of Nibbleswicke (1991)
  32. The Minpins (1991)
  33. Roald Dahl’s Guide to Railway Safety (1991)
  34. My Year (1991)

Play scripts and film screenplays

  1. The Honeys (stage play, 1955)
  2. You Only Live Twice (film screenplay, 1967)
  3. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (co-wrote film screenplay, 1968)
  4. The Night Digger (film screenplay, 1971)
  5. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (co-wrote film screenplay, 1971)

Anthologies and collections co-written by Roald Dahl or inspired by his writings

  1. The Roald Dahl Cookbook (1991)
  2. Revolting Recipes (1994)
  3. The Roald Dahl Treasury (1997)
  4. Even More Revolting Recipes (2001)
  5. Songs and Verse (2005)
  6. More About Boy (2008)
  7. Completely Revolting Recipes (2009)

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