Last week, I finally finished Donald Sturrock’s Storyteller: The Authorized Biography of Roald Dahl. I highly recommend it. In addition to being well-written and carefully researched, it’s a heck of a story. In it, you’ll encounter such facts as these:
- During World War II, Dahl was a spy. (This has previously been documented in Jennet Conant’s The Irregulars: Roald Dahl and the British Spy Ring in Wartime Washington.)
- Dahl knew many people, including President and Eleanor Roosevelt, Ernest Hemingway, Walt Disney, Lillian Hellman, and Alfred A. Knopf. Though he was conservative, Dahl was friends with Henry Wallace — U.S. Vice President during Roosevelt’s third term, and Progressive Party candidate for president in 1948.
- He was an egotistical, aggressive person who alienated many former friends and editors. Indeed, he enjoyed getting a rise of out of people. He liked to say things that provoked others.
- He was also an extraordinarily generous person — both to people he knew and to people he did not know.
- As a result of crashing his RAF plane during the Second World War, Dahl was in constant pain for much of his life. (The pain may be one of the reasons he could be such a difficult person.)
- Dahl’s medical adventures display his mix of original thinking and tenacity. Believing that natural teeth were more trouble than they were worth, he had all his teeth removed and replaced with false ones. He convinced others to do the same. When a New York cab shattered his infant son Theo’s skull, Dahl devoted himself to the boy’s recovery, helping to invent the Dahl-Wade-Till valve: this helped expel the excess cerebrospinal fluid that was leaking into his body. It was used successfully on over 3,000 children. His unrelenting efforts in helping first wife Patricia Neal recover from a stroke were both cruel and effective. She was able to return to acting within a couple of years.
- Charlie (of Chocolate Factory fame) was originally a “small NEGRO boy.” In light of the whole Oompa-Loompa controversy, this is a fascinating detail.
- Dahl’s last words were “Ow, fuck!”
If you’ve any interest in Dahl’s work or life, definitely check out Sturrock’s biography. It’s a great read about a complex, creative, aggravating author. The book has inspired me to seek Dahl novels and stories that I’ve not read. Having learned so much about the man, I’d like to read more of his work.