Roald Dahl is estimated to have sold over 255 million books in 58 languages to the present day, with a copy of his books selling every 2.6 seconds somewhere in the world. In September, 2021, Netflix paid his estate "a little over" £500 million for the Roald Dahl Story Company, owner of rights to Dahl's characters and stories, to create what has been called the Netflix "Wonkaverse".
Dahl's continuing readership success comes through books such as James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Magic Finger, Fantastic Mr Fox, The Twits, George's Marvellous Medicine, The BFG, The Witches and Matilda.
While Matthew Dennison is not as analytical as Jeremy Treglown's incisive 1994 biography and Donald Sturrock's authorised 2010 biography in 2010, he does provide an up-to-date, compact study, which balances the positives and negatives of Roald Dahl's complex life.
Dahl had a colourful life, which included a troubled childhood, an education at boarding schools which taught him "the link between cruelty and laughter", derring-do as a pilot, womanising and spying for Britain in World War II Washington, allegations of anti-Semitism and bullying, family medical tragedies and, of course, the publishing success.
Dahl's father and sister died by the time he was four and his eldest daughter Olivia died of measles at the age of seven. Although often a distant and unfaithful husband, he cared for his first wife, the actor Patricia Neal, after her brain hemorrhage in 1965. Dahl became her "browbeating Pygmalion" to maintain the required intensive speech and physical therapy. Dennison argues that these family tragedies impacted Dahl's life and writings, the latter, however, allowing him to transcend his personal grief.
His fictional characters were decidedly black-and-white, with Dahl saying, "I like villains to be terrible and good people to be very good". Dennison reflects, "At its best, Roald's writing, both for children and adults is lyrical, hilarious, vivid, unpredictable, tender and utterly absorbing: his darkest fictions portray without regret a world of cruelty, cynicism, misanthropy and caprice".
Like Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl was often overlooked by the literary establishment, who envied his huge commercial success. He took solace by commenting, "I make things to please children. I don't care about grown-ups."
Dennison writes that Dahl's fiction "has convinced generations of child readers that, in a world of adult menace, the author is on their side". Dahl aimed "to turn the child into a reader of books". This he clearly did in his lifetime and continues to do so.
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