Here’s What It Was Like to Have Roald Dahl for a Father

We spoke to his youngest daughter, Lucy, about her dad’s creativity, his bedtime stories, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

charlie-chocolate-factory-dahl
Photo by amazon.com

Children’s author Roald Dahl is known for his beloved classic stories, which continue to delight and inspire children (and adults!) decades later. To commemorate what would have been his 100th birthday on September 13, his youngest daughter Lucy reflects on his legacy in literature.

What was it like growing up in the Dahl household?
My friends from school loved coming to our house, because there was always something fun going on. And if there wasn’t, then something was being invented, or built and the food at our house was always delicious because nothing was normal. My father used green and blue coloring in milk, to make “witch’s potions,” a delicious concoction that my sister and I sipped on at bedtime, while dad told us stories. What we didn’t know then, was that he was developing his characters with each bedtime story; watching our reactions, carefully noticing what made us laugh or sit up or even sometimes yawn.

Why do you think your father’s books continue to resonate with generation after generation of readers?
I have heard many stories from (now) adults, about when they were children, and their parents were fighting, or something was wrong, that they would reach for James and the Giant Peach and feel reassured and comforted. My father’s stories usually contained an underdog, a person of authority, and a powerless child. This plot method has been and always will be something that children identify with.

It’s clear from reading his books that your father was a very creative person. Where do you think that came from?
He was born a creative man. He was inspired by the people he had encountered throughout his life—his mother, sisters, school teachers, friends, and, also, the countryside, which he was surrounded by at home in England.

Where did your father like to write?
My father always wrote on a very strict schedule in a small brick hut at the end of our garden. He called it “my little nest.” The exterior was painted white and the door was yellow. He covered the windows with sheets of white plastic, hung like curtains because he said that if he could see out of the windows, he spent too much time daydreaming, while watching the birds and rabbits in the orchard. He sat in an old chair that had belonged to his mother, kept warm with an old down sleeping bag and rested his feet upon an old leather chest filled with wood.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is one of his most popular books. What can you share about its creation?
My father was very much like Willy Wonka himself. He loved chocolate and inventing things. The idea for the character of Charlie was planted when he was at boarding school. Once a term, Cadbury’s Chocolate would send a small box with 12 new inventions; each one was numbered from 1 to 12 and a card was inside the box, carefully numbered, so that the boys could give each new chocolate invention their opinion. He imagined, at that time, as a young boy, that there was a room filled with men, plotting and planning then next great chocolate bar that Cadbury’s would produce. He drew much of the inspiration for the book from this idea.

Find out which Roald Dahl birthday events are happening in your area here.