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-1970

Fantastic Mr Fox

Three horrid farmers - Boggis, Bunce and Bean - hate cunning Mr Fox, who outwits them at every turn. But poor Mr Fox and his friends don't realise how determined the farmers are to get them...

Roald Dahl lived with his family in Great Missenden, a village in Buckinghamshire, UK. Their house was surrounded by fields and woods. As a passionate lover of the countryside, there was one particular tree - known locally as "the witches tree" - that sat on the lane near the Dahl home and came to inspire one of Roald's own favourite stories: Fantastic Mr Fox.

The "witches tree" was a large, 150-year-old beech. Sadly the tree is no longer standing but when his children were growing up Roald always used to tell them that it was where Mr Fox and his family lived, in a hole beneath the trunk, just as the Fox family do in the story.

Published in 1970, the story of Mr Fox and his feud with Boggis, Bunce and Bean has gone on to inspire many other artists, including a 1998 operatic version of the story composed by Tobias Picker to a libretto by Donald Sturrock, and a critically acclaimed stop-motion film directed by Wes Anderson featuring the voices of George Clooney and Meryl Streep.

During the making of the film version of Fantastic Mr Fox, Wes Anderson returned to the Great Missenden countryside that had inspired the original story, staying with Roald's widow Felicity "Liccy" Dahl while he wrote the screenplay. 

In the original book Mr and Mrs Fox don't have first names, but in his version Wes gave Mrs Fox the name Felicity. Much of the film's art direction was inspired by the house and gardens where Roald had lived, and many of the scenes you will see in the finished film are based on places in the area including local pub The Nags Head, previously frequented by Roald himself. 

The model of The Nags Head made for Fantastic Mr Fox is now on display at the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre in Great Missenden, just down the road from the pub itself.

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-1971

The Night Digger

Maura Prince's life takes an unexpected turn with the arrival of young handyman Billy Jarvis - but Billy has some dark secrets...

The Night Digger was a film adaptation Joy Cowley's 1967 novel Nest in a Fallen Tree. Roald Dahl acquired the rights to the novel with the idea of adapting it into a film as a vehicle for his wife, the actress Patricia Neal, known to her family as Pat. 

At the time of filming, Pat had only recently recovered from a stroke that she suffered whilst three months pregnant with daughter Lucy. Roald wrote this into the screenplay, making the character of Maura - as played by Pat - a recovering stroke victim.

The film was directed by Alastair Reid. The production was troubled both for Pat and Roald, with the script undergoing many further changes. It was released in 1971 in the US to mediocre reviews. In the UK the film was released as The Road Builder.

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-1972

Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator

Willy Wonka has asked Charlie and the rest of the Bucket family to live with him. Now, moments after Charlie and the Chocolate Factory ended, we rejoin the adventure as the Great Glass Elevator blasts into outer space...

Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator is the sequel to one of the best-loved stories in children's literature. Published eight years after Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in 1972, it continues the story of Charlie Bucket, his family and the amazing Mr Willy Wonka. The book was dedicated to Roald's daughters Tessa, Ophelia and Lucy.

At first, Roald Dahl thought the word 'elevator' was too American, but the British word 'lift' seemed too boring. 'Air machine' was considered, but 'elevator' came out top in the end, although it is called a lift in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

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-1974

Switch Bitch

Four tales of seduction and suspense from the grand master of the short story...

Topping and tailing this collection are two stories featuring Roald Dahl's notorious hedonist Oswald Hendryks Cornelius (or Uncle Oswald) whose exploits are frequently as extraordinary as they are scandalous. The collection was first published in 1974 although some of the stories date from several years before - Uncle Oswald's first appearance was in The Visitor, written in 1964. The other two black comedies in Switch Bitch also explore a darker side of desire and pleasure.

The four stories included are:

  • The Visitor
  • The Great Switcheroo
  • The Last Act
  • Bitch

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-1975

Danny, the Champion of the World

Danny lives with his dad in a caravan at the edge of the wood. He thinks his dad is the best father in the world. But Danny doesn't know everything, and even his brilliant dad has secrets...

Like Fantastic Mr Fox, Danny, the Champion of the World was partially inspired by the Buckinghamshire countryside where Roald Dahl lived, from the filling station Danny's dad runs - based on the now-abandoned Red Pump Garage on Great Missenden High Street - to the woods where his dad gets trapped trying to poach pheasants belonging to Mr Victor Hazell. There are other real-life inspirations, too - the caravan Danny and his dad live in is based upon a real Romany gipsy caravan Roald acquired in the 1960s that was used as a playroom for the Dahl children. The book is dedicated to the whole family: Roald's then-wife, Patricia Neal, and his children Tessa, Theo, Ophelia and Lucy.

Danny, the Champion of the World, published in 1975, also features characters that make an appearance in other Roald Dahl stories, some older and some that were then yet-to-be written. Danny's dad, for example, first pops up in some of Roald's short stories for adults written as far back as the 1940s, and later published in the 1989 collection Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life. There was even one short story called The Champion of the World. 

There are other interesting similarities - and differences. In Danny the Champion of the World, Danny's father is called William (a name we first hear him called by local doctor and fellow pheasant-enthusiast Doc Spencer), but in the short stories that led to the creation of his character, he is called Gordon. A Mr Hazel (with one 'l' as opposed to two) also appears in some of the stories in the Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life collection. And perhaps most interestingly, the character of the BFG makes his first appearance in Danny, the Champion of the World in a bedtime story told to Danny by his father.

A 1989 film version of Danny the Champion of the World starred Jeremy Irons as Danny's dad. In this version, he is named William Smith and the film's action takes place in 1955, as opposed to the original book's 1970s setting. Other than these changes, the film follows the book's plot closely.

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-1977

The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar

Seven tales of the bizarre and unexpected - enter a brilliant, sinister and wholly unpredictable world...

In The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More, first published in 1977, Roald Dahl set out to create a collection of short stories for older children. The title story,The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar, is the longest in the collection. 

As well as four fictional stories it also includes The Mildenhall Treasure - an account written by Roald in 1946 about the discovery of a hoard of Roman silver found by Suffolk ploughman Gordon Butcher - as well as Lucky Break, Roald's account of how he became a writer, and A Piece of Cake, previously featured in the collection Over To You and included again here as a companion piece for Lucky Break.

The seven stories featured are:

  • The Boy Who Talked with Animals
  • The Hitch-hiker
  • The Mildenhall Treasure
  • The Swan
  • The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar
  • Lucky Break
  • A Piece of Cake

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-1978

The Enormous Crocodile

Crocodiles are such greedy creatures - and their favourite lunchtime snack happens to be a juicy child or two! The Enormous Crocodile isn't as smart as he thinks though, so he had better watch out...

As a young man, Roald Dahl lived in Africa. Not only did he have to avoid hungry crocodiles, but also marauding monkeys and deadly snakes. These experiences remained with him, and he remembered them when he came to write The Enormous Crocodile many years later.

The Enormous Crocodile was first published in 1978. It was the first book Roald wrote for younger children, and it was also the first of his stories to be illustrated by Quentin Blake - marking the beginning of a now legendary partnership.

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-1979

My Uncle Oswald

Meet Oswald Hendryks Cornelius. Aside from being thoroughly debauched, strikingly attractive and astonishingly wealthy, Uncle Oswald is the greatest bounder, bon vivant and fornicator of all time.

My Uncle Oswald is a comic novel for adults. Featuring a character Roald had first written about in the short story The Visitor, it introduces its readers to the unnamed narrator's uncle, telling the story of his early career and erotic education through the guise of the uncle's own diary.

My Uncle Oswald became a full-length novel after Playboy magazine - original publishers of The Visitor - asked Roald if he would be willing to contribute another Oswald story for their 25th anniversary edition. The story soon turned into a book and was published in 1979. Roald later described My Uncle Oswald as "the longest and dirtiest story" he had ever written.

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