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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. 

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-1981

George's Marvellous Medicine

George's nasty old grandma needs teaching a lesson. George decides the best remedy for her grumpiness is a special home-made medicine. But Grandma gets more than she bargained for!

In George's Marvellous Medicine, published in 1981, George Kranky's Grandma may not anticipate the results of the medicine fed to her by her grandson, but like George, Roald Dahl also had fun mixing marvellous concoctions. He called them witches potions and delivered them to his children just before bedtime. They included ingredients like tinned peaches blended with milk and either pink, blue or green food colouring. His were put together carefully, though - none of the nasty side effects George's Grandma experienced...

Roald once said that, had he not become a famous writer, he would have loved to have been a doctor. In fact, after his son, Theo, had an accident in the early 1960s that led him to develop hydrocephalus (or "water on the brain"), Roald helped to create the Wade-Dahl-Till (WDT) valve. This was a cerebral shunt designed to more effectively drain excess fluid from the brains of hydrocephalus patients. By the time the WDT valve was ready for use Theo had recovered enough that he didn't need it, but it went on to be used in countless operations.

Today, Roald Dahl's Marvellous Children's Charity continues this work, helping seriously ill children and young people to live a fuller and happier life.

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-1983

Roald Dahl’s Book of Ghost Stories

Fourteen terrifying ghost stories chosen by the master of the macabre, Roald Dahl.

"Spookiness is the real purpose of the ghost story. It should give you the creeps and disturb your thoughts..."

So says Roald Dahl in the introduction to this collection, originally published in 1983. Roald Dahl's Book of Ghost Stories brings together 14 of his favourite spine-chillers, carefully chosen after a lot of research - Roald read 749 stories altogether before choosing his final selection.

The 14 stories collected in this anthology are:

  • Introduction by Roald Dahl
  • W.S. by L. P. Hartley
  • Harry by Rosemary Timperley
  • The Corner Shop by Cynthia Asquith
  • In the Tube by E. F. Benson
  • Christmas Meeting by Rosemary Timperley
  • Elias and the Draug by Jonas Lie
  • Playmates by A. M. Burrage
  • Ringing the Changes by Robert Aickman
  • The Telephone by Mary Treadgold
  • The Ghost of a Hand by J. Sheridan Le Fanu
  • The Sweeper by A. M. Burrage (Ex–Private X)
  • Afterward by Edith Wharton
  • On the Brighton Road by Richard Middleton
  • The Upper Berth by F. Marion Crawford.

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-1985

The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me

The Ladderless Window-Cleaning Company has just moved in to the old wooden house not far from where Billy lives. He'd rather have a wonderful sweet-shop, but when he meets the members of the Company - the Giraffe, the Pelican and the Monkey - he can't believe his eyes.

The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me is another of Roald's books for younger readers. It started out with three characters, but no story. Quentin Blake liked the idea of a giraffe, as he'd never drawn one before. He also knew he could have fun with a pelican's beak. And Roald Dahl loved the monkey previously drawn by Quentin for The Enormous Crocodile, so insisted he was included too.

The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me was published in 1985. At the end of the story, the monkey sings Billy a song, the words of which are carved into stone slabs around the base of a bench which sits just near Roald Dahl's grave: 

"We have tears in our eyes
As we wave our goodbyes,
We so loved being with you, we three.
So do please now and then
Come see us again,
The Giraffe and the Pelly and me."

You can visit Roald Dahl's grave in the parish church of St Peter and St Paul in Great Missenden. It's just down the road from the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre.

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-1986

Going Solo

Going Solo tells of how, when he grew up, Roald Dahl left England for Africa - and a series of daring and dangerous adventures began...

Continuing from where he left off at the end of Boy: Tales of ChildhoodGoing Solo focuses on Roald's adult life before he began his career as a writer. From plane crashes to snake bites, it takes us through some of the amazing things he experienced while living in Africa, to his time as an RAF pilot during the Second World War.

As he said in Boy, Roald didn't think of these collections of stories from his own life as straightforward autobiography. In the introduction to Going Solo he says: "A life is made up of a great amount of small incidents and a small amount of great ones. An autobiography must therefore, unless it is to become tedious, be extremely selective, discarding all the inconsequential incidents in one's life and concentrating upon those that have remained vivid in the memory." 

Going Solo was published in 1986, the year Roald turned 70. The stories he selected to tell give a fascinating insight into some of the experiences that helped shape his later life.

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-April 1943

The Gremlins

The Gremlins has a very good claim to being Roald Dahl's first piece of writing for children. It is certainly one of the first stories he ever wrote. He began work on it in 1942, soon after his first paid piece of writing, Shot Down Over Libya, was published in the Saturday Evening Post. He was working for the British Embassy in Washington DC at the time and sent his finished Gremlins story to his bosses for approval. From there, it was forwarded by British movie producer and entrepreneur Sidney Bernstein on to Walt Disney, who liked the story so much he wanted to turn it into a movie.

The gremlins are little creatures responsible for the various mechanical failures on aeroplanes, as the pilot in the story, Gus, discovers. Taking its inspiration from RAF folklore and the many gremlin tales he had heard during his own time as a pilot, Roald's story went on to tell how Gus tames the gremlins and persuades them to help him return to flying.

Although the Disney film version of The Gremlins was later shelved, a shortened version of the story appeared in the American general interest magazine Cosmopolitan in 1942 with Roald using the pen name 'Pegasus.' And a year later, The Gremlins was released as a book by Walt Disney and Random House with proceeds going to the RAF Benevolent Fund. Roald bought 50 copies to send out, delivering one to the first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, who responded with enthusiasm and was said to have read the story to her grandchildren.

Although James and the Giant Peach - released in 1961, nearly 20 years later - was Roald Dahl's first novel consciously written for children, The Gremlins was marketed as a children's story at the time and remains an early example of the appeal of his writing to a young audience. It was re-issued in 2006 by Dark Horse Books.

The Gremlins also helped the little creatures already well-known in RAF folklore to cross over into wider popular culture. The 1984 film Gremlins, produced by Stephen Spielberg and directed by Joe Dante, is said to be loosely inspired by the characters in Roald Dahl's story.

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-1991

Roald Dahl’s Guide to Railway Safety

With illustrations by Quentin Blake, Roald Dahl's Guide to Railway Safety is a guide written for young people to help them use the railways safely.

Published in 1991 by the British Railways Board, Roald Dahl's Guide to Railway Safety is a short but funny booklet that was handed out to students in UK primary schools. It is a list of Do's and Don'ts for young people on how to stay safe on the railways - but as Roald Dahl says at the beginning: "I have a VERY DIFFICULT job here. Young people are fed up with being told by grown-ups WHAT TO DO and WHAT NOT TO DO. They get that all through their young lives."

Luckily for the readers of this guide, Roald's very important Do's and Don'ts are served with lots of amusing little extras: stories from Roald's own life, and some funny words from him on what it is like to be a child. 

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-1955

The Honeys

The Honeys was Roald Dahl's first and only stage play. A comedic version of three stories from the collection Someone Like You, the play - as he explained to his agent - "follows a woman through three marriages with three different men... In each case the husband is murdered because he deserves it." 

The show opened in the USA in 1955 to poor reviews. It closed soon after, though it was picked up for a UK production and opened in London under the title Your Loving Wife in 1956. That production also had a short run, closing later that year. Aside from a couple of amateur revivals, The Honeys has never been professionally produced again.

Roald returned to some of the themes from the play in his 1960s series for American television 'Way Out and the 1980s British TV series Tales of the Unexpected, both of which also featured short stories from Someone Like You.

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-November 1961

James and the Giant Peach

James Henry Trotter lives with his two horrid aunts, Spiker and Sponge. He hasn't got a single friend in the whole wide world. That is not, until he meets the Old Green Grasshopper and the rest of the insects aboard a giant, magical peach!

James and the Giant Peach was Roald Dahl's first classic novel for children. Although The Gremlins is sometimes referred to as an earlier example of his writing for children, James was Roald's first conscious attempt to write for a younger audience after several years of writing primarily adult short stories. Roald started writing it in 1959 after encouragement from his agent, Sheila St Lawrence.

In the orchard at Roald's home in the Buckinghamshire countryside, there was a cherry tree. Seeing this tree made him wonder: what if, one day, one of those cherries just kept on and on growing bigger and bigger? From giant cherries Roald also considered ever-increasing pears and even apples, but eventually settled on a giant peach as the method for James's magical journey. The book is dedicated to his two eldest daughters, Olivia and Tessa. It was first published in 1961 to glowing reviews and marked the beginning of his prolific career as a children's author.

James and the Giant Peach is still a favourite more than 50 years later. In 1996, an animated film version featuring the voices of Simon Callow, Richard Dreyfuss, Joanna Lumley, Miriam Margolyes, Pete Postlethwaite and Susan Sarandon was released, while David Wood's theatrical adaptation remains popular, playing across the UK.

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