Roald Dahl - The Inventor

Posted by
Roald Dahl HQ
Posted on
2:00pm, 28th May
Danny, George, Museum, The Witches
Roald Dahl in his Writing Hut with Sophie from The BFG, illustrated by Sir Quentin Blake

From Mr Wonka to George Kranky, Roald Dahl's characters are pretty inventive. But do you know about some of his other inventions?

As we near the end of National Inventor's Month - a month-long celebration of inventiveness in all its forms - we've already taken a look at some of the ingenious characters in Roald Dahl's stories. But you might not know so much about all of these other avenues of Roald Dahl's inventiveness...

1. The Great Mouse Plot

If the reports of his childhood from Boy are anything to go by, Roald Dahl had an inventive streak from a very early age. The central part of The Great Mouse Plot - putting a dead mouse in a glass sweet jar for the unsuspecting Mrs Pratchett to find - was, as he says, his own stroke of genius. 

We all have our moments of brilliance and glory, and this was mine.

The Great Mouse Plot worked so well that the young Roald Dahl was treated like a hero by his friends, but it did have its consequences. Later, those stories of his own childhood would feed into Roald Dahl's other creations, with both Danny, the Champion of the World and early drafts of The Witches featuring schoolday plots and punishments.

2. The Meccano Chariot

One of Roald Dahl's last published books was My Year, a month-by-month diary of the seasons that also featured further memories and stories from childhood. One such was his Meccano Chariot adventure, an exercise he completed one Christmas that involved rigging up a Meccano machine between his own house and the garage opposite in order to drop water bombs on the people walking below.

Next morning, filled with the enthusiasm that grips all great inventors, I climbed onto the roof of our house...

Another plot that gave the young Roald Dahl a glow of triumph, even after having his Meccano set confiscated. George Kranky, from George's Marvellous Medicine, might understand. 

3. The Ideas Books

From a young age, Roald Dahl wrote down many of the ideas that would later turn into stories in old school exercise books he called his Ideas Books. He would tick off each idea as he used it - for example, the line that would later become The Twits was:

Beer stealing. An old boy dropped his glass eye into the tankard. He then saw it looking up at him.

Roald Dahl later wrote down many of his top writing tips in the story Lucky Break, which appears in The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More.

4. The Wade-Dahl-Till valve

In December 1960, Roald Dahl's then five-month-old son was involved in a serious accident that led to him developing a medial condition called hydrocephalus or "water on the brain."

Following the accident, Roald Dahl became heavily involved in Theo’s after-care, later helping to invent what became known as the Wade-Dahl-Till valve - a cerebral shunt used to drain excess fluid from the brain - in partnership with engineer Stanley Wade and neurosurgeon Kenneth Till.

By the time the valve was ready for use, Theo had recovered to the point where it was not necessary in his treatment, but the device went on to be used in many thousands of subsequent operations.

5. The Writing Chair

In Going Solo, Roald Dahl tells us how he suffered serious injuries after crashing his plane in the Libyan desert during his time as a World War Two pilot. Although he recovered from his injuries, the consequences of them would remain with him for most of his life, even affecting the way he wrote.

When he came to create his own Writing Hut some years later, the chair in which he wrote his stories was very important and so he had a hole cut in the back of the chair to accommodate his old spinal injury. When he wrote, he would lower himself carefully in the chair before resting a piece of felt-covered board that he used as a table on top of a roll of cardboard.

Listen to Roald Dahl talking about his writing routine and how he used the Writing Hut and chair in this rare audio footage. You can also visit the Writing Hut in person at the Roald Dahl Museum.