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Roald Dahl (1916-1990), Part III

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Jonathan Cape, which later merged into Random House, published The Witches in 1983. It won a Whitbread Book Award.

Glenda Jackson played Patricia Neal and Dirk Bogarde (1921-1999) played Roald Dahl in the telefilm The Patricia Neal Story (1981). Two years later, Dahl and Patricia Neal divorced over her discovery of his eleven-year-long affair with her friend, Felicity Ann d'Abreu “Liccy” Crosland, whom he married later that year.

Felicity Dahl was a set designer, a divorcee with three young daughters, when the Roald Dahl and Patricia Neal met her on the set of a Maxim coffee commercial Patricia Neal filmed, as Felecity Dahl recounted in an interview with Elizabeth Day in 2008. Upon the divorce, Patricia Neal and Ophelia Dahl moved to Martha’s Vineyard.

Published in 1985, The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me was Dahl’s thirteenth book for children. When the young hero turns the Ladder less Window Cleaning Company premises back into a sweetshop, he sells products from Willy Wonka’s company.

In 1988, Jonathan Cape published Matilda. In the U.K., half a million paperback copies sold in the first six months. It won the Children’s Book Award from the Federation of Children’s Book Groups.

Jim Henson (1936-1990) produced The Witches (1990). Angelica Huston stars as the Grand High Witch.

Dahl lived long enough to see it and did not care for deviations from his book. The Witches was not only the last film adapted from Dahl’s works in his lifetime, but the last film Henson personally worked on, and the last film produced by Lorimar Film Entertainment before its parent company, Warner Brothers, absorbed it.

In the 1980s, Dahl wrote three books of poetry for children: Revolting Rhymes, published in 1982; Dirty Beasts, published in 1984; and Rhyme Stew, published in 1989. Dahl’s last three commercial children’s books were Esio Trot, published in 1989; The Vicar of Nibbleswicke, published in 1991; and The Minpins, also published in 1991.

Dahl and Blake donated the rights to The Vicar of Nibbleswicke, which concerns a dyslexic Anglican priest, to the Dyslexia Institute in London (now Dyslexia Action). The Vicar of Nibbleswicke and The Minipins were two of five books published posthumously. The Minipins was illustrated by Patrick Benson instead of Blake.

A few months before his death on November 23, 1990, Dahl’s twenty-seven-year-old stepdaughter, Lorina died of a brain tumor. After his death, Felicity Dahl established the Roald Dahl Foundation.

In 1991, the British Railway Board published Roald Dahl’s Guide to Railway Safety. At that point in their careers it would have been unthinkable for anyone other than Blake to publish it.

With Felicity, Dahl wrote Memories with Food at Gipsy House, which was a collection of recipes and anecdotes also published in 1991. Blake illustrated My Year, published in 1993, Dahl’s third and final memoir, which chronicled his last year of life.

The husband-and-wife pair Nicholas Kazan and Robin Swicord adapted the screenplay for Matilda (1996). Danny DeVito produced, directed, and co-starred in the film. He and his wife, Rhea Perlman, played the obnoxious parents of Matilda Wormwood (played by Mara Wilson), the intelligent girl with telekinetic powers. Embeth Davidtz played her sympathetic teacher, Miss Honey.

In an Anglo-American production, Tim Burton and Denise Di Novi produced James and the Giant Peach (1996) for Walt Disney Pictures as a musical fantasy. Henry Selick, who had directed the stop-motion animated film Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) for Burton and Ms. Di Novi, used a mixture of live-action and stop-motion animation for James and the Giant Peach.

The Roald Dahl Foundation (now Roald Dahl’s Marvelous Children’s Charity) commissioned Tobias Picker to adapt Fantastic Mr. Fox as an opera, first staged in 1998. David Wood adapted it as a play, first staged in 2001.

Wes Anderson adapted it as a stop-motion animated film, Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009). George Clooney provided the voice for Mr. Fox.

The cast included Meryl Streep, Michael Gambon, Bill Murray, and Brian Cox. To my mind, it is the best film adapted from one of Dahl’s works.

Director Tim Burton and screenwriter John August adapted Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005) with frequent Burton collaborators Johnny Depp playing Willy Wonka and Danny Elfman providing the film score. Freddie Highmore played young Charlie Bucket. The film made $475,000,000 at the boxoffice.

In 2002, Oval Basin plaza in Cardiff Bay was re-named Roald Dahl Plass, with plass instead of plaza as an allusion to Dahl’s Norwegian heritage. This was suitable because the plaza was near the former Norwegian Seafarer’s Church (now the Norwegian Church Arts Centre) where he had been baptized. It was also a great honor because the Senned (Welsh National Assembly Building) is on the plaza.

In 2005, the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre opened in Dahl’s former home. The £4,500,000 conversion was paid for by the Dahl family, his publishers, and foundations.

In 2010, Donald Sturrock’s authorized biography, Storyteller: The Life of Roald Dahl, was published. That same year the Royal Shakespeare Company staged a musical version of Matilda, as Alison Flood reported in The Guardian. In 2013, that musical moved to Broadway.

We can speculate about the influence of J.R.R. Tolkien (1892-1973) and Ursula K. Le Guin on J.K. Rowling, but we know she was influenced by C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) because she acknowledged as much, and she named Charlie and the Chocolate Factory as one of ten books every child should read. Four of Dahl’s books ended up on the B.B.C.’s Big Read list of the 200 most beloved novels in the U.K.

Roald Dahl Day is celebrated in the U.K., parts of Africa, and Latin America. It was first celebrated in 2007, the year he would have turned ninety if he was still alive. This year, Roald Dahl Day is Saturday, September 13, 2014.

In 2008, the British charity Booktrust introduced the Roald Dahl Funny Prize for the year's most humorous children's book. The panel of judges included Michael Rosen, the Children's Laureate, and Sophie Dahl. In 2014, the American Association of School Librarians (A.A.S.L.) (American Association of School Librarians) a division of the American Library Association (A.L.A.), introduced the Roald Dahl’s Miss Honey Social Justice Award.

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