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-1980

The Twits

Mr Twit hates his wife. Mrs Twit detests her husband. They like nothing more than playing wicked tricks on one another. Sooner or later, things are going to go too far...

Even in real life Roald Dahl was very suspicious of men with beards. He thought they must be hiding something sinister. Michael Rosen, who wrote a book called Fantastic Mr Dahl all about Roald and his stories, remembers that the first time he and Roald met, Roald told Michael's son Joe that his beard was "disgusting." 

Mr Twit has a beard. His is dirty and has bits of food clinging to it. Quentin Blake's illustrations in the original story show cornflakes, tinned sardines and even stilton cheese stuck in the bristles on Mr Twit's face. In fact, he and his equally unlovely wife, Mrs Twit, are just about as horrible as can be - but there are a few characters who might just have found a way to outsmart this nasty pair...

The Twits, first published in 1980, may be about a pair of horrible twits, but it also features one of the most-quoted phrases in all of Roald's books...

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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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-1982

Revolting Rhymes

No nursery rhyme is quite as it seems when Roald Dahl has re-written it. Hungry wolves would be advised to watch their step when Little Red Riding Hood is about - and as for Cinderella's prince, well, let's just hope he keeps his head...

Revolting Rhymes was first published in 1982 and was the first of Roald's collection of comic verse for children. With illustrations by Quentin Blake, Revolting Rhymes sees Roald take six well-known fairy stories and give them a wholly new set of Dahl-esque twists. 

Still much-loved over 30 years later, the phrase "revolting rhymes" even found itself into the Royal Shakespeare Company's Matilda The Musical. In his song 'Revolting Children,' Matilda composer and lyricist Tim Minchin has Matilda's classmates sing the lines:

"We are revolting children
Living in revolting times.
We sing revolting songs,
Using revolting rhymes..."

The six stories featured in Revolting Rhymes are:

  • Cinderella
  • Jack and the Beanstalk
  • Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
  • Goldilocks and the Three Bears
  • Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf
  • The Three Little Pigs

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-1982

The BFG

The Big Friendly Giant is unlike other giants. For a start, he doesn't like to eat people and it's not long before he becomes orphan Sophie's very best friend.

The BFG was written in 1982. The idea for the story had begun several years before, with a sentence scribbled in one of Roald Dahl's Ideas Books - exercise books he used to write down some of the thoughts that came to him and were sometimes later turned into stories. Just like The BFG.

The idea of a giant who captured dreams and kept them in bottles for children to enjoy while they were asleep was one Roald had been thinking about for some time. In Danny the Champion of the World, he was the character in a bedtime story Danny's father told him. And Roald had even told the story of The Big Friendly Giant to his own children, climbing up on a ladder outside his daughters' bedroom and using a bamboo cane to pretend to blow happy dreams in through their window.

In The BFG, the dream-hunting giant takes orphan Sophie - named after Roald's first grandchild - back to his cave in Giant Country, where he lives surrounded by nine other fearsome giants who spend every night guzzling down humans. Or, as the giants call them, human beans.The BFG speaks in quite a turned-around way, but we always understand him. His language is called gobblefunk. He tells Sophie:

"Words...is oh such a twitch-tickling problem to me all my life. So you must simply try to be patient and stop squibbling. As I am telling you before, I know exactly what words I am wanting to say, but somehow or other they is always getting squiff-squiddled around."

Roald wrote down a whole list of words The BFG might use, including "whoppsy-whiffling" and "squeakpip". This list of words and the Ideas Books are now housed in the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre in Roald's home town of Great Missenden - and the Museum is also just down the road from a house that inspired the orphanage The BFG snatches Sophie from in the story.

The BFG won the Federation of Children's Book Groups Award in 1982. In 1989 it was turned into an animated film featuring the voice of David Jason. More than 30 years later, The BFG remains a much-loved character. And of all his stories, Roald Dahl said that The BFG was probably his own favourite.

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-1983

Dirty Beasts

The Dirty Beasts are truly horrid. There's the rumbling Tummy Beast, a not-as-stupid-as-he-looks pig, and the oh-so-vile Crocky-Wock the crocodile...

Dirty Beasts was published in 1983 and, with Revolting Rhymes, is another of Roald Dahl's classic collections of comic verse for children. In the nine poems included there are a host of wicked creatures getting up to some extraordinary things...

In 2012 the London Philharmonic Orchestra commissioned composer and conductor Benjamin Wallfisch to compose new orchestral works based on three of the poems included in Dirty Beasts. The world premiere of the pieces - The AnteaterThe Porcupine and The Toad and the Snail - takes place in spring 2014.

The nine poems included in Dirty Beasts are:

  • The Pig
  • The Crocodile
  • The Lion
  • The Scorpion
  • The Ant-Eater
  • The Porcupine
  • The Cow
  • The Toad and the Snail
  • The Tummy Beast

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-1983

The Witches

Witches absolutely detest children. To a witch, a child smells like dogs' droppings. And now the Grand High Witch is planning to get rid of every child in England - can anybody stop them?

The Witches tells the story of a brave young boy and his Norwegian grandmother as they battle against England's child-hating witches. It continues to feature in lists dedicated to the scariest children's books more than 30 years after it was first published. Especially around Halloween.

When he was a child himself, Roald Dahl used to spend every summer holiday with his family in Norway, where he was inspired by bedtime stories of witches and magic. He wrote about these holidays in Boy: Tales of Childhood. It is also said that the grandmother in The Witches was partially inspired by Roald's own mother. Roald dedicated the book to his wife, Liccy.

A film version of the story, starring Angelica Huston as the witches' leader The Grand High Witch, was released in 1990. The main difference between the film and the original story is the ending - in the book, there is no spell cast to change the boy's state back to what it was before the witches found him. The film also gives its central character the name Luke, whereas in the book we don't find out the name of either the boy who narrates the story or his grandmother.

In 1983, the year it was published, The Witches won three awards: The New York Times Outstanding Books Award, The Federation of Children's Book Groups Award and The Whitbread Award.

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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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-1984

Boy: Tales of Childhood

The unadulterated childhood - sad and funny, macabre and delightful - that inspired Britain's favourite storyteller, Boy speaks of an age which vanished with the coming of the Second World War.

Boy: Tales of Childhood, published in 1984, is a funny, insightful and at times grotesque glimpse into the early life of Roald Dahl. In it, he tells us about his experiences at school in England, the idyllic paradise of summer holidays in Norway, and the pleasures and pains of the local sweetshop in Llandaff, Wales.

The story of how Roald came to write Boy is almost a tale in itself. It started with The Witches. In an early draft of that book, which has an unnamed young boy with a Norwegian grandmother as its narrator, there were three chapters that went into great detail about the boy's childhood. These chapters were actually drawn from Roald's own memories. So the boy in The Witches had a lot in common with his author.

An editor called Stephen Roxburgh was working with Roald at the time, and he thought that those three chapters belonged somewhere else. He suggested to Roald that he might like to re-use them in a book about his own early childhood. Roald did not want to write an autobiography but he thought that this was a very good idea. As he said himself in the introduction to Boy: "This is not an autobiography. I would never write a history of myself. On the other hand, throughout my young days at school and just afterwards a number of things happened to me that I have never forgotten."

And so, a year after The Witches, along came Boy, with its tales of boazers, goat's tobacco and the dreaded Mrs Pratchett.

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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

Two Fables

Published in honour of Roald Dahl's 70th birthday in 1986, Two Fables is a slim volume containing two stories written by Roald especially for this collection. It was a limited run, and the book is now out-of-print.

The last collection of this short stories for adults to be published in Roald's lifetime, Two Fables features beautiful princesses, ugly men and wise kings. Neither story has ever been published elsewhere.

The two stories included are:

  • The Princess and the Poacher
  • Princess Mammalia

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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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-1988

Matilda

Matilda Wormwood is only five years old, but she is a genius. Unfortunately her parents are too stupid to even notice. Worse, her horrible headmistress Miss Trunchbull is a bully who makes life difficult for Matilda's teacher, Miss Honey, and her friends. But what Miss Trunchbull doesn't know is that Matilda has a trick or two up her sleeve...

Matilda won the Children's Book Award shortly after it was published in 1988, and it has continued to delight audiences ever since. Early drafts of the story were very different to the one we now know. At first, Matilda was a wicked girl who eventually used her powers to help her teacher solve her financial problems - by fixing a horse race. In the end, though, it became the magical story now known to children the world over. 

In 1996 a film version of Matilda was released. Directed by Danny DeVito - who also starred as Mr Wormwood, alongside Mara Wilson as Matilda and Pam Ferris as Miss Trunchbull - the film went on to become a cult classic. 

In 2010, The Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Matilda The Musical, written by Dennis Kelly and with music and lyrics by Tim Minchin, opened in Stratford-upon-Avon, UK, to great critical acclaim. The production transferred to London's West End a year later, and in spring 2013 the show opened on Broadway.

Matilda was Roald Dahl's last long children's book.

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-1989

Rhyme Stew

An inventive and irreverent collection for older children and adults alike, Rhyme Stew bubbles over with Roald Dahl's extraordinary humour and imagination.

A collection of comic verse, Rhyme Stew contains 15 poems including several based on well-known children's fairy stories. Unlike Revolting Rhymes and Dirty Beasts, though, Rhyme Stew is a collection for older children and comes with the warning: Unsuitable for Small People.

The 15 poems in Rhyme Stew are:

  • Dick Whittington and His Cat
  • St. Ives
  • A Hand in the Bird
  • The Tortoise and the Hare
  • The Price of Debauchery
  • Physical Training
  • The Emperor's New Clothes
  • A Little Nut-Tree
  • The Dentist and the Crocodile
  • Hot and Cold
  • Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves
  • Hey Diddle Diddle
  • Mary, Mary
  • Hansel and Gretel
  • Aladdin and the Magic Lamp

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-1989

Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life

The sweet scents of rural life infuse this collection of Roald Dahl's country stories, but there is always something unexpected lurking in the undergrowth...

Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life brings together seven of Roald Dahl's short stories set in and around the Buckinghamshire countryside where Roald lived. The collection was first published in 1989, but all of the stories were originally written in the late 1940s. They are based on Roald's experiences with his friend Claud, a man who lived in the nearby town of Amersham. Claud was an experienced poacher and shared Roald's passion for "gambling in small amounts on horses and greyhounds."

From troublesome cows to rat-infested hayricks to maggot farming, Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life brings the tales of everyday country folk and their strange passions wonderfully to life. And many of the characters that feature in this collection went on to inspire and appear in other stories: there's Parson's Pleasure, which features an antiques dealer and bogus clergyman called Boggis, later the name of one of the farmers in Fantastic Mr Fox. And Danny's dad, the filling-shop owner with some ingenious methods for catching pheasants from Danny the Champion of the World, makes an early appearance inThe Champion of the World.

The seven stories in the collection are:

  • Preface
  • Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life
  • Parson's Pleasure
  • The Ratcatcher
  • Rummins
  • Mr Hoddy
  • Mr Feasey
  • The Champion of the World

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