Remembering the iconic author on what would have been his 100th birthday

By Isabella Biedenharn
September 13, 2016 at 12:00 PM EDT
Tony Evans/Getty Images

He would have turned 100 on Sept. 13—and his 21 kaleidoscopic children’s classics, many written more than a half century ago, continue to connect with readers (and filmmakers, too).

There are, in effect, two Roald Dahls. There’s the one most of us know, the creator of such dreamy, idyllic worlds as Willy Wonka’s sugary paradise and James’ insect-riddled great peach. But there was also another darker Dahl, one who could be so unpleasant that a publisher dumped him for churlish behavior.

His glorious literary legacy overshadows those flaws, though. For generations of mis- understood kids, what stand the test of time are his rollicking, transportive tales—like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The BFG, James and the Giant Peach, Fantastic Mr. Fox, and Matilda— many of which he dreamed up to entertain his own children.

Show us a shy reader who doesn’t consider Matilda Wormwood a personal hero, or an adult who doesn’t still hope for a flicker of a golden ticket when unwrapping a candy bar. When you plunge into the world of Dahl’s imagination, you see the world through children’s eyes: full of witches, monsters, and horrifying, sometimes abusive adults—but brimming with magic and power, too.

Penguin Random House

A never-beforeseen bit of history: a scathing report card for 14-year-old Dahl plucked from the archives at Penguin Random House