One hundred years after the birth of Roald Dahl, it’s hard to imagine childhood without his fantastic fictions: on the page and the screen, characters like Willy Wonka, Matilda and the BFG have come to represent the magic of youth.
Dahl’s own life may have been more conventional than his characters’ (what mere mortal’s wouldn’t be?) but it was nevertheless filled with challenges and adventures. A dissatisfied schoolboy, Dahl opted out of college in favor of traveling the world and serving with the Royal Air Force. His first attempt at children’s literature, a Disney book called Gremlins, was a flop, but he saw success with the adult story collection Someone Like You. In 1961, with the publication of James and the Giant Peach, his legendary career truly began.
Dahl continued to dabble with adult stories—in addition to writing screenplays for Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and another children’s story, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, he wrote the screenplay for the 1967 James Bond film You Only Live Twice. But he solidly occupied the domain of young readers with classics like Fantastic Mr. Fox and The Witches, made all the more iconic thanks to Quentin Blake’s signature illustrations that manage to be both spooky and charming. To date, his books are estimated to have sold more than 200 million copies worldwide. Years after his 1990 death, movie adaptations continue to hit the big screen, including Steven Spielberg’s take on The BFG, which pleased crowds this summer.
Watch 100 years of Dahl’s life and legacy unfold in one minute in the video above.