In November 1990, the world lost Roald Dahl. He took with him a vivid imagination, a sense of humor both grisly and delightful, a healthy dose of no-nonsense, and more than his fair share of talent. Fortunately for us, he left behind pieces of his genius in the form of countless children's stories, novels, short story collections and more, to be enjoyed and delighted in by children and adults alike.

"Fairy tales have always got to have something a bit scary for children - as long as you make them laugh as well" - Roald Dahl

That Roald Dahl quote may succinctly sum up why decades of children have been delighted by Matilda, The Witches, Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, The BFG and more. Dahl recognized the lack of guile and pretense in the kids for whom he wrote. Children are unapologetically honest. If a child is on the bus, and sees some unfortunate soul ranting, swearing, and hitting his head against the window, then rather than gazing out the window and feigning obliviousness, a child will stare openly and ask, in a voice that will impossibly carry to every ear on the bus, “Mommy, What is wrong with that man?” A child will be unabashedly fascinated.

Rather than quashing this, Roald Dahl relished and respected it. Which is not to say that his gift for the grotesque discounted the magic and the wonder of childhood. The worlds Dahl created were populated by friendly giants, oversized talking insects, dedicated fathers, and beloved grandmothers. And, of course, the world's most amazing chocolate factory. Dahl's books were as full of excitement and joy as any, and just enough impossible, wonderful events to satisfy any child's craving for enchantment. It's no surprise that Dahl was able to conjure the fantastical and delightful as easily as the gruesome and dark. The story of his own life often reads like an adventure by turns horrible and marvelous. He was of Norwegian descent but born and raised in Wales. A memorable passage in the non-fiction account of his childhood, Boy, tells of a very young Dahl enduring the absolute agony of having his adenoids removed, without anesthetic. Another tells of the vicious caning he received by the headmaster of his school after being caught putting a dead rat in a jar of candy.

His adult life was equally colorful, and saw Dahl working for the Shell oil company and living in East Africa, enjoying harrowing encounters with big cats and deadly snakes. With the onset of WWII, he joined the Royal Air Force and flew a fighter plane, despite very basic, brief training. Of the 20 men who participated in his session of flight training, he was one of only three who survived. However, he was not unscathed: after being issued an obsolete model of aircraft with which he was not familiar, he crash-landed in the desert in Egypt and was very badly injured, spending five months in an Egyptian hospital. He was plagued by terrible headaches for years afterwards.

He began writing in 1942, after a transfer to Washington, D.C. and enjoyed his first publication - an account of his airplane crash, which ran in the Saturday Evening Post. He married twice - once in 1953 (to actress Patricia Neal, who passed away August 2010) and then again in 1983. His writing for children began in 1943 with the publication of The Gremlins, about mean-spirited hobgoblin-like creatures said to have been behind many of the mechanical problems of day-to-day life.

What made Roald Dahl so unusual as a children's author was his apparent relish of horrid, nasty, and unpleasant things that would make one's toes curl. In The Witches, the grandmamma not only smokes filthy, black cigars and drinks alcohol, but has a missing thumb, the absence of which Dahl hints at darkly throughout the book (no word on whether the amputation was Der Struwwelpeter related). In The BFG, the giant in question is friendly, but his compatriots snatch children from their beds as snacks in the dead of night. In James and the Giant Peach, not only were James' parents eaten by a rhinoceros, but his two aunts, charged with his care, beat him, and abuse him horribly.

And in true Dahl fashion, the aunts, rather than being turned in to social services, were run over and killed by the giant peach; squashed flat in their own garden. Their demise is later suitably celebrated with a song by James' new insect friends.

During his life, Dahl did write books aimed at adults—the details of his childhood and early adulthood (in Boy: Tales of Childhood and Going Solo), and a great many short stories. As a child, I remember savoring his books and appreciating their candor so much. To this day, I still enjoy his children's books as much as, if not more than, his more adult writing. His writing for grown-ups is absolutely worth exploring, mind you - I just feel the small people need his particular brand of hilarious, gruesome candor so much more.

Dahl died at age 74, of a blood disorder known as Myelodysplastic Syndrome. Rumor has it he was interred with some of the parts of life he loved most, including some wine, some chocolate, some power tools, his favorite pencils, and his billiards cues.

People passionate about, or wanting to learn more facts about Roald Dahl, can now visit the Roald Dahl Museum, located in Dahl's hometown of Great Missenden in Buckinghamshire. The museum was opened by Cherie Blair (wife of former UK PM Tony Blair) in 2005, to honor Dahl's life and writing and spread awareness about his literacy work).