There's a perception that children's literature involves endless picnics where the strawberry jam and lashings of ginger beer never run out. But Roald Dahl pursued a different path, satisfying children's appetite for the violent, greedy and disgusting.
Today, 50 years after the publication of James and the Giant Peach, Dahl is a towering figure. It was his first children's book and has now sold 5.1 million copies in the UK as well as being translated into 34 languages. But for years it struggled to find a British publisher.
The surreal plot emerged from bedtime stories Dahl told to daughters Tessa and Olivia. The hero, four-year-old James, is orphaned after his parents are killed by a rhinoceros. James is sent to live with his wicked aunts, the start of a traditional Dahl theme - the solitary child at the mercy of cruel adults.
He is bullied and beaten until one day an old man gives him a bag of crocodile tongues. James drops them by mistake on the peach tree, causing a giant peach to sprout, which James ends up living inside with various friendly insects.
Dahl's books are full of the grotesque, from Mrs Twit substituting worms for her husband's spaghetti, to child-eating giants in the BFG, and the hero of Danny the Champion of the World drugging pheasants so that they're easier to poach.
Greed and its punishment is everywhere, whether it's Violet Beauregarde swelling up into a blueberry in Charlie and The Chocolate Factory or the child in Matilda who is forced to eat a whole chocolate cake.
For the Times newspaper's children's book critic Amanda Craig, there's also a "streak of rather unpleasant misogyny". In a Freudian sense, female characters are either warm and loving like the "supportive, luscious peach" or evil like the wicked aunts. It's a simple duality that children are used to, she argues.
At the time, Dahl was seen as a writer of macabre short stories for adults. The book was eventually published in the UK in 1967 after Dahl agreed to pay half of the publishing costs in return for the same proportion of sales income. As it went on to sell millions it turned out to be spectacularly good business, his first of many best-sellers as a children's author.
Five dark storylines
- Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: One of Dahl's best-loved stories. It is a black comedy with the naughty children receiving diabolical revenges
- Danny the Champion of the World: Danny, whose mother died when he was still a baby, discovers his father's deepest, darkest secret - a love of poaching
- George's Marvellous Medicine: George concocts a hideous cure for his grandma's selfishness, grumpiness and general nastiness
- Matilda: The leading lady (pictured above in the 1996 film version) is an exceptionally bright young girl who is horribly mistreated by her parents
- The Witches: A young boy, whose parents have been killed in a car accident, has to battle against the Grand High Witch who wants to kill all the children in England
- Roald Dahl (1916-1990) was born in Llandaff, south Wales, to Norwegian parents
- His stories are published in 49 languages
- More than 100 million copies of his books have been sold globally
- In 2010, Puffin Books sold a Roald Dahl book every five seconds
- 10% of author royalties from books, films, plays and merchandise are donated to two charities