Deeper Into Jeopardy! XXX: 20th Century Authors – Final Jeopardy!

Jeopardy! category: 20th CENTURY AUTHORS (29-11-2010)

FJ! Clue: Born of Norwegian descent in 1916, he was given the first name of a famous Norwegian of the time

Correct response

The gist: Norwegian literature can come from more than just Ibsen, and apparently more than just Norway. Born in Wales to Norwegian parents, Roald Dahl got his first name from famous Norwegian explorer of the North and South Poles Roald Amundsen. The author of such beloved children’s novels as Charlie and the Chocolate FactoryJames and the Giant PeachMatilda, and The BFG, was born in Cardiff (Wales’ capital) in 1916. Four years earlier, in January of 1912, Amundsen reached the South Pole after an extremely taxing trek that saw them losing all but 11 of their 52 sled dogs. He announced his success from Hobart, Australia, the following March. When Dahl was two years old, in 1918, Amundsen made an expedition to the Northeast Passage to explore unknown areas of the Arctic and to attempt to reach the North Pole; Dahl’s older sister and father would both die the following year, while Amundsen was still on his voyage. In 1922 the voyage was abandoned without the North Pole having been reached.

In 1925, Dahl was attending a boarding school after being caught in a plot, with four friends, to put a dead rat in a candy jar in a store owned by a hated old woman, which he would describe in his autobiography of his younger years Boy. At the same time, Amundsen was regrouping for another North Pole expedition, this time concentrating his resources on sea planes rather than sailing ships. 1925’s flights set a new latitude record for flying machines, but failed to reach the Pole and almost resulted in the death of the entire crew. In 1926, Amundsen and his crew became the first ever humans to cross the North Pole, in the airship (that is, blimp) Norge. The three earlier claims to reaching the North Pole (Frederick Cook in 1908, Robert Peary in 1909, and Richard Byrd a few days before Amundsen) have all been disputed; if they are false, the expedition made Amundsen and his crew the first ever humans known to have reached the North Pole as well. Two years later, on June 18, 1928, Amundsen and his crew disappeared in the Arctic while on a rescue mission, and presumed dead; Dahl was twelve years old at the time. Despite his namesake’s aerial fate, however, Dahl joined the Royal Air Force in 1939, eventually being promoted to Wing Commander, and attaining the unofficial rank of “flying ace” by downing a confirmed five, and probably more unconfirmed, enemy craft. His experiences in the War would inform some of his later writing, most notably his first novel The Gremlins, about the mischievous creatures blamed by RAF pilots for unexplained mechanical problems, who eventually join the fight against Hitler and the Axis, repairing rather than taking apart RAF planes.

Roald Dahl in his RAF days

The clue: The writers have refrained from giving Dahl’s actual nationality in addition to his descent, making this clue that much harder. It’s possible that the contestants, only one of which gave the correct response, got caught up thinking of Norwegian authors, although the conspicuous use of “descent” and not nationality ought to have strongly suggested that the author in question was not from Norway himself. Contestant Brian ventured Ibsen, who’s more of a 19th century author and was certainly not born in 1916, but is a fine guess as wrong guesses go given the Norwegian subject matter. Contestant Phil guessed Caldwell, who I suspect is American author Erskine Caldwell, author of Tobacco Road – and I suppose also a man with a vaguely Scandinavian name (though it’s actual Scottish). To me, it would have been easier to think of famous early 20th century Norwegians (of which I can’t think of too many besides Amundsen) first, and then get the author, but I can’t speak to how Contestant Pam got to the correct response.

In Jeopardy!: Surprisingly, Mr. Dahl is in just 40 regular and two FJ! clues, much fewer than I would have expected such a beloved and prolific author to have. In any case, the discussed FJ! clue is the only one that mentions his Norwegian heritage (a search for “Dahl Norw-” turns up several clues about that other Norwegian “dahl,” Thor Heyerdahl). Mostly the clues concern his novels (titles, characters, and plot elements alike): 15 regular clues plus the other FJ! for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, nine for James and the Giant Peach, and one each for Matilda and The Gremlins – with so many of his works with no mentions at all, I’m surprised there hasn’t been a category devoted to the man yet. Well, he’s one of my all-time favourites, so here’s hoping we see one soon, eh?

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