In 1986, Roald Dahl put friendly giants, chocolate rivers, and all other bizarre fantasies aside to speak directly to parents about a real life tragedy: the loss of his daughter Olivia.
Olivia had died in November 1962 after an attack of measles that caused encephalitis or brain swelling. She was only 7 years old and her death left Dahl shocked and deprived; “Roald really went crazy,” his wife said later People. But while Olivia’s fatal illness had been devastating, it hadn’t exactly been preventable – a trustworthy measles vaccine was not available at the time.
That changed in the 1
Dahl began writing by telling Olivia’s sudden deterioration. “As the disease took its normal course, I can remember reading to her in bed many times and not feeling particularly concerned about it,” he wrote. She had steadily improved when Dahl discovered one morning while she was turning pipe cleaners into animal shapes that “her fingers and mind were not working together and there was nothing she could do.” He asked her if she was okay and she replied that she was feeling “sleepy”.
“She was passed out in an hour,” he wrote. “She was dead in twelve hours.”
Dahl went further on the general lack of awareness of how measles could cause deadly conditions like encephalitis, and he also added statistics to show how unlikely a child would be to get any harmful side effects from the vaccine.
“I should think that there are more chances your child will choke on a candy bar than they will get seriously ill with a measles vaccination,” he wrote. “So what on earth are you worried about? It is really almost a crime to allow your child not to be immunized. “
You can read the full letter on Roald Dahl’s website here.