A Day with Roald Dahl
"Watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don't believe in magic will never find it." --Roald Dahl, "The Minpins"
My sister and I recently took a trip to England (based in London) and Rome. The highlight of the London portion of our trip was the day we took a train from London Marylebone station to the tiny town of Great Missenden, most famous as having been the home of the writer Roald Dahl. We traveled there specifically to see the Roald Dahl Museum, and it really was worth the trip. It was only 40 minutes by train, and the town was lovely and all that you'd expect a tiny British town to be. The museum was whimsical, with many fanciful details. To top it off, the food at the museum restaurant, Cafe Twit, was delicious, well-priced, and very fresh, and the chef and staff were exceedingly friendly. Where else can you enjoy a piece of Bogtrotter cake, Matilda-style, drizzled with chocolate ganache, white chocolate, and maltesers, along with fizzy lifting drinks?
The museum was small but contained many wonders. The first room was called "Boy," both after the book and the way Roald used to sign his letters to his mother. It contained original letters, a candy jar with mouse (which derived from "Boy"), a school uniform you could try on, and audio stories also taken from "Boy." The door was a giant chocolate Wonka bar.
My favorite item in this room was the first draft folio from "The Witches," hand-written. This is the chapter that tells the story of the grandmother. This may be my favorite of Dahl's books. I first read it on the day we moved out of the US to Germany. I got through most of it in the airport, but it eased my nerves (or distracted me) on a day I was really nervous. We would not be returning home for three years.
In the next room, we traveled with Dahl across the world and watched him grow first as a pilot and then as an author. We saw portholes with photographs of alligators morph before our eyes into drawings by Quentin Blake. Blakes's lively, sketchy style filled the pages of all of Dahl's children's books. He formed our first visual impressions of Charlie, Willy Wonka, the BFG, the Grand High Witch, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Matilda, and more... He remains one of my favorite illustrators to this day. You won't regret a trip to his website, www.quentinblake.com
We measured ourselves against a Dahl measuring stick, where the Big Friendly Giant, foxes, Grandpa Joe, and Oompa Loompas served as height indicators. My sister and I were both "A Complete Wonka."
We also got to see, amazingly, the original writing shed of Dahl, completely preserved and intact as it was when he passed away in 1990. After the injuries Dahl received as a pilot, this was the most comfortable way he worked. He surrounded himself with little objects he loved, as most of us do.
Notice that the set above, from the wonderful film rendition of "Fantastic Mr. Fox," recreates Dahl's writing chair and shed, and many of the details on the walls. Elsewhere in the museum, we made our own stop-motion animations, drew pictures, made silly stories with magnets, and dressed in costumes. We whispered ideas into an idea-generator and dreamed stories of our own.
Afterward we stuffed ourselves on the Bogtrotter cake and a delicious, fresh lunch at Cafe Twit. I broke my diet for this and it was worth it. It was absolutely delicious.
We then walked through town and in the country and stumbled across the cemetery where Dahl was laid to rest.
As you might guess, the BFG showed us the way:
How amazing to be able to visit this location from which so many of my dreams have sprung, and to pay my respects to one of the most talented, creative, ever-youthful minds the last century has ever seen. It was a perfect day, and I am very happy my sister and I got to share it together.
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