Thursday, January 28, 2016

Literary Pilgrimage: Roald Dahl

Confession time: I've never liked the children's books of Roald Dahl. With the exception of The BFG, which did win me over with its sweet friendship between Sophie and her Big Friendly Giant, the other titles I've read seemed unpleasantly exaggerated and frankly mean-spirited in many ways (glorying in the depiction of nasty people receiving nasty consequences for their nasty behavior). But he's such an enormously popular recent British author, second only in popularity to J. K. Rowling, that a visit to the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre seemed an important part of our Enchanted Spaces travel itinerary.

The museum is situated in the charming village of Great Missenden in Buckinghamshire, about an hour's drive from London. It wasn't open yet when we arrived, so we set off on the lovely walking tour that veteran researcher Tiffany found for us online.

We entered the small public library where Matilda, in the book of the same name, would have come to get her library books. The children's room is now named "Matilda's Library."
 Across the street is the post office where Dahl would receive his staggering volume of fan mail, prompting him to write this poem:

Dear children, far across the sea,
How good of you to write to me.
I love to read the things you say
When you are miles and miles away.
Young people and I think I'm right
Are nicer when they're out of sight.

The nearby Crown House was the inspiration for Sophie's "norphanage":
The museum itself is small but delightful. Even the trash cans are delightful!
Best was Dahl's "writing hut," with its oversized shabby armchair and special writing desk he designed for himself to alleviate the constant pain he experienced from injuries sustained in a crash when he served as a RAF pilot.
The Twit Cafe served themed foods from the books such as this Whizzpopper, which, yes, I ordered and greatly enjoyed.
A short walk from the town led up to the church where Dahl is buried, with large Big Friendly Giant-sized footsteps leading to his grave:

The day left me with a fondness for Dahl that I hadn't expected (helped also by the excellent West End production of Matilda the Musical that we saw on the trip, enjoying analyzing the different choices made in film versus stage adaptations of the book).

I came away thinking that while those who love an author set off on pilgrimages to follow in his footsteps, pilgrimage can also work in reverse: following in someone's footsteps can lead to, if not love, at least a certain affection - here, for an injured, curmudgeonly man who sat daily in his writing hut scribbling curmudgeonly stories that generations of children have adored.


  1. Claudia, I too like The BFG best of all of Dahl's books. My husband's favorite is The Enormous Crocodile, with his "secret plans and clever tricks." At my school, James and the Giant Peach is a popular third grade read-aloud, and BFG and Matilda are also favorites. There ARE a lot of nasty characters, but kids enjoy seeing nasty people get their just deserts. Dahl's childhood memoir, Boy, is an excellent read that provides some real-life inspirations for these meanies, including a teacher who caned him and a sweet-shop owner who believed all boys were "'ideous and 'orrible" (he wasn't angelic toward her either, but it cast a new light on the scene in The Witches about the Delayed Mouse- Making Potion in the candy).
    The Whizpopper looks yummy. Glad you didn't get a Snozzcumber!

  2. Julie, I haven't read THE ENORMOUS CROCODILE and barely remember JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH. I know kids do adore his books, and I've now become a MATILDA fan because I fell in love with the musical when we saw it on the trip in the West End. The Whizpopper was yummy, but also a tad disgusting in its extravagance. But I drank every sip!