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."
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 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.