Monday, 1 September 2014
The Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre
Whether they be memories, cherished books, or old toys, the things you encounter in your childhood always stay close to your heart. They inexplicably link themselves to the innocence and hope for your life that you have while you are that young age. For this reason, I will never ever be able to forget or stop loving Roald Dahl. His crazy stories were my constant companions for the first 12 (ish) years of my life with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory; George's Marvellous Medicine; Matilda and Boy being my favourites. And I was definitely not alone in this. Dahl remains to be one of the most popular children's authors (despite having passed away over 20 years ago) and his books have been translated into many languages, made into films and adapted into musicals (read my review of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory here http://charlottecoster.blogspot.co.uk/2013/12/charlie-and-chocolate-factory.html).
It seems only fitting that that such a legend of a writer, be honoured with a museum - and the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre opened back in 1996. It is located in the little Buckinghamshire Village of Great Missenden, which is where he spent the majority of his writing life.
Due to my inclusion of Boy in my undergraduate dissertation (which was centred around how boarding schools within children's literature changed over time) I decided to visit this museum and the attached archives, a few days ago.
'But Charlotte, you have already graduated from university...surely you must have finished your dissertation months ago?' I hear you ask...
Indeed that is true.
Unfortunately when I was writing my dissertation back in April, the archives were closed due to refurbishment. However, if I was still interested, I was invited to visit at a later date, when the archives had been reopened, despite the fact my research would be complete. And now was that later date.
What a fabulous day it was. On arriving, I went straight up to the archives where I met some lovely members of staff, Annie and Rachel. And then I spent around 2 and a half hours in there looking at various material, that was relevant to the research I had been carrying out previously. Unless you are a total literature nerd like me, you might not understand my excitement, when I say this was one of the coolest things I have done in a while. I was given the chance to flick through his original draft of Boy, which was all handwritten in pencil, on yellow paper. There were so many scrawlings, crossings out, changes, additions....and it was almost as interesting to see what had been there right from the original to the final publication. I also looked at a few of his letters that he sent his mother from a variety of different ages (he really did sign off as 'boy' until he was 10 and then clearly grew out of the nickname) as well as his reports (he received consistently top marks in English Composition...no surprises there). And then finally, I was shown an exercise book from St Peter's when he was aged 11 and read the essay 'The Life Story of a Penny' that he'd made famous in Boy. So that was rather cool as well. To be honest, his handwriting was a lot easier to read when he was a child. The curly old fashioned script was tons neater than the slightly more undecipherable scrawl of his older years.
Having completely interrupted Annie's lunch break, I left her in peace (eventually) and had a look around the museum itself. This is definitely aimed at children, with bright colourful displays, entertaining exhibits and lots of fun activities to do along the way. It constantly promotes, reading, writing and using the children's imagination, which as an ex-teacher, pleased me a lot. It also gives lots of information about Dahl's life in a child-friendly way and has some really interesting information about him. One of the highlights was the chance to enter the replica of Dahl's story-writing hut, with original furniture included.
My final activity of the day was to have a little wander around Great Missenden itself. It is the epitome of an English village, nestled in the heart of the Buckinghamshire countryside, a mere 45 minutes outside of London. The quaint highstreet was filled with tea shops and charity shops, as you might expect and there was also the typical parish church, watching over the entire village from the top of a small hill. This is where I located Dahl's grave, situated near a memorial bench stating a touching inscription from The Giraffe, Pelly and Me: 'We have tears in our eyes As we say our goodbyes We so loved being with you, we three So do please now and then Come and see us again.' I don't think they could have found a more fitting quotation from any of his books.
I know I will come again, as will many of his other fans I am sure, both young and old. And I do not think they will be disappointed. What they will find is a fitting tribute to a great man who has inspired so many children in the past. And it was very clear from walking around the museum, he is continuing to inspire yet another generation of children, even now.