Yesterday I continued with my literary pilgrimages and travelled to the town of Great Missenden to visit the Roald Dahl museum.
The town of Great Missenden is a forty minute train journey from London, and is where Roald Dahl lived and worked from 1954 until his death in 1990. During these years he wrote many of his most famous children’s books, and you can even visit some of the places that inspired scenes; such as the library Matilda Wormwood visited in Matilda and the gas station that features in Danny the Champion of the World.
The museum is designed for children first and foremost, and so has lots of interactive elements as well as regular story-telling events and workshops themed around different books or events, such as science week. The main reason I visited on the 1st of March is because one such workshop was on offer, a behind-the-scenes look at the museum archives which houses original letters, manuscripts and objects that belonged to Dahl.
While much of the information on display about Dahl’s life I already knew it was still incredibly fun and exciting to see some of the places and objects in real life. I remember reading My Year when I was in primary school, a book about his life in the town of Great Missenden and he described his writing hut with many personal objects he had collected over the years; it was a real thrill to see them in person!
The ‘workshop’ was definitely worth the trip. Not only did I see some of the original copies of the letters he wrote every week to his mother but we were also shown his final school report and the original telegram he sent his mother to tell her he was in hospital after crashing his RAF fighter jet in Libya during the Second World War! We were also shown his school sports jumper from when he was 17, so large you could easily see how he managed to end up measuring 6’5 in height!
We also viewed some of the copious notes he had made on bugs that he might use for his novel James and the Giant Peach as well as the first draft of the novel, complete with the sticky tape where he had physically ‘cut and pasted’ the writing he wanted to keep from the page he had disposed. We also saw the original illustrations for the first editions of the novel; from before he teamed up with Quentin Blake, who went on to illustrate most of his writing.
The final object we were shown from the archives was Dahl’s original first finished draft of Fantastic Mr. Fox although it was originally titled “Mr. Fox”. He had written his draft in a book and planned the illustrations as he had originally intended it to be a children’s picture book, not just a book with pictures in it. However, his original story featured the foxes tunnelling into a supermarket to steal the food and his publishers rejected it as they didn’t want to publish a book that condoned shoplifting!
I especially liked that the room where we saw the archives was called:
The museum is both interesting and fun, with little story ideas booklets and a pencil given to every child and lots of things to do, touch, see and create. There were dress-ups including his old school uniform, a height chart to measure where you stood in relation to both Dahl and many of his fictional characters, as well as rooms for children to create characters and write stories.
Roald Dahl’s grave is just below a tree that has a memorial bench around it, with the names of his children on each side of the bench and a quote in the cement from The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me. There are BFG footprints leading down to his grave, and you can see where little visitors have come here after visiting the museum and left pencils and notebooks by his grave (which I’m sure he would have liked).