Through the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre was set up through charity and it’s self stated vision is to ‘be an inspirational Museum that encourages children and adults to unlock their imaginations, engage with reading and have a go at creative writing‘ and thankfully the museum manges every single bit of this.
The museum is situated in the high street of Great Missenden; Great Missenden being the village in which Roald Dahl lived and wrote for 36 years of his life. The museum costs £6 for adults, £4 for concessions and children (children under 5 get in for free), with this entrance fee not only do you get access to the museum but also an adult or children’s guide to help ensure that you get the most out of your visit. The museum consists of two biographical rooms to explore, the story centre room, various educational/interactive rooms (for all ages), cafe, shop and courtyard area .
Boy Gallery – This is the first room you come to within the museum and is aptly named after Roald Dahl’s ‘Boy’ memoirs.
Willy Wonka Chocolate Doors
You enter through giant Wonka chocolate bar doors which instantly get any visitors talking about the Dahl’s books or film adaptations and all those these doors could easily be a focal point of the room in their own right, they do not overshadow or draw attention away from the brightly (sensor controlled) lit room. The room has two waist height cabinets facing each other on opposing walls, these are full of photographs, transcripts, notepads and scrawly handwriting – these artefacts have all been sourced from the Roald Dahl archive and it is explained to the visitor that every month the objects must be removed, cleaned and replaced so as to stop extensive damage being caused. The notepads in particular draw attention as they show Dahl’s scrawling handwriting, crossing outs and bits of paper stuck together to help extend a story – this engages directly with the museum’s mission of engaging visitors with creative writing as it demonstrates a progress that is daunting (even Dahl seemed to struggle sometimes). The cabinets tell the story of Dahl’s childhood – letters to his mother from school, photographs of day trips and collective memories are all part of the experience in recreating his early life. There is a large light box on top of one of the cabinets in which you can date order family photographs, giving a homely feel to such a private man. There is a mounted television screen playing a looped DVD of those closest to Dahl relating stories to help build the picture of Dahl’s life before novels and fame.
Large Board from Boy Gallery
Large Board from Boy Gallery
There are large boards with blown up photographs, quotes and text panels that shed further light on Dahl’s early life. Theygive of the impression that excitement and imagination has always excited in Dahl’s life, even from such an early age. Next to the chocolate doors there are copies of Dahl’s memoir ‘Boy’ which have been extensively thumbed through and read, the book is battered but charming and shows the way in which the museum inspires children and adults alike to be inspired to actively read.
Solo Gallery – The Solo gallery is, again, recognisably named after Roald Dahl’s memoir ‘Solo’. This is a room filled to the brim with exciting mixed media and every inch of it screams inspirational engagement. There are two large screens silently depicting favourite scenes from film adaptations of Roald Dahl novels. Over the top of this and shown on a small screen Roald Dahl, various directors, Quentin Blake and his daughters give descriptions of their favourite films and books. Straight in front of you when you enter is a humongous table created out of blown up Dahl novels – with the desktop being Matilda. It’s used as top for crafts and activities to take place. For instance, whilst I was there, visitors were invited to make paper seagulls like the ones from James and the Giant peach.
Matilda Table Top
From there you can move onto either the an oversized B.F.G. dream jar, in which you can create your own dream with other visitors using shadow puppets. Or, for the older generation you can look at the Roald ‘Dial’ that hangs on the wall next to the dream jar – it shows, in an amusing fashion, the life and works of Roald Dahl in the form of a large dial/clock theme.
B.F.G. Dream Jar and Roald Dial
One thing you notice about this gallery is that it is full to the brim of inspiring interactives, but not just for children, but for anyone and everyone! As the children dress up as their favourite characters in the corner or fill their guide books up with stamps of Quentin Blake’s drawings, the adult visitor is able to read through the audio transcripts of the video that is being played on a loop, or read the Road Dial, or look at the text panels that describe Roald Dahl’s working relationships.
Story Centre – When I visited the room was being used for a school group on an outing so I didn’t manage to get a real sense of how the room would work to open visitors. However the bit I saw was very impressive – there was an area towards the back that held a small exhibition of the set from the recent Fantastic Mr Fox interpretation – which helps to inspire and create a new generation of Roald Dahl lovers. The centre is described on their website as an area where the ‘imagination of the visitor [is put] centre-stage’ - an example of this was the table on which you could create your own word. This was based on a process that Dahl himself used, you place three seemingly ordinary short words together and then create a meaning/animal for this word. It’s hilarious for all ages and yet so simple, it’s not too literary based that a child can feel pressured to think of something genius and yet it is truly a process that lets the imagination and creativity of anyone be free.
To conclude, the museum is so close to verging on perfection, it’s only real flaw is that it’s in a building too small – the museum could really benefit from expanding, but then arguably it would lose rather a lot of it’s charm if it did so. The museum has successfully created an area in which both children and adults can be imaginative, productive and inspired – something which a lot of larger and better funded museums have not yet achieved. As an adult you are transported back to being a child, remembering when you first entered the magical land created by Roald Dahl and now you wish never to leave. As a child you have been inspired by the re-generation of Fantastic Mr Fox and now you are inspired by the world in which you have yet to enter. The museum creates an informal, relaxing and cheerful way in which to encourage a new generation of literature lovers – which is a particularly hard task in this age of new media – yet the museum manages this perfectly. I applaud this museum and believe that everyone else should too.