Welcome to the Dahl House {archive}

August 18th, 2002 – New York Times
By Wes Anderson

My brothers and I grew up reading Roald Dahl’s stories. Our mother had gotten us nameplates to put in our books, and we used to steal one another’s copies of ”Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and ”The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar,” tear out the other’s nameplates and replace them with our own. Dahl was our favorite.

For me the best were ”Danny the Champion of the World” and ”Fantastic Mr. Fox.”

Last year I decided to find out what it would take to make a movie from ”Mr. Fox.” I arranged to meet with Dahl’s wife, Felicity, or Liccy, who runs the Dahl estate and helps to produce the films, operas, etc., that have come from his books.

She is a very charming and energetic woman, with an infectious enthusiasm for her husband’s work. She invited me to Gipsy House. I knew about Dahl’s residence in Great Missenden near Oxford, and I was especially eager to see the tiny hut where he wrote for four hours each day in an armchair with a green-felt-upholstered board across his lap for a desk.

I went to Gipsy House in March, and it was drenched in mud. Liccy gave me a pair of rubber boots and one of Dahl’s old fishing hats and took me around the property. There is a gigantic beech tree at the end of a fox run, which I immediately recognized from ”Fantastic Mr. Fox.” There is a painted gypsy caravan under a tree, which I had seen in dust-jacket photographs. There is a stone half buried on the edge of the drive with the word ”gipsy” carved into it.

Liccy showed me into Dahl’s famous writing hut. There is part of a bone from his hip on the table next to his first metal hip replacement, which didn’t take. There is a 10-pound ball of aluminum foil made from several years of Cadbury chocolate wrappers. There is a little surgical valve he invented that saved his son from hydrocephalus.

That night Liccy left me to examine Dahl’s manuscripts in an office next to the guest house. An archivist made me wash my hands twice with special soap and told me to close all the curtains and lock the door when I was finished. I was alone with dozens of handwritten drafts with Dahl’s sketches in the margins, and I could see his whole process laid out in front of me. More than ever, I felt as if I were in his presence.

The next morning I walked with Liccy across a bridge over the highway to a church and the cemetery where Dahl is buried. The sky was dark, and it started to rain as we went to his grave. We shared an umbrella.

There is a monument made of a round wooden bench on a stone platform. Each of Dahl’s eight children has a seat on the bench with his or her name carved into the back: Olivia, Tessa, Theo, Ophelia, Neisha, Charlotte, Lucy and Lorina. I wanted to sit for a while, but the bench was wet. Liccy and I walked back to the house in the rain. We had tea.

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