Update 9/14/15: In 2012, the interior of Roald Dahl's famed but falling-apart writing shed — complete with "all the extraordinary and fascinating objects he kept at hand for contemplation and inspiration" — was painstakingly moved to the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre in Buckinghamshire. The move happened somewhat quietly and with little fanfare. Today, Dahl's recreated writing hut is "one of the highlights" of the museum.
Here's an odd — and oddly frustrating — story out of the U.K. involving garden sheds, £500,000, and the beloved author of "James and the Giant Peach."
As I've mentioned before in past garden shed-related posts, America's cultural obsession with backyard out-buildings — meant for housing tools, gardening equipment and maybe even granny when she's in town for a visit — isn't quite the same as it is in the U.K. Here, garden sheds are commonly neglected in favor for garages and filled with junk. They aren't places for people; they're places for stuff. Across the pond, however, garden sheds are treated as a vital extension of the home and as the man of the house's own private retreat. They're celebrated, heavily utilized, thoughtfully designed, often lived in and can even be a deal-breaker when it comes to real estate transactions. "What a beautiful home! But the shed out back doesn't seem to be up to snuff. Let's move on."
Some British garden sheds come with serious literary pedigrees as is the case with a 6-foot by 7-foot brick hut used by the late, great Welsh author Roald Dahl as his backyard writing studio. It's this very dilapidated shed and the efforts to relocate and preserve its contents that has many Brits all fired up. Here's why:
Dahl's shed, located in the garden of Gipsy House, his former home in Buckinghamshire, has fallen into serious disrepair and his family, understandably, wants to save what's inside it. In an effort to do so, the Save the Hut campaign kicked off on Sept. 13, what would be the "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" author's 95th birthday. (My favorite Dahl tome? "The Twits," an animal cruelty revenge tale.)
Since launching the campaign, Dahl's descendants have come under considerable fire for publicly soliciting funds (£500,000 or about $789,450, to be exact) that will help painstakingly relocate the interior of the shack from the garden to the nearby Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre (a green-minded operation, btw). Once the interior is relocated, it will be opened to the public as part of an interactive exhibit. Many wonder why Dahl's wealthy family — including his maternal granddaughter, millionaire former model, author and BBC cooking show presenter, Sophie Dahl — can't pony up and foot the entire moving bill themselves.
To publicize the shed-saving fundraiser, Sophie Dahl took to BBC Radio 4 and said: "It's in a bit of a state, poor little hut. It needs help. We are trying to raise half a million pounds, which sounds like a great deal of money to move the interior of a little hut but it's quite a process."
According to the Telegraph, the backlash against Sophie Dahl and the campaign, particularly on Twitter, has been relentless. One Radio 4 listener commented: "I love a bit of Roald Dahl. But being asked by his millionaire granddaughter to stump up for his shed being moved takes the Wonka biscuit." Another Tweeted: "Roald Dahl Day tainted by Sophie Dahl begging for public money to fix Roald's writing shed whilst his books are still selling worldwide."
Dahl's books are indeed still selling worldwide and even 21 years after his death he remains a best-selling children's author. The Guardian notes that his fantastical works sell at a rate of 12 per minute every day of the year. His literary estate, thanks to book sales, merchandising and royalties from plays and film adaptations like "Fantastic Mr. Fox" and Tim Burton's 2005 take on "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" is the exact opposite of measly.
The Roald Dahl Museum is quick to point out that Sophie Dahl and the rest of Dahl family have chipped in to support the project (£250,000 has been raised so far) and that none of the support was actually expected to come from the public but instead from educational trusts.
Clarifies museum director Amelia Foster on the Save the Hut homepage: "The way things have been understood has diminished Sophie's wonderful contribution and made people wrongly assume that the Dahl family were not contributing and that we were hoping for public donations. This is a great, great shame as neither is true."
Whether the controversy over Roald Dahl's garden shed is just a colossal misunderstanding or a misstep by the Dahl estate and his family, one thing's for sure: I've added Nicolas Roeg's brilliant 1990 adaptation of "The Witches" to my Netflix queue. Any Dahl lovers out there care to chime in?