Christopher Robin’s bookstore lost, Roald Dahl’s writing shed saved (maybe).
The British are a delightfully silly race, and never moreso than when they are being absolutely serious about something, as evidenced by the recent controversies over Roald Dahl’s “writing shed,” and Christopher Robin’s bookshop.
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Roald Dahl, of course, is the author of some of the greatest children’s fiction of the modern age, while Christopher Robin Milne is the subject of that enduring classic, Winnie the Pooh, written by his father, A.A. Milne, and dumbed down by Walt Disney, the better to market toys, dolls and books to wee little ones.
The Milne story is the saddest, though some silliness is woven through the dour spectacle. Christopher Robin grew up to despise his father for using his name and likeness in the original Pooh books, and used to hide from fans who came seeking him out at Harbour Bookshop, the store he opened with his wife in 1951.
“It seemed to me almost that my father had got to where he was by climbing upon my infant shoulders, that he had filched from me my good name and had left me with the empty fame of being his son,” Milne once said, according to the Independent..
Ouch. Hmm. Being the star of an internationally beloved children’s story could be seen as an honor, too, you know, Chris. You must have been one sensitive boy. Or else maybe skeletons having nothing to do with Pooh (okay, stop that giggling right now!) lurk in the Milne family closet.
In any event, Christopher Robin retired from the bookshop in 1983, and died in 1996 at the age of 76. Current owners Rowland and Caroline Abram blame rising rents for their decision to close the bookstore.
By contrast, the Dahl brouhaha is pure farce. It erupted when remarks made by Dahl’s granddaughter, the author and former model Sophie Dahl, seemed to amount to an appeal for public funds and private contributions to save the backyard hut where Dahl wrote his children’s classics and move it down the road to the Roald Dahl Museum.
Cost: Half million pounds, which is, let’s see, converted to real money, (mmm, carry the three, times pi squared, minus the hypotenuse of the global box office for James and the Giant Peach…): a gazillion dollars.
The reaction of the British public was swift and went something like this: Wot? Us give you money for a shed? Blimey! You lot are rich, fix up the bloody thing yourselves!
From afar I’ve been watching this teapot cyclone with wry amusement for more than a week now. The headlines alone are delicious: “When is a shed not a shed? When it’s a PR disaster.” “Roald Dahl’s story factory move provokes controversy.” My personal favorite: “Roald Dahl’s family labeled ‘stingy’ in row over author’s hut.”
And then after everyone’s been up in arms for a few days, it turns out that if you actually paid attention to what Sophie said, she never asked for public or private funds to save her grandfather’s writing retreat. Or at least that’s what the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Center is saying:
“Much of the funding is already in place to ‘Save the Hut’ and has come from the Dahl family, who are huge supporters of all our work at the Museum and of Roald Dahl’s Marvellous Children’s Charity, a paediatric neurology and haematology charity,” reads a statement on the museum’s website.
The remainder of the gazillion dollars was to come from “charitable institutions and trusts that support museums, literacy and creative education, as well as patrons of the arts and companies involved in the publishing and licensing of Roald Dahl’s work.”
But now, in what we may hope is the final coda of this ridiculous story, a group of “fighter plane engineers,” have volunteered to move the shed for free in honor of Dahl’s World War II RAF service, during which he almost died in a plane crash in North Africa.
Tony Ditheridge, who runs Suffolk-based Hawker Restorations, has volunteered to tackle the task, provided experts decide the hut can be saved and safely moved, reports the Express.
“If the experts say it’s possible we would be only too happy to send down a team of our craftsmen and move the shed for free,” Ditheridge said. “It would be a tribute to him for his war efforts and for the joy he has brought to millions of young readers – my own daughter Amy loved his stories when she was little.”
All’s well that ends well, but I can’t help imagining Dahl — the least cuddly of children’s authors — looking down (or up, as the case may be!) in amusement at the whole kerfluffle.