Lucy Dahl, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Fantastic Mr. Fox premiere, Roald Dahl family
Chris Pizzello/AP Photo
Lucy Dahl, daughter of writer Roald Dahl, arrives at the premiere of the film "Fantastic Mr.
Fox" on the opening night of AFI Fest 2009 in Los Angeles, Oct. 30, 2009.

Roald Dahl’s Creative Life, On and Off the Page

November 24, 2009
by Sarah Amandolare
Roald Dahl’s work attracts imaginative readers of all ages, including film director Wes Anderson. With the release of Anderson’s stop-action animated adaptation of “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” Dahl’s Gipsy House, where Anderson wrote his screenplay, and where much of Dahl’s spellbinding creativity and family life took place, enters the spotlight. 

Gipsy House

Anderson is a “lifetime fan of Dahl and his work,” according to Chris Lee in an article for the Los Angeles Times. The director obtained rights to “Fantastic Mr. Fox” in 2001 from Felicity Dahl, the author’s widow, and then teamed with Noah Baumbach, also his cowriter for “The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou,” to write the “Fantastic” screenplay.

In 2004, Anderson and Baumbach were invited to Gipsy House, a small cabin-like structure with a garden on Dahl’s property in Buckinghamshire. There, they worked on the screenplay for “several weeks,” and Anderson “exhaustively documented” the house where Dahl wrote his books, allowing it to inspire parts of the film. “Mr. Fox’s study is based on the hut,” Anderson explained. Characters in the film, including “the main farmer, Bean, and Mr. Fox” were also “inspired by Dahl,” he told Lee.

Felicity Dahl is still living at Gipsy House, according to writer Alex Billington, who visited the property for an article for First Showing. Dahl passed away in 1990 at age 74, and since then, Felicity has “done an extraordinary job keeping the place looking beautiful,” Billington writes. The house is surrounded by lush “rolling fields,” several gardens, and “a miniature maze,” which Felicity created in memory of her husband. According to Billington, the landscape inspired portions of Dahl’s books.

Roald and Felicity Dahl at Work

With his second wife Felicity, Roald cowrote “Memories with Food at Gipsy House,” which was published posthumously in 1991 and combines family experiences and quirky recipes. Friends and family members also provided some of the book’s “anecdotes and memories,” and some of the illustrations are by Quentin Blake, Dahl's illustrator, according to The Wandering Pit. Recipes include Rose Petal Sherbet, Onion Soup and Oxtail Stew. The book also reveals that Dahl was related to Scottish knight William Wallace.

The Hedge Society blog has posted an excerpt from “Memories with Food at Gipsy House,” in which Felicity saves the day by having Roald sign a copy of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” for a little boy. She has a waiter hand the book to the boy outside a coffee shop.

The excerpt reads, “Once again she asked the old waiter to go out. 'Take this book,' she said, 'and give it to Johan and simply say to him, "Now and again in this world something magic happens."'

Dahl's Kitchen Creativity

In addition to being a bestselling author, Roald Dahl “was also a foodie and a creative cook,”  Sally Williams writes for the Daily Telegraph. Dalh wrote two books of recipes, “Revolting Recipes” and “Even More Revolting Recipes,” featuring “fictional concoctions” like “candy-coated pencils” and “butter gumballs.” Some of Dahl’s favorite real-life foods include oxtail stew and onions, according to Williams, but he was also quite skilled in the kitchen, crafting things like Pike Quenelles. 

Williams spoke with Felicty “Liccy” Dahl about her husband’s cooking habits. “Instead of just frying an egg,” Liccy explained, “he'd cut a hole in the bread and fry the egg in it. He'd suspend Smarties in jellies and you never had white milk on the table—it was always pink.”

Lesson Plans Based on Dahl's Work

In honor of Dahl's Sept. 13 birthday, TeacherVision provides a selection of lesson plans, printable activities and craft ideas based on Roald Dahl books.

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