Oompa loompas go online

Adi Bloom

A website will introduce children to the life and work of one of their favourite authors, Roald Dahl

He created the gruesome punishments inflicted on Charlie's fellow visitors to the chocolate factory, Matilda's sadistic teachers and the horrors of Revolting Rhymes. But what really struck fear into the heart of Roald Dahl were computers.

And now the celebrated children's writer, who died in 1990, has had his worst fears realised. This week, an official Dahl educational website was launched, containing a description of every item in the author's archive.

Launching the website, which was backed by the writer's family, Liccy Dahl, the author's widow, said: "Roald hated computers. Perhaps he was born too early. He relied upon pencils and yellow legal pads to create characters such as the Oompa loompas, the dimunitive, singing chocolate-factory workers.

"In fact, he was highly critical of computers, as he thought that in the future there would be no record of the development of a story."

But officials from the Roald Dahl Museum and Storytelling Centre, which runs the website, believe that the author had little to fear from what is now everyday technology. Katy Sullivan, education officer, said: "Children hate redrafting creative writing work, and don't realise that it's something that even authors have to do. They think that a story just arrives in an author's head. Roald Dahl rewrote and redrafted manuscripts.

The website can be used to show this development."

Eventually, each item on the site will be accompanied by a scanned image.

This image database will be built up over time, beginning with Dahl's childhood letters home from school, which are already available. There are more than 500 of these, including idiosyncratic schoolboy spellings such as "agenst" and "mony". These will be accompanied by copies of his school reports, and photographs taken while he was at school.

Liz Whittingham, museum collections manager, said: "There's much about his life that children today can relate to: his individual spelling, his time learning football and rugby at school. But a lot of the social history of the era will be unfamiliar to children today, and they can learn from that."

The website will include a teachers' guide, and information about the museum in Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire, which will open next spring.

The aim is to capitalise on the interest generated by the latest film version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, starring Johnny Depp as Willy Wonka, which is due for release in 2005.

www.roalddahlmuseum.org

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Adi Bloom

Adi Bloom is Tes comment editor

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