Charlie and the Chocolate Factory | Study Guide

Roald Dahl

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Charlie and the Chocolate Factory | 10 Things You Didn't Know


Imagine a job as a chocolate taster in a candy factory. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, published in 1964, was inspired in part by Roald Dahl's own youthful experience as a taster for the Cadbury chocolate company. The novel is the story of Charlie Bucket, a boy living in poverty who finds a golden ticket that allows him to visit his town's mysterious chocolate factory.

The story went through a number of versions, beginning as the tale of a boy who fell into a vat of chocolate and was made into a chocolate figure. Eventually, Dahl completed what would become Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It's been immensely popular since its publication, selling 10,000 copies in its first week, and is on many lists of best children's books. It has inspired two well-known movie adaptations, starring Gene Wilder and Johnny Depp, respectively, as the eccentric candymaker Willy Wonka.

1. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was originally a bedtime story for Dahl's children.

Roald Dahl and his wife, actress Patricia Neal, had five children. Every night, Dahl would tell the children a story. He explained:

Most of them [were] pretty bad, but now and again you'd tell one and you see a little spark of interest. And if they ever said the next night, "Tell us some more about that one," you knew you had something.

This was how his first book, James and the Giant Peach (1961) got its start, and it was also the origin of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

2. The NAACP objected to racism in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

In the original published version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the factory workers, known as Oompa-Loompas, were portrayed as African pygmies "from the very deepest and darkest part of the jungle where no white man had ever been before." When the book was optioned to be made into a film, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) protested the negative portrayal, saying:

The objection to the title "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" is simply that the NAACP doesn't approve of the book, and therefore doesn't want the film to encourage sales of the book. The solution is to make the Oompa-Loompas white and to make the film under a different title.

Dahl was horrified by the criticism. In the 1971 film, the Oompa-Loompas became orange-faced, and the title was changed to Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. In the 1973 edition of the book, the Oompa-Loompas became white and hailed from Loompaland.

3. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has a sequel and was supposed to be part of a trilogy.

In 1972 Dahl wrote a sequel to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory titled Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator. In the story, Charlie Bucket and Willy Wonka rescue residents from a space hotel and are invited to the White House to meet the president, an overbearing and unpleasant man, and his vice president, a large 89-year-old woman who had once been the president's nanny. Only a chapter of the third book, Charlie in the White House, was completed, and it is on display at the Roald Dahl Museum in Buckinghamshire, England.

4. The candy espionage in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is based on real events.

In Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Willy Wonka's competitors try to steal the secrets for his magical sweets. Candy ideas are often stolen. The coconut-chocolate Mounds bar, for example, was stolen by a British candy spy and made into the British bar called Bounty. Consequently, the candy industry has long been very secretive with their recipes and formulas. Candy factories hired detectives to watch suspected workers, and the Mars company put blindfolds on visitors.

5. Gene Wilder, who played Willy Wonka in the 1971 film version of the novel, would only take the role if he could enter with a somersault.

Several actors were considered for the role of Willy Wonka in the first movie version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. However, when Gene Wilder walked into his audition, the director, Mel Stuart, knew he was the right choice. Stuart offered Wilder the role, stating, "You are Willy Wonka!" but Wilder had one condition: He wanted to do a somersault when he first met the children who came to visit his factory. When Stuart asked why, Wilder told him he wanted to make Willy Wonka utterly unpredictable, and introducing him with an unexpected somersault would do just that. That is how the character enters the film.

6. Dahl despised the first film version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Roald Dahl wrote the screenplay for the novel's first film adaptation, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, but he never liked the finished product. He called it "crummy" and claimed to dislike its music, its director, and especially its star, Gene Wilder. Dahl thought of Willy Wonka as a very British character, and Wilder's American accent and odd interpretation of the role annoyed him. He considered Wilder's portrayal "pretentious."

7. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has inspired video games, an opera, and a stage musical.

The first video game version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory came out in 1985 for the ZX Spectrum gaming system to lukewarm reviews. A second version, made for the Game Cube in 2005, had "stunning" graphics but was criticized for being "too hard."

An opera version of the book, titled The Golden Ticket, had its world premiere in St. Louis in June 2010. Reviewers loved it, saying, "a fanciful tale meets theater of the absurd meets opera." The stage musical version opened in London in May 2013. Reviews were mixed. One critic called it "a lavish bonanza" while another claimed it was "slow as cold treacle."

8. Both the novel and the Oompa-Loompas originally had different names.

When Dahl began writing his story in 1961, it was titled Charlie's Chocolate Boy. The book went through five different drafts. In early drafts, the Oompa-Loompas, who work in Willy Wonka's chocolate factory, were known as the Whipple-Scrumpets.

9. Dahl originally planned to do away with far more than four children in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

In Dahl's first draft of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, 15 children visited the chocolate factory. He found that number unwieldy, though, and reduced it in each succeeding draft. There were 10 children, then 7, then 6, before he settled on 5. One of the discarded characters, Miranda Mary Piker, was "the filthiest, rudest and most disobedient creature you could imagine" according to Dahl. The Oompa-Loompas sang about her:

Oh, Miranda Mary Piker,
How could anybody like her,
Such a rude and disobedient little kid,
So we said why don't we fix her
In the Peanut-Brittle Mixer,
Then we're sure to like her better than we did.

The section with Miranda Mary Piker was published on its own in 1973 as a short story called "Spotty Powder."

10. Another writer fought with Dahl about the quality of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

In 1973 children's writer and critic Eleanor Cameron published an article in The Horn Book, a journal of literature for young readers, in which she criticized Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, calling it "one of the most tasteless books ever written for children." She went on to say:

What I object to in Charlie is its phony presentation of poverty and its phony humor, which is based on punishment with overtones of sadism; its hypocrisy which is epitomized in its moral stuck like a marshmallow in a lump of fudge — that TV is horrible and hateful and time-wasting and that children should read good books instead, when in fact the book itself is like nothing so much as one of the more specious television shows.

Distressed, Dahl replied to Cameron's criticisms, stating that she was "completely out of touch with reality." And Cameron wrote back, having the final word:

Certainly, it is true that in the process of discriminating, some people may come to differing conclusions, as many of us have about Charlie. Still, those who are concerned with children's reading realize that they must think about a book as well as have feelings about it, even though criticism— indeed, because criticism —like poetry, begins with emotion.

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