As StarStruck gears up for a lively romp through Wonka’s enchanting chocolate factory, we thought it only appropriate to pay homage to the man behind the magic–beloved children’s author Roald Dahl. Keep reading as guest blogger Martha Garcia takes readers through Dahl’s early years and the story behind “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” and don’t forget–tickets are on sale now for StarStruck’s Willy Wonka Jr.!
By Martha Garcia
Roald Dahl was born in Cardiff, Wales on September 13, 1916. Although he was raised by Norwegian parents who only spoke Norwegian at home with the family, he was educated in prestigious English boarding schools his entire life. In fact, during Dahl’s teenage years at the Repton School in Derbyshire, England, the Cadbury chocolate company occasionally sent boxes of candy to the school to be taste-tested by the pupils. Dahl dreamed of inventing a new type of chocolate bar that would win the praise of Mr. Cadbury himself, and this dream later inspired him to write Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. However, writing children’s books was definitely not Dahl’s first career trajectory.
After finishing his secondary education, Dahl traveled to Africa in 1934 to work for Shell Oil Petroleum in both Kenya and Tanzania. In 1939, he voluntarily joined the British Royal Air Force (RAF) just as World War II was starting. He quickly moved up the ranks to become a high-ranking fighter pilot, but was nearly killed in a plane crash in 1942 that fractured his skull, broke his nose, and temporarily blinded him. Later that same year, after a period of recovery, Dahl transferred to a desk job in Washington D.C. to become an Assistant Air Attaché for the British Information Service. Over the course of the next few years, Dahl was promoted from Flight Lieutenant to Wing Commander, and finally was invalided out of the RAF in 1946 with the substantive rank of Squadron Leader.
Shortly before leaving the military, Dahl was introduced to fellow English expatriate and well-known author C.S. Forester. Forester encouraged Dahl to write a series of anecdotes about his wartime adventures that soon morphed together into a short story entitled “A Piece of Cake”. That story was bought by the Saturday Evening Post and published under the much more exciting sounding title Shot Down Over Libya. After leaving the military, Dahl decided to turn to a full-time writing career. He began writing articles for New Yorker magazine, but quickly turned to independent short stories and novellas for adults that became known for their macabre tone and unexpected endings. Eventually, he decided to focus his writing talents on children’s stories with a niche for being largely unsentimental and containing elements of dark humor. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, published in 1964, was actually Dahl’s third children’s book after Gremlins (1943) and James and the Giant Peach (1961).
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory deals with one kind and impoverished boy’s search for the ultimate prize in a fierce competition with four wealthy, spoiled, and highly unpleasant children. It presented a common theme in Dahl’s fiction for children: virtue is rewarded, but vice is punished–usually in a rather disturbing, yet ironic way. The original story was actually different than the one most of us know and love. As a bit of interesting trivia, here are some major plot points in the original manuscript that differ greatly from the story with which most everyone is familiar:
There were ten golden tickets hidden in Wonka bars each week. Wonka gave a factory tour to the lucky winners every Saturday, and Charlie finds a ticket on his first attempt.
The names of the other nine children on Charlie’s tour are Augustus Pottle, Miranda Grope, Wilbur Rice, Tommy Tourtbeck, Violet Strabismus, Clarence Clump, Bertie Upside, Terence Roper, and Elvira Entwhistle.
Charlie is accidentally encased in chocolate and taken to Wonka’s house as a gift for his son Freddie. While there, Charlie witnesses a burglary, and as a reward for helping to catch the thieves, Wonka gives Charlie his own sweet shop
There was no mention of Oompa Loompas, Grandpa Joe, or most of the other well known characters. All of them eventually made it in to the final draft of the manuscript.
As StarStruck Theatre’s luck would have it, 2014 marks the 50th anniversary of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, a now-beloved children’s story which only gets more delectable with age. To mark the occasion, Penguin Young Readers Group is having a yearlong celebration that includes, of course, a Golden Ticket Sweepstakes! Launched on April 1st, the contest will award five winners a trip to New York, a year’s supply of chocolate and $5,000 of books donated to their school libraries. For more information on the Golden Ticket Sweepstakes, please go to http://www.roalddahl.com/blog/2014/april/the-golden-ticket-sweepstakes. Anniversary editions of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory are also now available in stores.
Fifty years after its publication, children everywhere are still discovering this timeless book. StarStruck Theatre is very excited to present our version of Willy Wonka Jr. to all of you this spring.