BANGALORE: Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory published in 1964 is something that has percolated through a myriad storytelling sessions and assumed a permanent spot in the collective memory of generations of children who have come of age in the last five decades.
Set against the unusual backdrop of a mysterious chocolate factory, this curiously dark and often bittersweet tale is in equal parts fantasy and fable and above all a story with startling original content that has captured the imagination as no other.
Adapted variously into films, musicals, games, radio and stage productions, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has rarely been out of the public eye for long and its characters have become a part of the cultural iconography of our times inspiring dinner menus, tea parties and of course candy. The real-life Willy Wonka Candy Company which is currently owned by Nestle actually manufactures goodies like the Everlasting Gobstopper which was first imagined in the pages of the book. Then there was the magnificent televised feast inspired by the book created by world-renowned chef Heston Blumenthal who called Willy Wonka his "sixties childhood hero" and went on to recreate a magnificent Lickable Wallpaper.
Based on the real-life spy-thriller tactics employed by rival chocolate companies in order to steal each other's latest innovations and Dahl's own love for candy, Willy Wonka's chocolate universe is one that is as fascinating as it is terrifying. With taffy trees that grow jelly apples, mushrooms that spurt whipped cream, a boiled sweet boat that takes the crew down the chocolate river, this is truly a magic landscape. However, it is also one where danger lurks in the sweet depths and holes and crevasses open up swallowing the greedy and the proud — the veritable bad eggs of the group — and send them off to a sorry unsweet end.
The tiny Oompa Loompas from Loompa-Land who work in Willy Wonka's factory, enamoured by the chocolate and glad to have escaped the predatory Whangdoodles, Hornswogglers and Snozzwanglers from their own land, judge the bad kids with a song and dance and are oddly gleeful at their odd transformations.
The odd childishness of adults like Willy Wonka himself and the rather adult observations of the very astute Charlie Bucket make this a book that turns conventions on its head, subverts established norms as well as presents the majority of children as well as adults as not very pleasant or likeable characters. Apart from this, the unmatched imagination, colour, drama, poetry, humour and unforgettable cast of characters in this book has the power to hold any child in its thrall.
Timed perfectly with its fiftieth birthday, two previously 'lost' chapters of the book were published only last month, thrilling legions of fans, researchers, academics and a whole new generation of 21st century children whose love affair with candy continues unabated. Among other things these chapters show more of Willy Wonka's marvellous inventions like the The Warming Candy Room where —
"There's an amazing machine, a bit like the gum machine we know, but it produces these extraordinarily hot sweets that you're only supposed to eat one of."
And like all his extraordinary candy that come with certain warnings, this one is no different and promises to delight those who show restraint and punish the greedy with consequences that verge on comic horror. Thus those who gorge on the hot candy, overheat and need to be locked away in refrigerators in remote corners of the factory for a long, long time. Similarly the characters (and these newly published chapters reveal that Roald Dahl originally included ten children in the party) who trespass on the forbidden areas of the Vanilla Fudge Mountain, where hunks of fudge are constantly being pried and taken away also meet a sorry fate. They fall into the 'pounding and cutting room' and —
"into the mouth of a huge machine. The machine then pounds it against the floor until it is all nice and smooth and thin. After that, a whole lot of knives come down and go chop chop chop, cutting it up into neat little squares, ready for the shops."
This is the perfect bookend to a year which is full of celebrations for fans both old and new. The publishers as well as the Roald Dahl Trust have a whole range of goodies lined up which include the launch of a new Roald Dahl Audio App, A West End musical production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Willy Wonka inspired desserts by star chefs, Golden Ticket trails at the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre, a Dahlicious Dress Up day in schools across the UK later this month, and fifty fundraising sky-diving folks dressed up as Oompa Loompas!
When I found out about these new chapters, I felt like doing a little jig just like the 96-year-old Grandpa Joe did when he found out that Charlie had won the Golden Ticket and an entry into the magical factory. It is true for many of my generation that fifty years later, this book is still a scrumdiddlyumptious treat to be savoured one page at a time.