Happy birthday, Charlie

Fifty years since it was first published, looks at why Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory remains popular today

This year Charlie and the Chocolate Factory celebrates its fiftieth birthday. Since its publication, it has been adapted for film, radio, video game, opera, theme park attraction and, more recently, West End Musical. So why has this story captured the hearts of children and adults alike for fifty years?

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has not been without controversy, especially regarding the original portrayal of the Oompa-Loompas as African pygmies. In response to criticism the 1971 film adaption cast the Oompa-Loompas as the orange-skinned figures we are more familiar with today and Dahl later changed their description to make them white skinned and golden haired.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has enjoyed great success across the world and is largely regarded as a children’s classic by literary critics. Roald Dahl’s children’s books are widely acclaimed for their moral value.

In Charlie and the Chocolate Factory this relates to virtue and vice, with Augustus Gloop, Veruca Salt, Violet Beauregarde and Mike Teavee each ejected from the factory due to their individual vices. Charlie acts as the contrast and his gaining of the factory at the end of the story highlights the triumph of virtue over vice.
Dahl portrays childhood fears and psychological mind-set within his books and he recognised the need to walk in a child’s shoes to understand their world. This empathy has pervaded his works and enabled children worldwide to step into his stories like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

These aren’t values I considered when reading it as a child. From my perspective, it was the narrative and style that impacted upon me the most. It was not until re-reading the novel at a later age that I began to appreciate the moral value and maturity of the child characters that critics have pinpointed as reasons for its success.
Dahl’s children’s books have been acclaimed generally for being well-written, humorous and entertaining, characteristics certainly present in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Who wouldn’t like to be transported into Willy Wonka’s chocolate world?

Perhaps these different interpretations are the reason why Dahl’s children’s stories have reamined so popular – you discover something new with each reading. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has certainly proved to be highly influential and will undoubtedly continue to be so for many years to come, as will the rest of Roald Dahl’s children’s books.

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