After more than 50 years since Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was first published, we get a surprising revelation: the hero was originally a black character.
The widow of the British children's author, Liccy Dahl, revealed the news in a recent interview with BBC Radio 4's Today. "His first Charlie that he wrote about was a little black boy," she said.
According to the 78-year-old, Dahl was aware of what would appeal to both British and American readers, which is why he originally envisioned the character of Charlie Bucket as black.
"I'm sure that was influenced by America," Dahl's widow said, before adding that it was "a great pity" the character was changed.
To provide insight into this, Dahl's biographer Donald Sturrock noted in the same interview that the change in race was actually not the author's idea, but his agent's. "I can tell you that it was his agent who thought it was a bad idea, when the book was first published, to have a black hero," Sturrock explained. "She said people would ask: 'Why?'"
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was published in 1964, but Dahl came up with the idea for the story during his own childhood. In his autobiographical book Boy, the author revealed that he and a few school friends in England were once recruited to be "taste testers" for a chocolate company. From there, his ideas for a children's story started rolling.
Interestingly, Dahl never revealed that he originally imagined Charlie Bucket as a black character, not even when he wrote the screenplay for the 1971 film, starring Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka and Peter Ostrum as Charlie.
According to The Evening Standard, the news that Charlie was originally imagined as a black character is a surprising one, considering the late author was originally accused of racism for depicting the Oompa Loompas in his story as black pygmies.
"In the version first published, [the Oompa-Loompas were] a tribe of 3,000 amiable black pygmies who have been imported by Mr. Willy Wonka from 'the very deepest and darkest part of the African jungle where no white man had been before,'" author Jeremy Treglown wrote in his biography of Dahl.
The late author was originally accused of racism for depicting the Oompa Loompas in his story as black pygmies.
According to Treglown, the author's editors considered the story to be a "very English fantasy," which is why the racist depictions were originally overlooked. It wasn't until the book made news in the U.S. in the 1970s that it received huge backlash for its depiction of Oompa Loompas.
At the time, Dahl stated he did not intend for his characters to be racist or for readers to draw comparisons between the Oompa Loompas' importation to Wonka's factory to that of slavery, The Guardian reports.
In the 1971 film, the Oompa Loompas were depicted with orange skin to avoid the issue of race, and the following year Dahl reworked the characters in another U.S. edition of his book so that they were depicted with "rosy-white skin."
This new tidbit about Charlie and the Chocolate Factory's protagonist comes at an interesting time, as Sept. 13, marks what would have been Dahl's 101st birthday.
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