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Charlie and the Chocolate Factory hero ‘was originally black’

14 September 2017

From The Guardian:

Roald Dahl originally wanted the eponymous hero of his much-loved children’s book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to be black, his widow has said.

In an interview with BBC Radio 4’s Today programme for Roald Dahl day on Wednesday, Liccy Dahl said: “His first Charlie that he wrote about was a little black boy.”

Asked why it was changed, she replied: “I don’t know. It’s a great pity.”

Her husband’s biographer Donald Sturrock, who was also being interviewed, said the change to a white character was driven by Dahl’s agent, who thought a black Charlie would not appeal to readers.

“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,” said Sturrock. “She said people would ask: ‘Why?’”

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Agents, Big Publishing, Children's Books

14 Comments to “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory hero ‘was originally black’”

  1. And of course I miss-read it, though strangely enough the answer still fits …

  2. Another fine example of the “curating” that the traditional publishing system provides

    • More an example of the social norms of the day.

      Published the same year the Civil Rights Act in the USA banned segregation.

      Published in the same year Britain finally gave independence to Zambia and Malawi, and still held four African countries as colonies.

      • Social norms enforced by the publishing establishment. Even against the author’s wishes. Even after the norms had changed.

        You ever hear of Joanna Russ’s THE FEMALE MAN?
        By the time she found a publisher willing to “risk” publishing it, the topicality was almost exhausted.


        • Note that the “establishment” has almost never published anything until a social trend has peaked. One of their problems today – the back and forth waves of social trends are a lot faster than those they grew up with.

          They would almost certainly publish the novel were it written today – in fact, enter a bidding war for it. Unfortunately, that wave has passed (although they largely haven’t realized it yet).

          I would also note that Ms. Russ is fated to perpetual obscurity. Her kind of works are not going to sell to the society that is trending more conservative – and for the people that are resisting that trend, their Current History asserts that she never existed.

        • Social norms enforced by the publishing establishment. Even against the author’s wishes. Even after the norms had changed.

          Changes made by the guys who bought the right to change it. The author sold away his wishes. He made a choice. Life + 70. Authors sometimes don’t realize what that means. They should. It’s a lot of power for a very long time.

          • Today, yes.
            Back then…less options.

            You either toed the line or got nowhere. Maybe got blacklisted, too. Quite a few great writers preferred to walk away from the business.

            Selfpublishing wasn’t terribly viable for most of the 20th century unless you were just trying to impress a circle of litfit writer friends.

            • Sure. But if there were many choices, or only one choice, the author still sold his rights and wishes. Some sold. Some walked.

              But there is a persistent notion that authors have some legal or moral right to their work even after they have sold it. Authors tell us they don’t like the cover, marketing, edits, or promotion the publisher gave their book. Well, that’s fine, but they no longer have any standing. They have the money.

              Authors don’t like seeing their work compared to widgets. But that’s how the guy paying the money looks at it. The money, follow it.

  3. He also changed how the villains were all jews.

    • For the Gene Wilder film, he also rewrote the Oompa Loompas so that they were not African Pygmies.

      Now, if I were an African Pygmy, that could offend me – those little guys were the smartest and sanest characters in that movie (most ethical, too – Willie had some issues there, along with his guests other than Charlie and Grandpa).

      Addenda – little guy, singular. Some fantastic film work there…

      • It sounds like the original version wasn’t really about kids and candy. Which might explain the changes. 🙂

        • You know, when well-meaning relatives were gifting us Roald Dahl books for our kids, I never felt ANY of them were really about kids (or candy). Some complex issues in those stories …

          • I know MATILDA (my favorite) sure isn’t a traditional kids story. I’ve wondered if he might have been slightly inspired by Charles Addams. 🙂

  4. I need a one way ticket to Mongolia.

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