Inside Charlie’s Chocolate Factory

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If Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was your favourite book when you were a kid, or if it’s your favourite book now, you’ll probably want to read Inside Charlie’s Factory: The Complete Story of Willy Wonka, the Golden Ticket, and Roald Dahl’s Most Famous Creation by Lucy Mangan. This book is for superfans who want to learn more about how Charlie came to be and maybe gain some insights into why it has endured for as long as it has.

You’ll see the story morph from its original title, Charlie’s Chocolate Boy, to what it has become today. This book includes a photo of the original manuscript page from 1961 in Dahl’s handwriting, and also later draft pages that were typed up. Early drafts were very different from what we know now, of course. For example,Willie Wonka was originally named Mr. Ritchie, and there were no Oompa-Loompas. Here’s what Dahl said of his first attempt at Charlie:

“The very first time I did it, I got everything wrong. I wrote a story about a little boy who was going round a chocolate factory and he accidentally fell into a big tub of melted chocolate and got sucked into the machine that made chocolate figures and he couldn’t get out.”

I really liked seeing all the editions of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory over the years, including first edition covers for the US (1964) and UK (1967) as seen above. Plus all the international editions that I’ve never seen before and the many Puffin versions over the years. Also newer editions like the Penguin Classics Deluxe edition illustrated by cartoonist Ivan Brunetti (as seen here) and the Penguin Modern Classics edition.

Inside Charlie’s Chocolate Factory taught me a few things I didn’t know. Like the fact that one of the reasons Charlie ended up being as amazing as it did was because of Dahl’s agent at the time, Sheila St Lawrence. She encouraged him to let his imagination run wild and told him to not be afraid of going too far. Thanks Shelia! I also learned a little about what was going on in Dahl’s personal life at the time he was writing Charlie, as well as what was going on in the world in general. I didn’t know that the NAACP had raised concerns about racism in the book, specifically the Oompa-Loompas who were thought to resemble pygmies from Africa. This association wasn’t Dahl’s intention when he wrote the book, and he ended up changing the appearance of the Oompa-Loompas, giving them green hair and orange skin, in the second edition.

My favourite chapter was “Behind the Gates of the Chocolate Factory: A Visual Tour.” because it’s where you learn about the illustrators of Dahl’s work. Did you know that Maurice Sendak was Dahl’s first choice as illustrator for Charlie? He was busy though, perhaps working on Where the Wild Things Are. So I guess that turned out for the best.

Joseph Schindelman was the first person to illustrate Charlie, he did the cover for the first edition. Followed by Faith Jacques and Michael Foreman. Lastly, Quentin Blake re-illustrated Charlie in 2013, after Dahl had died. Hard to imagine anyone else other than Blake illustrating Dahl’s work. His style is so distinctive. It’s pretty incredible to see each illustrator’s take on all the characters from the book and the factory itself.


I love that Inside Charlie’s Chocolate Factory has a lot of detailed information on the many adaptations of Charlie from over the years, including two film versions, an opera, a play, and a musical. It takes you behind the scenes of the 1971 version starring Gene Wilder and the more recent Tim Burton adaptation. This section of the book was so interesting to me that I’m going to save everything I learned for a separate post.

As the book winds down, one chapter is devoted to Charlie‘s effect on popular culture. From Lego and pinball machines to video games and memes. It even takes a look at The Simpsons obsession with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. 

I wish the book had spent more time on Dahl’s writing process and where he got his ideas from. If that’s what you’re into learning about too, buried in the chapter on the history of our obsession with chocolate was the story of how Dahl initially became interested in chocolate, which was obviously the inspiration for Charlie. When Dahl was a teen at boarding school, Cadbury would sometimes send over these boxes filled with chocolate bars for the students to test. It was these boxes that made him realize that chocolate had to be invented, and that in every chocolate factory there were whole departments devoted to coming up with new ideas for sweets.

Everyone who reads Inside Charlie’s Chocolate Factory will end up loving Charlie a little bit more. And I think author Lucy Mangan ends the book with the right idea:

“So just go and read Charlie again — the one you remember from childhood. Not the one about a reader-substitute who embarks on an exercise in universal wish-fulfillment and resolves our socio-sexual-cultural anxieties and ambivalences along the way, but the one about the boy who wins a Golden Ticket and gets to visit an amazing chocolate factory run by a crazy man called Willy Wonka. It’s a really good book.”


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