On Colonial Nostalgia and Food in Fantasy Writing

Lizzy Saxe

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In Roald Dahl’s beloved novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, young Charlie Bucket discovers a coveted Golden Ticket and finds himself immersed in a magical world of sugar and shenanigans.

There are glow-in-the-dark lollipops for eating in bed. The wallpaper is delicious. The sodas are so carbonated they make you float up into the sky. The chewing gum tastes like a three-course dinner. There’s a chocolate river, the grass tastes like peppermint, and the toffee apples grow on trees. Wonka even has special stickjaw candies to keep annoying parents from talking too much.

And in the first printing of the novel, all the labor that went into creating this phantasmagorical factory, this dreamscape full of everlasting gobstoppers and candy pencils for sucking in class, was done by pygmies “from the very deepest and darkest part of the African jungle where no White man had been before.”

That’s right; those mysterious, adorable, green-haired, orange-skinned, cheery Oompa Loompas were originally Black Little People. Even in the version on your kid’s shelf right now, Wonka claims that the Oompa Loompas voluntarily relocated their entire tribe to work in his factory. Why? Because they’ve been offered an unlimited supply of cocoa beans—which are also the only form of currency the eccentric chocolate mogul uses to pay them.

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I write about the past, present, and future of food and the human condition. Also sometimes snacks.

Brooklyn, NY
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