Roald Dahl Denied Commemorative British Coin Over Anti-Semitism

Notwithstanding how much we enjoyed as a family his stories, his personal history is pretty odious:

Roald Dahl, who passed away in 1990, would have turned 100 in 2016. But the Royal Mint, which has a tradition of issuing commemorative coins for notable British figures’ significant anniversaries — recent among them Jane Austen and Mary Shelley — never introduced the author of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” “Fantastic Mr. Fox” and “Matilda” into celebratory circulation.

As The Guardian reports, the reason behind that curious choice has now been revealed: Dahl’s anti-Semitism.

Per files disclosed to The Guardian after a request through freedom of information laws, the decision not to honor Dahl was made during a 2014 meeting about potential coins for 2016. The minutes of that meeting note that Dahl’s centenary was brought up, but he was “Associated with anti-Semitism and not regarded as an author of the highest reputation.”

Dahl admirers might quibble with the latter statement, but the author’s anti-Semitism wasn’t just something others observed — it was something he openly proclaimed.

“I’m certainly anti-Israeli and I’ve become anti-Semitic in as much as that you get a Jewish person in another country like England strongly supporting Zionism,” Dahl told the Independent in 1990.

“It’s the same old thing: we all know about Jews and the rest of it,” he later added. “There aren’t any non-Jewish publishers anywhere, they control the media — jolly clever thing to do — that’s why the president of the United States has to sell all this stuff to Israel.”

As the Forward noted on what would have been Dahl’s 100th birthday — September 13, 2016 — Dahl’s anti-Semitic statements also included a note, in a 1983 book review for the Literary Review, that the U.S. government was “utterly dominated by the great Jewish financial institutions over there.” That same year, he told the New Statesman that “There is a trait in the Jewish character that does provoke animosity, maybe it’s a kind of lack of generosity towards non-Jews. I mean, there’s always a reason why anti-anything crops up anywhere; even a stinker like Hitler didn’t just pick on them for no reason.”

Notably, the Royal Mint’s decision predates the United Kingdom’s recent conflicts over anti-Semitism, which arose following the September, 2015 election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour Party leader. Rather than Dahl, the Mint selected Shakespeare and Beatrix Potter for commemoration in 2016, markedly less controversial choices. Well, maybe. After all, 2016 marked 420 years since the premiere of Shakespeare’s “Merchant of Venice,” and only slightly fewer years of ongoing conflict over whether that play is anti-Semitic. Whether the Mint discussed that matter is as of yet undisclosed.

Source: Roald Dahl Denied Commemorative British Coin Over Anti-Semitism

The Real Story Behind Roald Dahl’s ‘Black Charlie’ – The New York Times

This is an interesting analysis, substantively as well as given Dahl’s various offensive views (we, of course, enjoyed the books with our kids notwithstanding):

Last week, Roald Dahl’s widow, Felicity Dahl, told the BBC that the children’s author had written an early draft of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” in which Charlie Bucket was black. Mrs. Dahl called it “a shame” that his agent persuaded her husband to make Charlie white. But what was in the draft, called “Charlie’s Chocolate Boy”? Catherine Keyser, an associate professor of English at the University of South Carolina who has written about “Charlie’s Chocolate Boy,” spoke with Maria Russo about that discarded version of the classic story.

Can you give a brief rundown of the plot of “Charlie’s Chocolate Boy”?

The setup is similar to “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”: There’s this magical chocolate factory, and its owner, Willie Wonka, is being inundated by children who want to visit it. So he decides instead of letting hundreds of children in, he’ll give seven golden tickets. So that’s more or less the same. There are two more children, and some of the names are different: Augustus Gloop was Augustus Pottle. The names are fantastic. There’s Veruca Salt, but also Marvin Prune and Miranda Piker. And of course Charlie Bucket — who in this version is a black boy, and is accompanied by his two doting parents.

All the others are white?

Yes. So Charlie ends up in the Easter Room, where there are life-size candy molds of creatures, and one of these life-size molds is shaped like a chocolate boy. Charlie is fascinated by this. Wonka helps him into the mold and gets distracted. The mold closes, and the chocolate pours over his body and he is suffocating and nearly drowning in it. And it hardens around him, which feels terrible. He’s trapped. He’s alive but can’t be seen or heard. No one knows where he’s gone. Then he gets taken to Wonka’s house to be the chocolate boy in Wonka’s son’s Easter basket.

Charlie is waiting for the mold to be cracked open the next day, when the son will get his Easter treat. That’s when burglars come into the house to steal millions of dollars and jewelry. Charlie has witnessed this — there are tiny eyeholes in the chocolate — but they never realized the chocolate boy was alive. So he groans and alerts Wonka and his wife.

Wonka has a wife?

That’s a huge change in the published version — Wonka is of course single in that, and Charlie becomes his heir. In this original manuscript he does not become his heir, because Wonka already has a son. So black Charlie is not invited to be part of the family. The big reward is that Wonka gives Charlie Bucket a store in the city center. He names it Charlie’s Chocolate Shop. And the happy ever after is that now Charlie owns this store, and his friends can eat whatever they want there.

When you started your research, had anyone else ever written about “Charlie’s Chocolate Boy”?

No. It was mentioned by Dahl’s biographer, Donald Sturrock, and it was mentioned in Lucy Mangan’s popular book “Inside Charlie’s Chocolate Factory.” But it had never been looked at in great textual detail.

Dahl has a reputation of being very offensive at times when it comes to race. How do you think this version would have changed the way we view race in his books?

As far as this version goes, I think it is a really powerful racial allegory that might seem very surprising coming from Dahl. I think the mold in the shape of a chocolate boy is a metaphor for racial stereotype. In the early 20th century, chocolate marketing in both the U.S. and England was very tied up in imperialist fantasies and in connecting brown skin with brown chocolate. In one British ad for chocolate, for example, you had a black figure holding a cocoa bean and happily bestowing it on white children.

So I think it’s neat that in this midcentury moment Dahl has this black boy get stuck inside a mold that fits him perfectly — he emphasizes that — everything about the mold fits Charlie, except once the chocolate inside the mold hardens, it’s uncomfortable! So what better symbol of what it’s like to be turned into a racial stereotype than a black boy who gets stuck inside a life-size chocolate mold and can’t be seen or heard through this chocolate coating.

So you’re saying this draft was antiracist, but then in the published book, the Oompa Loompas appeared, which made it into one of the most racially stereotyping books of its era.

Right. “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” is published in the U.S. in 1964, amid the Civil Rights movement in the U.S. and race riots in England. Dahl should have been aware that the “happy slave” was not a permissible stereotype. And yet in the original edition Oompa Loompas were a tribe of African pygmies. I think this arc — from what I find to be a fairly antiracist novel to the novel that has been rightly criticized for its racist and imperialist politics — what it really shows is Dahl’s ambivalence. I think we’re in the right cultural moment to understand that. Like Claudia Rankine has said, we need to understand how white people imagine race. And so I think it’s really telling that Dahl seems to identify with this vulnerable character. I mean, he himself was the son of Norwegian immigrants, and was bullied at British boarding schools. I think Dahl always felt like an outsider who was bullied into Britishness.

Yet he was someone often accused of anti-Semitic nastiness, and worse.

Yes! I think that’s the power of racism — to make someone able to hold these contradictory views at once. To both identify with the underdog and seem to understand the pain of stereotype, but then be completely flummoxed that anyone finds the Oompa Loompas offensive. He was genuinely surprised and very annoyed. So I don’t mean for this to whitewash Dahl’s racial politics. I just really love the vulnerability and the potential in this first draft.

Why did he change the story and make Charlie white?

He sent it to his literary agent and friend, Sheila St. Lawrence, and she immediately wrote back: Please don’t make Charlie black.

The depressing thing about all of this is that the whole message of “Charlie’s Chocolate Boy” seems to be how painful it is for a black person to be reduced to an object and treated with violence, and then the Oompa Loompas are all objects. Wonka tests his candies on them as though they were expendable.

It’s almost as if he transferred the original Charlie’s blackness onto the Oompa Loompas, to much worse effect.

That’s the other thing about this book — it ends up being about the virtuous white factory boy. Isn’t that where we’ve ended up now, as a society? We hear so much about the virtuous white workers, and it often seems to be taking black people out of the story. Charlie and the Oompa Loompas are very similar, both starving. All the other children are bad consumers because they eat without pleasure. So it’s really interesting to think about the book’s trajectory — Charlie becomes white, and he ultimately ascends in the Great Glass Elevator, the best metaphor for white privilege I’ve ever seen! And all the Oompa Loompas are back in the factory serving Wonka.