“So shines a good deed in a weary world,” Gene Wilder whispered at the climax of “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” the first of many film adaptations in a book collection that has now become canonical for generations of young readers.
The Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre in Buckinghamshire, England, where the author lived and wrote for 36 years, has now erected a notice at its entrance acknowledging his antisemitic words.
The statement also appears on the museum’s website, saying, in part: “The Roald Dahl Museum condemns all racism directed at any group or individual” and “Roald Dahl’s racism is undeniable and indelible but what we hope can also endure is the potential of Dahl’s creative legacy to do some good.”
One of the museum’s initiatives is to create teaching resources for utilizing the characters in Dahl’s stories to educate about prejudice. Some of his most popular novels included James and the Giant Peach, Matilda, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Witches, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The BFG, and Danny, the Champion of the World. The books are characterized by fantastical scenarios, sympathetic youthful protagonists, dark comedy and inventive wordplay.
Decades after Dahl’s death, as the debate around his hateful attitudes still continues, little has yet emerged explaining what may have driven the author’s beliefs. Another of Wonka’s memorable lines from the 1971 film might apply, cast in a different light than intended: “A little nonsense, now and then, is relished by the wisest men.”