Real-life espionage that inspired Dahl's classic.

What really happened.
July 15 2005 1:13 PM

Chocolate Wars

The inspiration for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

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By the time Dahl had children of his own, the industrial revolution had turned sweetshops like Llandaff's into a dying breed. Candy was no longer a rare and special commodity; corporate giants manufactured it en masse. They invented catchy slogans to market their products and employed massive sales forces to push their goods into every possible outlet, from newspaper vendors to drugstores, from groceries to gas stations. "If they see it, they will buy it," became the candy maker's mantra.

Dahl resented this profit-driven evolution and disliked the intense competition and cutthroat practices that candy makers employed to boost their bottom line. It wasn't unusual, for example, for corporate salesmen visiting a candy store to rearrange the candy shelf, giving their products star billing. Some were said to have thrown away boxes of competitors' candy to make room for their own.

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Dahl brilliantly captures the ethos of the new era in the conniving characters of Mr. Slugworth, Mr. Prodnose, and Mr. Fickelgruber, Wonka competitors who try to steal his business by copying famous Wonka treats—like ice cream that never melts and chewing gum that never loses its flavor. To prevent future thefts, Wonka conveniently replaces all of his factory workers with Oompa-Loompas, doll-sized creatures who are indebted to Wonka for rescuing them from the vicious beasts of Loompaland and thereforewould never dream of betrayal. If only it could be so easy.

Joël Glenn Brenner is the author of The Emperors of Chocolate: Inside the Secret World of Hershey and Mars and is working on a book for Random House about the team that built SpaceShipOne.