"Charlie and the Chocolate Factory": A Reply

By Roald Dahl

Mrs. Eleanor Cameron (I had not heard of her until now) has made some extraordinarily vicious comments upon my book Charlie and The Chocolate Factory (Knopf) in the October issue of this magazine. That does not worry me at all. She is free to criticize the book itself for all she is worth, but I do object strongly when she oversteps the rules of literary criticism and starts insinuating nasty things about me personally and about the school teachers of America.

She quotes Eudora Welty — and she wouldn’t quote her if she didn’t agree with her — as saying, “three kinds of goodness in fiction . . . the goodness of the writer himself, his worth as a human being. And this worth is always mercilessly revealed in his writing.” Having said this, she goes on to announce that Charlie is “one of the most tasteless books ever written for children.” She says a lot of other very nasty things about it, too, and the implication here has to be that I also am a tasteless and nasty person.

Well, although Mrs. Cameron has never met me, it would not have been difficult for her to check her facts. My wife, Patricia Neal, and I and our children have had a good deal written about us over the years, including a full-length biography called Pat and Roald. We have had some massive misfortunes and some terrific struggles, and we have emerged from these, I think, quite creditably. I deeply resent, therefore, the subtle insinuations that Mrs. Cameron makes about my character. I resent even more the patronizing attitude she adopts toward the teachers of America. She says, “Charlie . . . is probably the book most read aloud by those teachers who have no idea, apparently, what other books they might read to the children.” She goes on to praise Gulliver’s Travels, Robinson Crusoe, and Little Women.

I would dearly like to see Mrs. Cameron trying to read Little Women, or Robinson Crusoe for that matter, to a class of today’s children. The lady is completely out of touch with reality. She would be howled out of the classroom. She also says, “I should like to travel up and down the country going to elementary schools and saying to all the teachers: Find out about the good children’s books.” I myself would like very much to hear what the teachers’ replies would be if the patronizing, all-knowing Mrs. Cameron ever tried to do this. The hundreds of letters I get every year from American teachers tell me that they are on the whole a marvelous lot of people with a wide knowledge of children’s books. It is an enormous conceit for Mrs. Cameron to think that her knowledge is greater than theirs or her taste more perfect.

Mrs. Cameron finally asks herself whether children are harmed by reading Charlie and The Chocolate Factory. She isn’t quite sure, but she is clearly inclined to think that they are. Now this, to me, is the ultimate effrontery. The book is dedicated to my son Theo, now twelve years old. Theo was hit by a taxi in New York when a small child and was terribly injured. We fought a long battle to get him where he is today, and we all adore him. So the thought that I would write a book for him that might actually do him harm is too ghastly to contemplate. It is an insensitive and a monstrous implication. Moreover, I believe that I am a better judge than Mrs. Cameron of what stories are good or bad for children. We have had five children. And for the last fifteen years, almost without a break, I have told a bedtime story to them as they grew old enough to listen. That is 365 made-up stories a year, some 5,000 stories altogether. Our children are marvelous and gay and happy, and I like to think that all my storytelling has contributed a little bit to their happiness. The story they like best of all is Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, and Mrs. Cameron will stop them reading it only over my dead body.

From the February 1973 issue of The Horn Book Magazine
Horn Book
Horn Book

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