When I was young, like many children, I read my way through just about everything Roald Dahl has ever written. I had my favorites (“The BFG” and “Danny the Champion of the World” were at the top), but I fairly indiscriminately read and reread all of his children’s novels. I felt I understood these books very well. They seemed to have everything a person might want in a novel: whimsy, clever jokey bits, really nasty villains, and a (very slightly) misanthropic narrator who was nevertheless on your side (the side of children who like to read). There was one passage in particular, however, that I never really understood. In “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, in between knocking off children, Mr. Wonka stops at a door labeled “Square Candies that Look Round.” The remaining children and parents cluster around the door and peer through, observing rows and rows of little square candies, each with a little painted face on one side.
“They aren’t round,” one character (Mrs. Teevee?) exclaims. “They’re square.”
“I never said they were round. I said they looked round,” Mr. Wonka explains.
“But they don’t. They look square,” Mrs. Teevee protests.
“They certainly do look round. I’ll show you!” Mr. Wonka then proceeds to open the door, whereupon all the little candies turn around and face the door to see who has come in.
“Ah yes,” everyone then agrees. “They do indeed look round.” And they move on to the next round of child dispatchment.
This chapter utterly baffled me. When did the candies start to look round? Was it some sort of optical illusion? Was it something to do with the weirdness of all their little faces. I just didn’t get it.
Maybe a year ago, more than a decade after I’d first read the book and been stumped by the square candies, I was minding my own business, doing something unrelated to candy or Roald Dahl, thinking my own thoughts about nothing in particular, when it hit me. They aren’t square candies that look round. They are square candies that look round! (See the difference there? It might take a couple of years.) Finally, mystery solved.
This blog will attempt to look for other square candy moments, when something that seemed utterly baffling and mysterious suddenly comes clear. Mostly, I suspect, I will be discussing the things that interest me, which might be partially summarized in no particular order as: books and the experience of reading, video games and what they mean for someone who wouldn’t count herself as a gamer, and biology and the scientific life. This may be of little interest to anyone but me, but we’ll see what comes of it.