About

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.

Ciao,

Clare

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4 responses to “About

  1. Ha! I love that I stopped by this blog. Now every time I eat candy I am going to think that they are going to do something. . .

  2. Just out of curiosity — were you familiar with the Britishism “look round” when you originally read the book, or did you learn it in between your first reading and your sudden epiphany? One thing that I find interesting about the version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory that I read as a kid is that it was partially Americanized — Charlie finds a dollar bill in the gutter, not a pound note — and yet the translators left in this sequence that only makes sense in British English. I first encountered the book when my preschool teacher read it to my class, and she had to formally explain, “See, in England people say ‘look round’ instead of ‘look around,’ so they use the same words to say that something appears to be shaped like a circle and that something is looking around, so the English people in the book are confused.” Chuckles did not ensue. There is basically nothing less funny than an untranslatable pun.

    • I definitely remember the dollar bill in my copy as well. I have no clear recollection of learning the phrase, though I’m sure I knew it for quite some time before I put the pieces together. I read quite a few British children’s books as a child, and as best as I can remember, most of them retained their Britishisms, at least to some degree. I did once get my hands on an unAmericanized copy of the second Harry Potter, which my mom special ordered from London. It was strange how different in tone it was. The use of “jumper” for “sweater” was especially baffling. I believe the publisher stopped having different versions of the books at some point after they exploded in popularity, but I don’t think they became more British-y. I wonder if English kids noticed a gradual Americanization of the books as they progressed?

      Also, thanks for stopping by. I’ve read your blog for years, and am filled with fangirl squee to have you comment.

  3. It wasn’t until a fair while after I read the Hitchhiker books that I learned that the British versions were different — not because of vocabulary differences, but because the American publishers thought that their audience skewed younger and/or more prudish, and wanted some of the stronger language removed. Rather than just replace the offending words, Adams went so far as to write new, longish passages to try to make the milder versions funny. (Some argue that this shows how these sorts of strictures can lead to greater creativity, but these days I prefer the originals.)

    And hey, thank you for reading my stuff. If you ever want to chat, just shoot me an email — the address is linked from the front page of my site.

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