Last month, the world celebrated what would have been Roald Dahl's 100th birthday. Which led me to wonder: Would you want to visit Willy Wonka's factory?
Yes, there is chocolate. Rivers of chocolate. Waterfalls of "light and frothy" chocolate. It's enough to make anyone long for that elusive golden ticket. But re-reading Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory as an adult, I couldn't help but notice the dangers that lurk in every corner. Chewing gum that turns you into a blueberry? Squirrels who chuck people into garbage chutes? (Not to mention those disturbing Oompa-Loompas.)
Despite its charming, candy-filled wonders, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (and the 1971 movie it inspired, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory) has a touch of the macabre, which makes it the perfect inspiration for a Halloween party. It's full of dark, anarchic whimsy.
This weekend, hand your guests their golden tickets to a paradise for candy-lovers. Of course, unlike Willy Wonka, you can invite more than five people. Follow these steps to throw a party that Wonka would approve of.
1 Write your invitations on "golden tickets” and promise . . . Tremendous things are in store for you! I shake you warmly by the hand! Use the amount of exclamation points that someone who has been eating a lot of candy for many, many years would use.
2 Create an edible valley. It may be difficult to procure Wonka's mint-flavored grass, delicious buttercups and foaming waterfall of hot chocolate, but you can certainly re-create the edible weeping willows. All you need is Twig Taffy, which is as much fun as it sounds: You snip coffee-flavored taffy into the graceful shapes of willow branches. Instead of buttercups, serve your guests Flower Lollipops in refreshing fruit flavors.
3 Spend at least a few days training your local squirrels to shell walnuts for you. As an added bonus, these squirrels will quickly dispose of your guests if they find them to be Bad Nuts. "Nobody except squirrels can get walnuts whole out of walnut shells every time," Wonka explains, with understandable pride over his roomful of industrious and slightly homicidal squirrels. On second thought, maybe just buy preshelled walnuts? Then go ahead and make a batch of Spiced Walnuts with cayenne pepper.
4 Excitedly explain your new invention of Hair Toffee, which will make your guests' hair grow so long they'll need a lawn mower to control it. Since you're still tweaking that recipe, offer them a different toffee treat instead: Popcorn Balls with English toffee bits. Babble a little more about your invention.
5 When night falls, begin to sing cryptic songs such as, "Not a speck of light is showing, so the danger must be growing!" Make your guests fear for your sanity. Then feed them chocolate to console them. Go ahead and one-up Wonka: You may not have a chocolate waterfall, but you can serve an adult version of Wonka's famous drink: Stout Hot Chocolate. If possible, take guests on a boat ride along a chocolate river in a Viking-style vessel made out of a boiled sweet. If this is not possible, rethink your life choices.
6 Bequeath your entire kitchen/house/factory to the best-behaved guest. "Best-behaved" basically means they are not greedy; they avoid chewing experimental gum; they do not try to kidnap homicidal squirrels; and they watch an appropriate amount of television. This guest does not even need to express an aptitude for candymaking.
7 Leave everyone with a memory of a magical evening and the knowledge that "however small the chance might be of striking lucky, the chance was there."
Contact Emily Young at [email protected]