Harry and the mystery of the chocolate palace

Written by Jayne Workman

Harry’s just learnt how to do mind maps at school. He loves them. So that’s how we started our journey to India with Prince Pondicherry.

“Who?” you might ask. Prince Pondicherry is a small confection, just 36 lines in chapter three of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. At least in our edition. So you could be forgiven if you weren’t aware of this colourful but scantily featured player in the famous story. His is the ultimate cameo.

Introduced by Grandma Josephine in promising terms: “Tell Charlie about that crazy Indian prince,” she says to Grandpa Joe, he makes quite an entrance. “Completely dotty!” follows Grandpa George. “But very rich,” adds Grandma Georgina. We were with Charlie. We had to know more.

At this stage in the book, Prince Pondicherry is just another fabulous Wonka anecdote related by Charlie’s bedridden grandparents to entertain him — marshmallows that taste of violets, rich caramels that change colour every ten seconds and spotty blue birds’ eggs that you suck until you have nothing but a tiny pink sugary bird sitting on the tip of your tongue. And Prince Pondicherry’s up there with his request for a chocolate palace to live in.

So why did we choose him? I like to think it wasn’t me steering the ship. It’s a coincidence that his character gave us the opportunity to explore two of my favourite places in the world – France and India. On reflection, I think that could be unkind. Since leaving England for New Zealand five years ago, Europe has taken on the romance, for a 10-year-old boy, of any faraway place steeped in culture and history, with real live football matches to add to their appeal. And India? Well, I do bore him occasionally with my travel stories…

Once decided, we were back to the mind map, every bubbled idea an excuse for screen-based research for my junior artist. Our mapping led us across the continents to Pondicherry on the south-east coast of India. We soon discovered its French colonial history and its independence just a decade before Dahl’s book was published.

But what could bring Wonka and Pondicherry together? There was Wonka’s fame, we figured. And, well, chocolate, obviously. But there had to be more. We imagined Wonka flying to India on his own monogrammed jet with purple Wonka livery. Stepping from the plane onto the sun-softened tarmac of the regal runway, we saw him through the Prince’s eyes, a vision in purple through the tropical heat haze.

Still why? ’‘Searching up’’ “What grows in Pondicherry?” Harry quickly discovered it wasn’t cocoa beans but sugarcane that flourished in the plains of surrounding Tamil Nadu. “Wait…what,” he said, “Willy Wonka bought his sugar from Prince Pondicherry!” And, with that, we had our link.

But still one question remained. Why would a headstrong character like Willy Wonka concede to the craziest of follies, a life-size chocolate palace, a home doomed to melt? To answer that, we brought them face-to-face in canopied Pondicherry splendour. Harry envisions the Prince in wondrous khaki and lavish crown, Willy in his trademark jewel-coloured velvet, both on sumptuously-filled cushions to commence their chocolate-flavoured negotiations…

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