Mem­phis Botanic Gar­den marks Roald Dahl’s 100th birth­day

The Commercial Appeal - Go Memphis - - MOVIES - By John Beifuss

For au­thor Roald Dahl, words were as elas­tic as the gum chewed by Vi­o­let Beau­re­garde in “Char­lie and the Choco­late Fac­tory.”

Dahl squashed and spliced and mixed and mashed so many words that he even cre­ated one — “gob­ble­funk” — to de­scribe the prac­tice it­self.

“Swash­bog­gling” (spe­cia l). “Squishous” (easy to squish). “Flush­bunk­ing” (non­sen­si­cal). These are a few of the chewy lin­guis­tic con­fec­tions de­vised by Dahl in such books for young read­ers as “James and the Gi­ant Peach” (1961), “Fan­tas­tic Mr. Fox” (1970), “The BFG” (1982), “Matilda” (1988) and, of course, “Char­lie and the Choco­late Fac­tory” (1964).

An­other is “Won­der­crump,” which more or less means “won­der­ful,” which makes it an ap­pro­pri­ate ad­jec­tive for “Won­der­crump Week­end,” a world­wide cel­e­bra­tion of Dahl’s 100th birth­day that has found a Mid-south home at the Mem­phis Botanic Gar­den, 750 Cherry Road.

A “Sto­ry­telling” ses­sion with a Dahl book will be held Satur­day, but the main event is the 6 to 9 p.m. Fri­day “Fam­ily Movie Night,” built around a screen­ing of the 1971 film “Willy Wonka & the Choco­late Fac­tory,” di­rected by Mel Stu­art (who also di­rected the 1973 Stax con­cert doc­u­men­tary, “Wattstax”).

The “Willy Wonka” screen­ing has taken on spe­cial sig­nif­i­cance, due to the Aug. 29 death of Gene Wilder, 83, who played Wonka in the film.

Although the movie — with its bizarre char­ac­ters, ironic can­dyre­lated tragedies and or­ange-faced Oompa-loom­pas — was not a suc­cess dur­ing its orig­i­nal run, it has ac­crued a loyal cult fol­low­ing, and was re­made in 2005 with Johnny Depp in the Wonka role.

The movie will be shown on a large in­flat­able screen on the Great Lawn of the botanic gar­den, ac­cord­ing to Gina Har­ris, youth ed­u­ca­tion direc­tor at the gar­den. To con­nect the movie and Dahl’s orig­i­nal book to the gar­den’s plant­pro­mot­ing mis­sion, she said, “candy sta­tions” will be set up around the perime­ter of the lawn, where do­cents dressed as fan­tas­tic Candy­land-es­que char­ac­ters will pass out candy while ex­plain­ing the botanic ori­gins of pop­u­lar sweets.

For ex­am­ple, one sta­tion will in­tro­duce vis­i­tors to Althaea of­fic­i­nalis, also known as the “mal­low” plant, which pro­duces a gluey mu­cilage that was the source for the sticky sweet treats that evolved into “marsh­mal­lows.”

An­other sta­tion will fo­cus on sea­weed, in par­tic­u­lar the sea­weed known as Ir­ish moss ( Chon­drus cris­pus), which con­tains the sub­stance used as gel in gummy bears.

Dahl, who died in 1990 at 74, was born 100 years ago this past Tues­day in Cardiff, Wales. “Won­der­crump” cel­e­bra­tions in his honor be­gan to be held about nine years ago, mostly in Eng­land, but have gone transat­lantic, with events sched­uled this year in such places as New York, Los An­ge­les, Chicago, Bos­ton and Austin, in ad­di­tion to Mem­phis.

Jo­ce­lyn Sch­midt, vice pres­i­dent and as­so­ciate pub­lisher at New York-based Pen­guin Young Read­ers, which pub­lishes Dahl’s work through its Puf­fin im­print, said in a phone in­ter­view that the books have be­come more pop­u­lar than ever in re­cent years, thanks to the suc­cess of the Broad­way ver­sion of “Matilda” and to such film adap­ta­tions as “James and the Gi­ant Peach,” Wes An­der­son’s “Fan­tas­tic Mr. Fox” and Steven Spiel­berg’s “The B.F.G.”

The lat­ter film was not a hit, but its box of­fice fail­ure did not hurt sales of the book, which soared due to the aware­ness cre­ated by the movie.

Sch­midt said some 40 mil­lion copies of Dahl’s books are in print in the U.S., and close to 200 mil­lion copies have been sold world­wide. Puf­fin pub­lishes 16 Dahl nov­els in paper­back, and the com­pany has reis­sued five works in hard­cover, in new edi­tions de­vel­oped in con­junc­tion with the fam­ily-con­trolled Roald Dahl es­tate. Why is Dahl still so pop­u­lar? For one thing, Sch­midt said, Dahl never “talks down” to read­ers, not even the 7-to-12-year-old “mid­dle graders” who prove to be his most loyal read­ers once they learn about the books from par­ents, teach­ers or li­brar­i­ans.

“Roald Dahl’s books re­flect the ev­ery­day in­jus­tices that kids see and ex­pe­ri­ence,” Sch­midt said. “Yet through in­ven­tion and a lit­tle bit of mis­chief, the kids in the books win the day. They’re coura­geous, they’re in­ven­tive, and they’re the ones who are em­pow­ered.”

In­ci­den­tally, Sch­midt shares a birth­day with Dahl: She turned 45 on Tues­day.

“It was one of the first things I learned when I joined Pen­guin 6½ years ago,” she said, with a happy tone of voice that seemed to ask: What could be more won­der­crump than that? 100th an­niver­sary of the birth of Roald Dahl. Fri­daySatur­day at the Mem­phis Botanic Gar­den, 750 Cherry Road. 6-9 p.m. Fri­day: Screen­ing of “Willy Wonka & the Choco­late Fac­tory” (1971), with Gene Wilder, plus prizes, bub­blegum-blow­ing con­test, “ex­plo­ration sta­tions” with the plants used in tra­di­tional can­dy­mak­ing, and more. Ad­mis­sion: $10, or $8 for gar­den mem­bers. 10 a.m.-noon Satur­day: “Sto­ry­time” with Roald Dahl’s “Ge­orge’s Mar­velous Medicine.” Free with reg­u­lar gar­den ad­mis­sion. 10 a.m.-noon Sept. 24: “Sto­ry­time” with Roald Dahl’s “Fan­tas­tic Mr. Fox.” Free with reg­u­lar ad­mis­sion. Visit mem­phis­b­otan­ic­gar­den. com, or call 901-636-4131.

The late Gene Wilder and oo­dles of Oompa-loom­pas star in “Willy Wonka & the Choco­late Fac­tory,” which screens Fri­day night at the Mem­phis Botanic Gar­den.

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