Saturday, September 18, 2010

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

   Summary:  I'm sure you're already familiar with the story, but just in case, here's what it says on 
GoodreadsFor the first time in a decade, Willy Wonka, the reclusive and eccentric chocolate maker, 
 is opening his doors to the public--well, five 
members of the public to be exact. The lucky five who find a Golden Ticket in their Wonka chocolate bars will receive a private tour of the factory, given by Mr. Wonka himself. For young Charlie Bucket, this a dream come true. And, when he finds a dollar bill in the street, he can't help but buy two Wonka's Whipple-Scrumptious Fudgemallow Delights--even though his impoverished family could certainly use the extra dollar for food. But as Charlie unwraps the second chocolate bar, he sees the glimmer of gold just under the wrapper! The very next day, Charlie, along with his unworthy fellow winners Mike Teavee, Veruca Salt, Violet Beauregarde, and Augustus Gloop, steps through the factory gates to discover whether or not the rumors surrounding the Chocolate Factory and its mysterious owner are true. What they find is that the gossip can't compare to the extraordinary truth, and for Charlie, life will never be the same again.

And here's what I thought
:   This is such an iconic book (at least, for many of us, it is).  I first read it when I was a child, along with other Dahl books, and I always loved how Dahl created this magical story.  Not only did it contain elements of magic, but it had chocolate.  And wonderful-sounding candy!   Just the names of some of them were enough to make me drool --- "Whipple-Scrumptious Fudgemallow Delight."  "Everlasting Gobstopper."  "Eatable Marshmallow Pillows."   Yum.   When all of Wonka's guests enter his Chocolate Room (the one with the chocolate river and waterfall), everything in there is edible, including the grass (a soft, minty sugar Wonka calls "swudge").

And speaking of the room with the chocolate waterfall, if you're familiar with this story, you know that this is the place where the first incident occurs with one of the children on the tour: Augustus Gloop.   Ah yes, Augustus.  Even his last name sounds fat, doesn't it?   Let's talk a bit about these children, shall we?   First and foremost, we have Charlie Bucket, the hero of the story.  Like many of Dahl's heroes, Charlie is honest and goodhearted, and down on his luck.  His family's poor.  And I don't mean "they've got a nice house, but no cable or Internet" poor.  I mean: nothing but cabbage soup to eat poor.  But, he's got a great set of parents and grandparents, especially Grandpa Joe.   In the book, Charlie is basically starving by the time he finds the Golden Ticket; he's conserving his strength when he goes to school so that he doesn't pass out.  If anyone deserves a Golden Ticket, it's Charlie, and you can't help but cheer for him when he finds it.

But these other children.....  they're nasty little things.  We've got Augustus Gloop, Veruca Salt, Violet Beauregarde, Mike Teevee -- children whose names can give us a hint of what they might be like.   Augustus seems to embody the deadly sin of gluttony, and gets his comeuppance when he falls into the chocolate river (while greedily slurping up handfuls of the river) and gets sucked up a pipe -- which leads to the room where Wonka makes fudge.   Of course, Mrs. Gloop is upset, and gets escorted out by an Oompa Loompa (more on them in a moment).   Like many parents of awful children, she thinks Augustus is wonderful and can do no wrong (and that it's simply awful of Mr. Wonka to allow Augustus to have this accident).  Actually, all of the parents of these children seem to do nothing but either fawn over them, or let the children completely intimidate them.  Veruca simply needs to scream and her rich father will buy her whatever she wants.  Violet steamrolls right over her mother, and Mike does the same, as well.   However, as nasty as these children are, in typical fashion, Dahl exacts some revenge upon them.   Veruca (which yes, is a name for an icky type of wart) gets sent down a garbage chute by squirrels, Violet snatches a forbidden piece of gum (which has a very interesting result), and Mike defies authority and gets himself shrunk (which doesn't seem to improve his temperament, actually).   It's a bit of a morality tale, actually, in that Charlie survives to the end just by being his good, sweet, self, while the bad behavior of the other children results in some kind of creative punishment.   It always seemed to me that Roald Dahl must have been chuckling to himself while writing about what happened to Veruca, or Violet.   There is a bit of discomfort in reading what happens in the story, but as a child, I was gleeful that these awful kids were getting their comeuppance. 

So, about those Oompa Loompas.  I'm sure anyone reading this has a clear idea of what an Oompa Loompa might look like, depending on which movie version of the story you have seen (I'll get to the movies in a sec).   Do you think of them as being small men with orange faces and green hair?  Or do you imagine Deep Roy, multiplied into many different Oompa Loompas?   If the films are your only encounter with an Oompa Loompa, or when you read this book, it wasn't the original printing, you're in for a bit of a surprise.  In the original book, written in 1964, the Oompa Loompas are African pygmies.  I've included a little picture here from my book, which is from 1964 (which has the original illustrations by Joseph Schindelman).  As you can see, they are small people wearing what look like togas.  As you can imagine, some people weren't thrilled with this, and the NAACP was pretty critical.  Dahl changed this part and when the book was reprinted in 1973 (US), they were changed to having rose-white skin and long golden-brown hair.   I'm not quite sure how either of these versions of an Oompa Loompa resulted in what we saw in the films.
And speaking of the films ---- this post is already a bit long, so I thought I'd save that for my next post.   Suffice to say, there are differences between the book and both of the movies.   That being said, if you've only seen the movies, and never picked up the book, I'd encourage you to give it a read.  It's a wonderful story, and in my mind, one of Dahl's best.   It's full of fantastic details and songs, and funky illustrations (no matter which version).

One last note -- in the story, Mr. Wonka has closed his factories because he has had issues with spies stealing his ideas.  As Grandp Joe explains it, Fickelgruber, Slugworth and Prodnose, all three candymakers, were sending spies to infiltrate Mr. Wonka's factory.   Interestingly, this part is based on some real instances of this kind of thing happening to real candymakers.  Both Cadbury and Rowntree's in Britain were rivals, as were Mars and Hershey in the US.  It wasn't uncommon for spies to try to steal trade secrets and recipes.   And if you're interested in Mars and Hershey, there's a wonderful book called The Emperors of Chocolate by Joel Glenn Brenner.

That's all on this one for now --- I plan to watch the movies and post about them soon, along with Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator.


Chelle said...

I love this story! I read it in 5th grade and I can't remember what version we read so I'm not sure what the oompa loompas were described as. Have fun watching the movie!

Teacher/Learner said...

I love the books & both movies, though Gene Wilder will always be Wonka to me :o) I wonder if a movie will be made of The Great Glass Elevator?

Anonymous said...

This is my favourite Roald Dahl book :) I'm not such a fan of the films. They are both entertaining but they both change the story in ways I don't like. Charlie not being the 'perfect' kid in the original version means he actually wouldn't have 'won'. In the newer version we get lots of Wonka background which I don't really like.

Thanks for visiting my blog :)

BookQuoter said...

Yup, I have not read this book, although I have it, and I must, I really must!!! Thanks.

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