Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

1964, 1977 Bantam Skylark edition
Roald Dahl
Illustrated by Joseph Schindelman
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Bought new for $1.95
Very worn paperback with stains

I think this is my childhood copy.  Oddly enough, I've never owned the other Dahl books, not even the sequel, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, or James and the Giant Peach.  Except for this story, I'd check the books out of the library.  Even this one I didn't read annually, like an Oz book, although I probably read it more than some of my other books.  It's a very good book, but I don't think I'd describe it as a favorite.

The book does capture some basic fantasies of children, and many adults.  A chocolate (and other sweets) factory!  A closeknit family!  Living with your family in the chocolate factory, which is yours for the rest of your life!!  Charlie is poor but "good," yet it's the four bad little kids who steal the book (and movies).  They all act inappropriately in some ways, although Veruca Salt is probably worst of all.  (And that's probably why she got the band named after her.)  I'm sure I'm not the only reader who finds Violet's punishment for chewing gum to be harsh.  (Mike Teavee does point out the hypocrisy of Wonka manufacturing gum.)  And I would've argued then and would still argue now that you can both read books and watch TV.  Or movies.

Reading the book again after rewatching the Gene Wilder movie last year for the 40th anniversary, I was surprised to recall that Augustus Gloop is not German.  In fact, it's a very Anglo-American world that the book characters live in, although there are a few mentions of the Golden-Ticket-hunters in other lands, including the punningly named Charlotte Russe.

This is possibly Dahl's most pun-filled book, although I didn't get the "square candies that look round" joke as a child, because in the American language, as Mencken would've told Dahl, it would be "look around."  One of the delights of the book is the vocabulary-expanding, as in the passages where Dahl reels off synonyms, including several American and British terms for "crazy."  ("Dippy" appears on that list, unlike the 1950s American meaning of "wonderful" in Something Foolish, Something Gay.)

Being a '70s child, I grew up with the "white hippie" Oompa-Loompas rather than the "black natives" of Dahl's original text and Schindelman's original illustrations.  Paternalism is still going on in Wonka's management style, but I think Dahl's decision to respond to complaints of racism was the correct one.  (This is different than other people censoring a writer's work without his/her knowledge and/or consent.)

There are definitely disturbing undercurrents to the book, which is a both a strength and a weakness.  It's not a book to warm up to, one to cuddle up with before you go to sleep.  On the other hand, it's more complex than the moralistic Victorian children's fiction that it spoofs in a different way than Lemony Snicket would 35 or 40 years later.

The Chocolate Factory movies in their different ways would emphasize both the cruelty and the sentimentality.  I prefer the earlier version, but again, that's probably because I was a '70s child.  It's interesting that the Wilder version makes Slugworth secretly an agent for Wonka.  I prefer the idea of Slugworth, Prodnose, and Fickelworth as unscrupulous rivals, although you'd think that somebody in marketing for at least one of the companies would point out that it might be better to change to some more appetizing name.  As for Wonka candies, Nestlé issued a Wonka line starting with the release of the Wonka movie, and that line still exists.  Ironically, their chocolates have never been as successful as Bottle Caps, Pixy Stix, and Fun Dip.

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