Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl: A-

charliechocolateFrom the back cover:
Willy Wonka’s famous chocolate factory is opening at last! But only five lucky children will be allowed inside. And the winners are: Augustus Gloop, an enormously fat boy whose hobby is eating; Veruca Salt, a spoiled-rotten brat whose parents are wrapped around her little finger; Violet Beauregarde, a dim-witted gum-chewer with the fastest jaws around; Mike Teavee, a toy pistol-toting gangster-in-training who is obsessed with television; and Charlie Bucket, Our Hero, a boy who is honest and kind, brave and true, and good and ready for the wildest time of his life!

I’m not sure why we spent what seemed to be the entire last week of fourth grade sprawled on the carpet of the media center wearing out one of those new-fangled videotapes of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory by watching it over and over again, but sprawl and watch we did. I don’t remember anyone complaining when, after the movie ended, it was immediately begun again, but perhaps my recollection is clouded by how much I loved (and still do) the film. Until now, however, I had never actually read the original book though I’ve owned it for several years.

As most people probably know, this is the story of humble and poor Charlie Bucket who loves chocolate very much but must be content with nightly meals of watery cabbage soup. As luck would have it, a huge and world-famous chocolate factory is on his way to school and every day he pauses to sniff the air near Wonka’s Factory, though his family is so poor they can only afford to give him one bar of chocolate each year on his birthday.

When Wonka announces his Golden Ticket contest—in which five Golden Tickets are hidden in Wonka chocolates, each entitling one child to a tour of the facilities and a life-time supply of candy—Charlie tries not to get his hopes up, but is nonetheless disappointed when his birthday bar fails to contain the golden prize. A second bar paid for from his Grandpa Joe’s secret fund yields the same results, and Charlie has almost given up hope when a lucky dollar found on the sidewalk buys him a bar containing the fifth and final Golden Ticket. The next day, Charlie and Grandpa Joe join four other children and their parents in a tour of the fantastic factory. Each of the other children has a flaw—eating too much, being spoiled, chewing gum constantly, and watching too much television—and is disqualified along the way by some means connected to it. In the end, only Charlie remains and it’s a happy ending for the well-deserving child.

Although the basic flow of the plot is the same and indeed, some lines of dialogue are used verbatim in the film (“Violet, you’re turning violet, Violet!”) there are some differences. No one in the book sings except for the Oompa Loompas (who are not orange and are sometimes female), and their songs are not nearly as catchy in print form. Charlie and Grandpa Joe do not commit the grievous sin of sampling fizzy lifting drinks, although the beverages and the method to combat their lifting powers are discussed, and Veruca’s exit is facilitated by nut-evaluating squirrels rather than an egg meter. I seem to recall that Tim Burton’s film version (which is pretty awful) keeps the squirrels, so perhaps special effects in 1971 were simply not up to the task of bringing them to life on the screen. Most importantly, there’s neither Mr. Slugworth nor any testing of Charlie to see whether he will protect Wonka’s secrets. When I was a kid I didn’t like that part because Wonka was mean to Charlie, but now that it’s gone, I find I miss it. In the book, Charlie is an observer who wins mostly by process of elimination, but in the film he’s required to prove his goodness and is a more interesting character.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is thoroughly charming and is undoubtedly a classic of children’s fiction. The fact remains, however, that I still like the movie more. Gene Wilder brings so much to the role of Willy Wonka, retaining his eccentricities but also endowing him with both warmth and menace, that even the original pales by comparison. Add to this the film’s more fleshed-out portrayal of Charlie and my choice is clear.

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  1. I read this when I was a child, and I remember liking the movie better because Charlie seemed more interesting—like you said, he was more than just a passive observer of his awful peers and what was going on around him.

    I also remember liking Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator better.

    • I’m a few chapters into CatGGE now and, so far, I’m not too impressed. 🙂

      • I haven’t read it since I was about ten. It could be one of those things that was fantastic when I was a child and doesn’t hold up now.

        • I admit, I also didn’t like GGE as much as the original. But as a stand alone story and not comparing to the original, it was quite good. I think just nothing could really match the first impression of the chocolate factory itself.

  2. Interesting.

    Perhaps because I never saw it as a child and loved the book first, but I absolutely LOATHE the 70s movie. Orange oompa loompas?! wtf?! That is so wrong.

    I adore Tim Burton’s version, however. It’s not the book, but it’s far far closer.

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