Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the latest book on my Roald Dahl odyssey, is perhaps his most famous, due to the various screen and stage versions (I wrote about the musical here). I enjoyed this so much more than James and the Giant Peach – perhaps because its more grounded in reality (well, within reason), perhaps just because I’m more familiar with it, and so it’s like slipping on a big fluffy bathrobe every time I open up a chapter. How quickly the commute melted away (ha – see what I did there) to be replaced with the magical world of Willy Wonka and his hardworking Oompa Loompas.
Published in 1964, the story tells the tale of Charlie Bucket, a young boy growing up in extreme poverty whos only means of escape from his life of drudgery is provided by a mentally unstable recluse who tortures young children for fun.
Whipped cream isn’t whipped cream at all if it hasn’t been whipped with whips. Just like poached eggs isn’t poached eggs unless it’s been stolen in the dead of night.
Well, not quite. There’s also a group of possibly illegal immigrants slash trafficking victims who never see daylight and only converse through naughty rhyme.
KIDDING! If you don’t know the story by now a) why not?? and b) go sort it out. Go on, I’ll wait. It’s only a slim novel. Hurry back.
It’s a great morality tale – who doesn’t whoop when the spoiled kids get their comeuppance, and cheer when goodness wins out over all – and told with the usual subversive charm and wit we all expect from Roald Dahl. No wonder it’s a perennial favourite, and been brought to life in so many different guises.
Mr Wonka: Don’t forget what happened to the man who suddenly got everything he wanted.
Charlie Bucket: What happened?
Mr Wonka: He lived happily ever after.
If you want more evidence of the twisted beauty of Roald Dahl’s storytelling, check out this thread about Snozzberries (which talks about the film, but the words are lifted straight from the book).
According to Wikipedia (and why would we doubt it), the story was originally inspired by Roald Dahl’s experience of chocolate companies during his schooldays – with Cadbury often sending testers to schoolkids, hoping to get their feedback on the new products. At the same time, Cadbury and Rowntree’s used to send spies – posing as employees – into each other’s factories to try and steal their secrets. Because of this, the world of chocolate-making became more and more mysterious, as they hid their methods – and their elaborate machinery – behind closed doors.
Roald Dahl Fact Of The Day: Did you know that he came up with The Gremlins? The term “gremlin” was originally coined by RAF pilots in the twenties (Roald Dahl himself served as an RAF pilot in World War II), as an explanation for anything that went wrong with their aircraft. In 1943, Dahl wrote his first ever children’s story about these creatures, as a commission for Walt Disney to accompany an animated film, that actually never got made. Roald Dahl writes about his experience in writing this story in his book of short stories The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More, and this Roald Dahl fansite has more detail, including a link to the whole story!
Next on the list is The Twits, which I vividly remember reading back when I was a nipper. I hope the memory isn’t so vivid because I identify with the characters…