However small the chance might be of striking lucky, the chance was there.

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.

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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…

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My dear young fellow,’ the Old-Green-Grasshopper said gently, ‘there are a whole lot of things in this world of ours you haven’t started wondering about yet.

So my plan to read a Roald Dahl book a week – as so many of my plans – failed at the first hurdle. Having raced through, and loved, Danny the Champion of the World, I looked at the slimness of the next volume in the boxset – James and the Giant Peach – and thought to myself, this will be a breeze. I remember not really liking James and the Giant Peach as a kid, and it turns out I haven’t changed that much as an adult, as I kept picking up this book and putting it down again only a couple of pages afterwards, and it sat looking at me accusingly from my bedside table for weeks. Try as I might, I just couldn’t love this book.

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The original cover for James and the Giant Peach (Picture taken from Wikipedia)

 

JGP (not to be confused with JGL) is about a young boy James (obviously) who is sent to live with his two aunts – Aunt Spiker and Aunt Sponge – when his parents are killed in a tragic rhino-related incident. Magic happens*, and James Henry Trotter (to give him his full name) ends up living inside a giant peach with (wo)man-sized creatures – including a centipede, spider, glow-worm and earthworm. Adventures ensue.

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Gratuitous picture of JGL. Have suddenly come over all unnecessary.

I’m not sure why I’m so down on this book. Perhaps it’s aimed at too young an audience for an adult to get much out of it – perhaps it’s the over-fantastical premise, or maybe that there’s less of a moral story running throughout the book (except perhaps “don’t mistreat children in your care, otherwise you might get squashed by an oversized piece of fruit”) – either way, my conclusion was that I wouldn’t relish it if this was the book any future child chose for me to read and reread night after night. (Also – think of all the different insect voices I’d have to come up with! As anyone who’s heard my “Scottish” can attest, I am not good at accents)

I did, however, learn a new word – vermicious.

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Also – did you know that grasshoppers make their music not by rubbing their legs together, but by rubbing their leg against their wing – like playing a violin! Don’t say you never learn anything from this blog.

One interesting thing I discovered as I read the Wikipedia entry (never say I don’t do research) was that because of the story’s “occasional macabre and potentially frightening content”, it has become a regular target of the censors and is No. 56 on the American Library Association’s top 100 list of most frequently challenged books. (I actually couldn’t find proof of this on their website, but if you fancy a bit of a giggle or a few WTF moments, I recommend you visit the ALA website here – apparently someone tried to ban To Kill a Mockingbird because it contained racism. Mmmkay.)

As in Danny the Champion of the World, Roald Dahl seems to have referenced a future book at a couple of points in the story. At the beginning, when the peach (Spoiler!) rolls off the tree, it rolls right on through a “famous chocolate factory” – Willy Wonka’s? James and the Giant Peach was published in 1961, with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory following three years later. Also, Whangdoodles, Snozzwangers, Hornswogglers– mentioned in this book – all, according to Will Wonka (always a reliable source), apparently live in Loompaland (home to the Oompa-Loompas of course, do keep up). (Note – I just noticed before publishing this post that I wrote Will Wonka rather than Willy Wonka, but I want to leave it as I imagine Will being the sophisticated alter-ego of Willy)

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A Vermicious Knid, yesterday.

Which brings me nicely to the next book on the list – Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Very much looking forward to this one!

I’ll end with a random Roald fact – did you know he wrote the script to You Only Live Twice? What a life story this man has.

Today’s quote is from the book – I think it’s not a bad attitude to have, and fits with my idea that you should never stop learning about the world.

A stodgy parent is no fun at all. What a child wants and deserves is a parent who is SPARKY.

After seeing two musicals last year inspired by Roald Dahl books (Matilda and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), I was reminded just how awesome his stories were, and I resolved to read my way through his books this year.

I then promptly forgot, but luckily my boyfriend didn’t – and he bought me the full set of books for my birthday.

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Image taken from Amazon.

 I started with Danny the Champion of the World – the first one in the boxset. First published in 1975, it’s the story of how Danny and his father use their pheasant poaching skills to teach the greedy Mr Hazell a lesson.

The original book cover from 1975.

It’s a fun read, even at my age – and I was surprised by the clearly liberal moral of the story – something I don’t know whether I would have been conscious of at the time. And basically, the story is proposing thievery as a legitimate response to capitalism. Nowt wrong with that, I say (in the context of the story), but I wonder whether any books written these days would have the same approach.

And how’s this for meta – one of the bedtime stories Danny’s father tells him is the story of the Big Friendly Giant, or BFG (published later as a full novel in 1982). Mind. Blown.

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A pheasant, yesterday. (Image from RSPB).

As I was reading, I was intrigued as to whether the poaching techniques described in the book would actually work in real life – only a quick Google later, and turns out they do! Both the Sticky Hat and the Horse Hair Stopper work (see here for more details). Pheasants love raisins, apparently. Strange creatures.

I’m planning to read roughly a book each week – next on the list is James and the Giant Peach.

Today’s quote comes from the beginning of the book. Something to remember for when I become a parent!

Come with me and you’ll be in a world of pure imagination

Last night I was lucky enough to be given tickets to go and see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – a musical of the famous Roald Dahl classic, directed by Sam Mendes, and on at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. I wasn’t sure what to expect – being somewhat of a musical snob (anyone who has asked me whether I’ve seen We Will Rock You will know this, having suffered the ensuing withering look of disdain) – but I knew that if it was only half as enjoyable as that other Roald Dahl adaptation playing around the corner, then I was sure to have a good time.

(Image taken from LondonTheatre.co.uk)

The musical suffered a bit from a lack of good, memorable, catchy tunes – and the first half, being almost entirely in the Bucket Family home, wasn’t the most inspiring start. That said, there were some great set pieces, as one by one we were introduced to the other competition winners (all the kids on stage were fantastic) – and the first act finale, where we finally met Willy Wonka for the first time (or was it?), blew us cynical thirty-somethings away with a trick of the eye that left us giggling all the way through interval drinks.

Douglas Hodge as Willy Wonka (Image taken from digitalspy.co.uk)

And then we went into the Factory. And that’s where the magic really happened. I don’t want to give anything away, but the sets for each of the different rooms were just spectacular, and had the audience gazing and applauding in wonder. This, coupled with a fabulous – and hilariously snarky – Willy Wonka, played magnificently by Douglas Hodge, had us coming away from the show glowing and basking in the magic that we’d seen before us. Oh and I can’t believe I’ve got this far without mentioning the Oompa Loompas!

(Image taken from theguardian.co.uk)

Roald Dahl creates such a wonderful, rich, world – populated with characters that you can’t help but love, or hate (or love to hate), that it would be hard to go wrong with such perfect source material. Sam Mendes has really managed to bring the most fantastical bits to life, without losing anything from the story. I definitely recommend going to see this if you can (this probably goes ten-fold if you actually have kids – you know, the target audience). And – after reminiscing with my friends about all the great stories – I think I’m going to re-read some of the collection. Which I’m sure is a conviction uttered by adults and children alike after seeing the show. And I think that’s all part of the great legacy of Mr Dahl.

Today’s quote isn’t a quote – it’s a line from “Pure Imagination” which appears both in the original film, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and this new musical.