My Life In Books: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

I’ve read this book so many times, I can’t remember where or when I first encountered it. I do remember, however, finding it in the library when we first moved to Canada (I was 10), and being quite entertained by the fact that in that version – published in America – Charlie finds a bit of green paper in the snow that turns out to be a dollar bill, whereas in the English version, which I’d already read, his eye is caught by a flash of silver that turns out to be a fifty pence piece. It hadn’t occurred to me before that point that books are edited to adhere to the expectations of the country they are published it. After that, for a long time I didn’t know whether Roald Dahl was English or American.

The story of Willy Wonka’s amazing chocolate factory and the five children who get a tour of it has endured for many decades, and there have been numerous film versions made over the years. I am rather fond of the musical version with Marty Feldman as Mr Wonka from the 1970s, although I never liked the fact that they changed the scene in which Veruca Salt gets her just desserts – in the book she’s thrown down the chute in the Nut Room trying to get a squirrel, and in the film it’s a room of geese laying golden eggs. In the more recent film, with Johnny Depp as Willy Wonka, it is the nut room with squirrels once more. In fact this version adheres to the original story quite well, apart from the fact there’s an entire sub-plot about Willy Wonka’s relationship with his father that has been entirely manufactured for the film. And I don’t really like that. I’m a bit of a purist when it comes to book-to-film adaptations. I think it’s best to stick to the author’s original intentions.

In any case, CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY works on so many levels it’s easy to see why it’s still a hit with kids today. What kid wouldn’t want to tour the wonderful chocolate factory, with its molten chocolate waterfall and boiled-sweet boats? What kid isn’t there with Charlie when he stands by the factory gates in winter and inhales the sweet smell of hot melted chocolate?

There’s also the cautionary tale about what happens to naughty children – with four of the five child characters all possessing an unpleasant character trait that ultimately leads to their downfall. Dahl was clearly transmitting a message about the evils of gluttony, of chewing gum, of being a spoiled kid, and of watching too much TV. Charlie is the only ‘good’ child, and characteristic of Dahl he gets his reward in the end, inheriting Wonka’s chocolate factory, while the ‘naughty’ children also get their punishment. There’s a very simple message here, but it still resonates: if you are good you get rewarded, if you are naughty you get punished.

Although Charlie has had a hard upbringing, in a poverty-stricken family living on the brink of starvation, somewhat uncharacteristically of Dahl books he comes from a sound family unit. Not only does he have two parents who love him (at least he does in the book), but he also has four grandparents who dote on him.

In the end Charlie gets all the chocolate he can eat, and as heir to Willy Wonka’s chocolate empire he is able to pull his family out of poverty and provide for them for the rest of their lives. And this, for a Roald Dahl book, is a very happy ending.

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