Charlie and the Chocolate Factory book review
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, like several of Roald Dahl’s other works, has become a modern classic. Though I have not seen either of the two major motion pictures based on this book, it is the sort of whimsical, imaginative, wild romp that I’m sure would translate well into the big screen.
A sweet little story
The protagonist of the tale is Charlie, an undernourished, impoverished, but noble boy who walks by the Chocolate Factory every day dreaming of what is inside. Charlie is a real treat for the reader. We’re told early on that he is “the hero,” and he more than lives up to his billing. He makes right choice after right choice, always thinking of others, and feeling compassion even for other characters who get what they have coming to them. Dahl is shameless about how wonderful Charlie is, but we don’t mind. It’s so rare to see a hero this pure and worthy in modern fiction.
As wonderful as Charlie is, the main attraction of the story is actually Willy Wonka, the owner of the titular Chocolate Factory. Here Dahl outdoes himself in creating an iconic, memorable character. If there were an award for strangest character in fiction, he would certainly be in the running. From his garish clothing, to his seeming obliviousness to anyone who thinks him odd, to his indifference to the well-being of the other children who, along with Charlie, win one of the golden tickets to be able to tour his factory (but who, unlike him are spoiled brats), Wonka clearly lives up to the word which his name closely resembles.
Silly songs that are not all that silly
Another of the delights of this story are the Oompa Loompas, who run the factory for Willy Wonka. These tiny little imps who work for cocoa beans can get so silly at times it’s a wonder any chocolate ever gets made at Wonka’s factory.
They also love to break out in song, particularly when one of Charlie’s bratty tour mates falls in a river of chocolate or eats something they should not have. At first these songs seem to be just for laughs, and maybe even a little cruel, but as the story goes on, it becomes clear that they serve a dual purpose.
Each of the children besides Charlie represents a particular kind of child with a particular kind of vice for which Dahl takes aim with his pen. He even comes out and tells us what they’re like before we even meet them:
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.
How’s that for telling and not showing! Ha! I can see all the editors just shaking their heads.
Music to every author’s ears
I could go on and on about just how enjoyable a read this. Instead, I’ll leave you with Mike Teavee’s Oompa Loompa song in its entirety. I don’t usually quote long passages like this for reviews, but it’s just that good. I think I read it three or four times. Like one of Wonka’s everlasting gobstoppers, it never loses its taste. Enjoy!
The most important thing we’ve learned,
So far as children are concerned,
Is never, NEVER, NEVER let
Them near your television set–
Or better still, just don’t install
The idiotic thing at all.
In almost every house we’ve been,
We’ve watched them gaping at the screen.
They loll and slop and lounge about,
And stare until their eyes pop out.
(Last week in someone’s place we saw
A dozen eyeballs on the floor.)
They sit and stare and stare and sit
Until they’re hypnotised by it,
Until they’re absolutely drunk
With all the shocking ghastly junk.
Oh yes, we know it keeps them still,
They don’t climb out the window sill,
They never fight or kick or punch,
They leave you free to cook the lunch
And wash the dishes in the sink–
But did you ever stop to think,
To wonder just exactly what
This does to your beloved tot?
IT ROTS THE SENSES IN THE HEAD!
IT KILLS IMAGINATION DEAD!
IT CLOGS AND CLUTTERS UP THE MIND!
IT MAKES A CHILD SO DULL AND BLIND
HE CAN NO LONGER UNDERSTAND
A FANTASY, A FAIRYLAND!
HIS BRAIN BECOMES AS SOFT AS CHEESE!
HIS POWERS OF THINKING RUST AND FREEZE!
HE CANNOT THINK–HE ONLY SEES!
‘All right!’ you’ll cry. ‘All right!’ you’ll say,
‘But if we take the set away,
What shall we do to entertain
Our darling children? Please explain!’
We’ll answer this by asking you,
‘What used the darling ones to do?
‘How used they keep themselves contented
Before this monster was invented?’
Have you forgotten? Don’t you know?
We’ll say it very loud and slow:
THEY…USED…TO…READ! They’d READ and READ,
AND READ and READ, and then proceed
To READ some more. Great Scott! Gadzooks!
One half their lives was reading books!
The nursery shelves held books galore!
Books cluttered up the nursery floor!
And in the bedroom, by the bed,
More books were waiting to be read!
Such wondrous, fine, fantastic takes
Of dragons, gypsies, queens, and whales
And treasure isles, and distant shores
Where smugglers rowed with muffled oars,
And pirates wearing purple pants,
And sailing ships and elephants,
And cannibals crouching ’round the pot,
Stirring away at something hot.
(It smells so good, what can it be?
Good gracious, it’s Penelope.)
The younger ones had Beatrix Potter
With Mr. Tod, the dirty rotter,
And Squirrel Nutkin, Pigling Bland,
And Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle and–
Just How The Camel Got His Hump,
And How The Monkey Lost His Rump,
And Mr. Toad, and bless my soul,
There’s Mr. Rat and Mr. Mole–
Oh, books, what books they used to know,
Those children living long ago!
So please, oh please, we beg, we pray,
Go throw your TV set away,
And in its place you can install
A lovely bookshelf on the wall.
Then fill the shelves with lots of books,
Ignoring all the dirty looks,
The screams and yells, the bites and kicks,
And children hitting you with sticks–
Fear not, because we promise you
That, in about a week or two
Of having nothing else to do,
They’ll now begin to feel the need
Of having something good to read.
And once they start–oh boy, oh boy!
You watch the slowly growing joy
That fills their hears. They’ll grow so keen
They’ll wonder what they’d ever seen
In that ridiculous machine,
That nauseating, foul, unclean,
Repulsive television screen!
And later, each and every kid
Will love you more for what you did.
P.S. Regarding Mike Teavee,
We very much regret that we
Shall simply have to wait and see
If we can get him back his height.
But if we can’t–it serves him right.
Don’t be like Mike Teavee.