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Member Name: Jake Speed
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
Advantages: Chocolate themed children's classic
Disadvantages: Nothing too major
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a 1964 children's book by Roald Dahl. Is there anyone who doesn't know the plot of this by now? Charlie Bucket, our hero, lives with his parents and grandparents in a small ramshackle house near Willy Wonka's legendary Chocolate Factory. Charlie's family is very poor so it's a form of torture in a way to live so close to the HQ of the world's most famous and enigmatic confectioner knowing that all of these extraordinary delights (which he can very rarely buy) are being produced. One day though, Charlie's father brings home some incredible news. Willy Wonka has decided that for the first time ever he will allow five members of the public to take a tour of his highly secretive and mysterious chocolate factory. Five golden tickets will be hidden in wonka bars and those lucky enough to purchase one of these hidden gift wonka bars will be part of this very special tour. Will Charlie manage to get hold of a ticket? Well, I hope it won't come as a tremendous surprise to anyone when I say yes. Joining him on the tour are Augustus Gloop ('A greedy boy'), Veruca Salt ('A girl who is spoiled by her parents'), Violet Beauregarde ('A girl who chews gum all day long') and Michael Teavee ('A boy who does nothing but watch television') ...
This is still good fun to to pick up again and read today even if you are very familiar with the film by now. I'm talking about the wonderful (and sometimes alarmingly strange) seventies film with Gene Wilder rather than the more recent Johnny Depp one. I do unavoidably keep thinking of Wilder when I imagine Willy Wonka in the story but the book version of this bizarre chocolate showman takes on a few characteristics of his own. He's generally just a great character, sort of Howard Hughes, Pee-Wee Herman and the world's greatest circus ringmaster and businessman all rolled into one. A big part of the appeal of the story, especially for children, is learning about all the extraordinary creations Wonka has made in his factory and Dahl is always very inventive on this theme. 'Mr Willy Wonka can make marshmallows that taste of violets, and rich caramels that change colour every ten seconds as you suck them, and little feathery sweets that melt away deliciously the moment you put them between your lips,' says Grandpa Joe. 'He can make chewing-gum that never loses its taste, and sugar balloons that you can blow up to enormous sizes before you pop them with a pin and gobble them up.'
As we descend further into Wonka's factory we are told about more and more of his far out creations - especially when we reach the 'Inventing Room' and learn about his plans for things like Eatable Marshmallow Pillows, Hot Ice Creams for Cold Days, Fizzy Lifting Drinks, Square Sweets that Look Round, Cows that give Chocolate Milk, Luminous Lollies (for reading in bed!) and Lickable Wallpaper. Not forgetting of course Toffee Apple Trees! Wonka is an enjoyably eccentric and obtuse host for this surreal tour and given a consistent stream of offbeat and, at times, apparently crackpot observations to impart to his guests by the author. 'How can you whip cream without whips? Whipped cream isn't whipped cream at all unless it's been whipped with whips. Just as a poached egg isn't a poached egg unless it's been stolen from the woods in the dead of night!' I would actually make sure you have some nice chocolate in the fridge if you plan to read this because if will give you a craving for something sweet.
It's stating the obvious of course to say that this is rather dark for a children's book at times (with a sense of the macabre) but I think it's generally part of the appeal, this element of the grotesque. Take Dahl's early description of Augustus Gloop for example. 'The picture showed a nine-year-old boy who was so enormously fat he looked as though he had been blown up with a powerful pump. Great flabby folds of fat bulged out from every part of his body, and his face was like a monstrous ball of dough with two small greedy curranty eyes peering out upon the world.' These children are pretty awful and the author seems to be having fun telling us just how awful they are and devising rather strange and unpleasant things to happen to them. I must admit to having a slight soft spot for Michael Teavee myself. He's annoying and self-obsessed but watching a lot of television and dressing as a cowboy are not tremendous crimes in my book!
Any review of this has to mention the Oompa-Loompas too, Wonka's diminutive assistants in the factory. They do vital work in the production of the special confectionery and also act as a sort of Greek Chorus on the personalities and fates of the children. I believe they were considered rather racist by some critics for being based on African pygmies when the book first appeared but Dahl made some alterations, most notably to their point of origin.'Of course they're real people,' says Wonka. 'They're Oompa-Loompas. Imported direct from Loompaland. And oh what a terrible country it is! Nothing but thick jungles infested by the most dangerous beasts in the world - hornswogglers and snozzwangers and those terrible wicked whangdoodles. A whangdoodle would eat ten Oompa-Loompas for breakfast and come galloping back for a second helping!'
My paperback copy of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a shade over 200 pages long and can be bought new for next to nothing these days. It's worth a look if you've never read it before.
Summary: Good fun