In case you’ve never read this or seen the movie, here’s a quick summary. Charlie Bucket is a young boy whose family is very, very poor. He lives in a town that has a fantastically large chocolate factory owned by the reclusive Willy Wonka. Wonka announces one day that in five of his chocolate bars there will be a golden ticket which will entitle the winner to tour the factory and to receive a lifetime supply of Wonka’s sweets. By a random stroke of luck, Charlie is one of the five children to find a golden ticket. The other children are all badly-behaved, ranging from being gluttonous to avaricious to slothful. On the factory tour, Wonka doesn’t tolerate their naughtiness and they are all punished appropriately. Good, pure-hearted Charlie, however, behaves perfectly well and wins the big prize Wonka has reserved for him.
I was a huge Roald Dahl fan when I was a kid, so I was interested to see what I thought of him as an adult. I have to say I’m a little disappointed. While this is a well-written children’s book and one I could see being a lot of fun to read aloud to a child, I did not enjoy it as the fun, cute read I had expected. Instead this book felt intensely serious and grumpy to me.
I had a discussion with my husband (who may have just been relying on his movie knowledge) about this book and he pointed out some important things to me. I complained about how much I hated everyone in this book for being so one-dimensional and predictable (pure-hearted and poor? rich and spoiled?) and he argued that the characters are archetypes, with all the bad children representing the deadly sins. Oh. Huh. He’s right. And then I was about to tear my hair out reading about the Oompa Loompas being taken from their homeland and forced into what amounts to slave labor for Wonka. It smacked of colonialism to me. Husband said “Yeah, Elizabeth, that’s Dahl’s point.” Oh. Huh. He’s right.
I suppose you can read this as a fun little moralistic tale that involves descriptions of sweets and funny punishments. Or you can read this as a dark tale about the dangers of overindulgence with the added bonus of some anti-colonialism. And while I can appreciate that Dahl disguised a deep, somewhat protest-y story as a fantastical kid’s book, I still can’t say I had fun reading it. It was a fairly quick and painless dose of intellectualizing, but even candy-coated, it was pretty glum. Sorry to say that this was just not my cup of molten chocolate!
Be sure to check out Alison’s review for links to other BHA members’ thoughts!