Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl was May’s pick for Book Hoarders Anonymous, an online book group hosted by Alison of The Cheap Reader.
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!
8 thoughts on “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory- Roald Dahl”
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I totally understand what you mean about the one-dimensionalness of this (and other kids books). That does peeve me a bit. It also surprises me about how dark Dahl’s books can be. I still think of his books as light and sunny but that’s not the case at all.
Sorry you didn’t enjoy this as much as I did!
I just don’t think my expectations jived with my experience… I was impressed that a children’s book was so issue-filled, but the moralizing grated on me a bit. The bad kids were just so bad and there was no room for nuance and growth. I get that that’s convention, but it still bothered me. I don’t read a lot of children’s lit, so perhaps it is just something I’m not used to? (Then again, Anne of Green Gables was aimed at children and had multidimensional, nuanced characters.) I dunno, Charlie gets a solid good rating as a piece of literature, but I probably wouldn’t read it again for myself. Maybe when I have kids?
I think it’s fairly typical with kid’s books. Many of Dahl’s books are like that. I’m reading the Narnia books and they are totally like that too. It’s a bit weird but if you can get past the preachy-ness you can enjoy the books fairly well.
I read this one as an adult and it is very dark… but looking back to Dahl’s other books, they’re all sort of dark. But I think it’s only dark to adults… to kids it’s “fun.” I wasn’t as impressed as I had hoped to be by it, but I think if I had read this as a kid I really would have enjoyed it. I think as adults we over-analyze and think too much about the meanings – which I’m sure is the author’s point. I’d like to reread some of his books that I read as a kid and see if they’re still as good as I remember.
Yeah, I know Dahl is known as being pretty dark or at least not very optimistic about human nature. I really loved Matilda as a kid, but I’m not sure I want to reread it and dash all the fond feelings I have for it. I have a hard time with children’s lit, I think. It often feels a bit simplistic to me and I have a hard time enjoying it for what it is!
I haven’t read this book in awhile so I wonder what I would think of it now! I especially love the paragraph about your discussion with your husband. Dahl is pretty known as a dark writer, I remember being a bit spooked by some of his short stories!
My expectations going in were totally weird… I knew Dahl had a rep for being dark, but I still somehow expected Candyland or something. Oh well, I guess I learned that I shouldn’t assume children’s lit will be dumbed down or falsely positive… a lot of it is pretty dark!