There are few comforts that can match reading Charlie And The Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl. Poor boy Charlie lives with two sets of his grandparents, his out-of-work father and mother who tries to keep the seams of this struggling family from bursting. Charlie himself often goes hungry. The only treat in Charlie's difficult life is a chocolate between long gaps. Their two room place and a single bed is where they all live. The four old grandparents use the bed because they are so old.
Charlie's grandfather Joe shares his memories of working in the amazing chocolate factory of Mr. Willy Wonka. Along with Charlie we are regaled with stories about the unimaginable treats that were to be had at Mr. Wonka's factory, while he eats his daily diet of watery cabbage soup.
Quentin Blake's chocolicious illustrations
In the context of this rather bleak beginning a competition. Mr. Wonka announces that there are five golden tickets to be won for a visit to the factory. Naturally, Charlie hopes to be the winner of one of the ticket that are hidden in the Wonka chocolates. What awaits the five children? What will they win? .
The entire book is so engaging and interesting that while I could share more details of the storyline with you dear reader, I will not. I want you to experience the joy of unwrapping this chocolate of a book and relish each paragraph and chapter. I want you to at the end of it relish the sweet after taste you have just experienced and keep going back to the many flavours in the book.
There are verses by Roald Dahl in the book that will make you say them once and then ten more for their sheer deliciousness and common sense. Take for example when Veruca Salt, the pampered little rich girl goes down a chute.
'Veruca Salt, the little brute, Has just gone down the rubbish chute (And as we very rightly thought That in a case like this we ought To see things completely through, We've polished off her parents, too). Down goes Veruca! Down the drain! And here, perhaps, we should explain That she will meet, as she descends, A rather different set of friends, To those that she has left behind- These won’t be nearly so refined. A fish head for example, cut, This morning from a halibut. “Hello! Good Morning! How do you do? How nice to meet you! How are you?” And then a little further down A mass of others gather round: A bacon rind, some rancid lard, A loaf of bread gone stale and hard, A steak that nobody can chew, An oyster from an oyster stew, Some liverwurst so old and grey One smelled it from a mile away, A rotten nut, a reeky pear, A thing the cat left on the stair, And lots of other things as well, Each with a rather horrid smell. These are Veruca’s new found friends That she will meet as she descends, And this is the price she has to pay For going so very far astray. But now, my dears, we think you might Be wondering-is it really right That very single bit of blame And all the scolding and the shame Should fall on Veruca Salt? Is she the only one at fault? For though she’s spoiled, and dreadfully so, A girl can spoil herself , you know. Who spoiled her then? Ah, who indeed? Who pandered to her every need? Who turned her into such a brat? Who are the culprits? Who did that? Alas! You needn't look so far, To find out who these sinners are. They are (and this is very sad) Her loving parents, MUM and DAD. And that is why we’re glad they fell Into the rubbish chute as well’.
Willy Wonka who we expect as maker of chocolates probably loves children, turns out to be really fond of chocolate. Children he more or less tolerates. Dahl, through Wonka's eyes tells us children have very different personalities, some wonderful, some not so much.
This book has a great storyline that will keep children gripped to the end. The book also has so many messages of kindness, compassion, sticking it through tough times, to overindulge a child is to spoil them, parents always love their children; all of them told in the straightest way possible without any mushy sentimentality or melodrama. Illustrations by Quentin Blake take the story further. The many twists and turns in the story remind us of those very famous lines from the movie Forrest Gump, "Life was like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're gonna get."
Tim Burton who went on to direct a movie adaptation of Charlie And The Chocolate Factory observed, "What I love about the book in Dahl's writing, that's why I wanted to do it. He didn't speak down to children. He was like a adult writer for children. It's the kind of a book where you could read it at any age and get something out of it. He was clever at being both specific and kind of subversive and off-kilter and kind of leaving you guessing a little bit, and we did try to keep that feeling in what we were trying to do.
Dahl being Dahl, one cannot see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory as a simple tale. Dahl deeply believed in the power of innovation. Wonka is defintely an innovator. Despite having many of his best selling choclates stolen by bigger players (read Corporations), he finds a way to invent new choclates and workers who are truly trustworthy.
Dahl hated artifice of any sort and that can be seen when Charlie emerges the winner. It is not the richest, the strongest, the technologically most savvy who prevails. It is Charlie who is willing to keep an open mind and heart to new things without leting go of what is dearest to him, his family, no matter what is at stake. Charlie like Wonka loves and understands chocolates. unlike Wonka he is very level headed and no stranger to real hardship and hunger. No wonder Wonka recognises these qualities and sees him as an eligible heir. In the process, Wonka finds the family he so dearly sought. Dahl seems to tell the young reader to stay true to themselves, to be authentic at all times. Go through life absorbing, understanding and finding new ways to do things to overcome old problems.
The one thing that in my eyes seem problematic are the Oompa Loompas, the little people at the Wonka factory. Imported from a forest and put to work in a factory making chocolate, no matter how delicious, the Oompa Loompas seem like the pygmies who lived in the African jungles. How would a forest people feel being displaced from their original habitat without consent, but supposedly for their own good? In Dahl's 1964 imprint the Oompa Loompas were, in fact, pygmies from Africa. Young readers may not read too much into this but simply see them as dwarves who rhyme. If Dahl were alive today, he might have remedied it in a more inclusive manner.
There can be no doubt though that Charlie and The Chocolate Factory is a delightful book for an 8-year-old to read. Cheers of delight and many questions are definitely on the table if you decide to pick this book up. Overall, this is an enormously engaging and enchanting story of a boy who dared to dream, despite having very little.