02/08/2018

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (by Roald Dahl)

My four-year-old grandson has an almost limitless capacity for books, and one of his favourite authors is Roald Dahl. He asked me if I would read 'Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory' to him a couple of days ago; I read a few chapters at a time, mostly near his bedtime, and finished it today.

It's a few years since I read the book, but it's a classic Cinderella-style story of good over evil. Charlie Bucket, who is about ten, comes from an impoverished family who all seem to have their offspring very late in life. He has four grandparents still alive, but they're all in their nineties, and bedridden. Indeed, the four of them share the one bed in the Bucket household and until events in the story, none of them has got out of the bed for many years.

Charlie's father works at a toothpaste factory earning very little, and the family exist on potatoes, white bread and cabbages. Once a year, on his birthday, he receives a small bar of chocolate. And Charlie is a generous, thoughtful child although he has such a difficult life.

Willy Wonka's chocolate factory dominates the town where Charlie lives, and causes a lot of rumours to flow. Who exactly is Willy Wonka? Who are his workers, who are never seen coming and going? What are Wonka's secrets, and why can nobody ever see his factory...? Then one day, an announcement is made. In five chocolate bars, somewhere in the world, are five golden tickets. The five children who find them will be invited to spend a day in the factory and will receive a lifetime's supply of chocolates and other goodies.

In classic fairytale style, the first four tickets are found by obnoxious and demanding children, and it's no surprise that, by a miracle, Charlie finds the fifth. Much of the story then takes place on the day in the factory, as Willy Wonka shows the children and their parents (or, in Charlie's case, one of his grandparents) some of his amazing work.

This book has been compared to classic works such as those of Dante; I have no idea if this was deliberate, or if it's just that it's a good storyline. It's well enough known that it's no spoiler to say that, as expected in a fairytale, the obnoxious children gradually fall by the wayside and the unassuming Charlie emerges victorious.

The ending is perhaps a tad abrupt, as Willy Wonka takes Charlie and his grandfather on a somewhat wild journey in his huge glass lift, with a happy future promised for them all.

This is one of my favourite of Dahl’s books for children, and my grandson never tires of hearing it. My son had re-read it to him a few weeks earlier, and my husband read it to him a couple of weeks later. Recommended to any child ready to listen to chapter books, or reading fluently for themselves. It makes a good read-aloud too.

Note that this book led to two very different film adaptations. The 1971 'Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory' has Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka, and features some quite enjoyable songs.  The 2005 remake 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory', has - unsurprisingly - much better graphics but is rather darker. It features Johnny Depp as Willy Wonka. 

Review by copyright 2018 Sue's Book Reviews

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