Author: Roald Dahl
Genre: Children’s classic
Date Read: Throughout 2016, as part of a “book study” program with participants I work with
Reading Challenge: 2016 Rejects Challenge
Challenge Prompt: A modern classic (post WWI)
A young, poor boy named Charlie Bucket is among a group of five children who win a chance to visit Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory by finding golden tickets scattered in chocolate bars around the world. There, they meet the very eccentric Willy Wonka who leads them on their tour, where the children are unknowingly tested again to see who is deserving of the ultimate prize.
Why I Chose It:
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is one of my favourite movies, and I’ve always been fascinated by the factory itself, although it’s always struck me as a little creepy. I watched the movie so many times when I was younger, and to this day it remains one of my favourites. Although I’ve read many of Roald Dahl’s books, I couldn’t remember reading this one. It was chosen for the “book study” class that we run at work, where we read a book out loud to a group of participants and lead a discussion. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to finally get a chance to read it.
I always have a hard time reading a book after seeing the movie version, since I inevitably end up comparing them. Since I had already seen the movie multiple times before reading the book, I had quite a solid idea in mind of how things were “supposed” to be, so some parts took some getting used to. For the most part, the movie version stayed pretty close to the book, but there were a few key differences (ie. Veruca is after a squirrel in the book, rather than a golden goose). The first half or so of the book is devoted to introducing each of the characters as they find their golden tickets and win entry into the factory.
As in the movie, each of the children aside from Charlie has a primary character flaw — overeating, compulsive gum-chewing, spoiled behaviour, and a major TV obsession. Through their exploration of the factory, they each encounter an opportunity to either overcome this challenge or succumb to it. Unbeknownst to the children, the tour itself is a second layer to Wonka’s competition where he tests each of the children’s moral character. Like with many of Dahl’s books, the characterization of each child is pretty “black or white” although the implication is that there is still time for them to improve themselves by learning from their mistakes. As with most Dahl stories, the majority of the adults are ineffective and the parents of the children other than Charlie seem blind to their flaws, or at least unwilling to do anything about it. I thought the characters in the book were a bit on the one-dimensional side, but they served a purpose for moving the story along. Had the characters been more sympathetic, it would have been much more difficult to take them out of the running for the competition so easily. On the other hand, Charlie himself ends up being a fairly bland character without much depth. Wonka was a strange but very entertaining character, and was one of the few who really brought life to the story — in his own bizarre way.
The majority of the plot centres on the children’s exploration of the factory. After the characters are established in the first half, the rest of the book is devoted to the various rooms they get to see. There were definitely some chapters that interested me more than others. The “square candies that look round” was especially boring and served very little purpose. The chapters in which the children are “punished” for their bad behaviour are by far the most interesting, although problematic from a moral standpoint. (What right does Wonka really have to punish other people’s children?)
The book also contained some illustrations to help show off some of the strange things the children were seeing in the factory. As I learned when trying to use these illustrations with the group I was reading to, many of them were difficult to really understand and interpret. In some cases, they added to the story well but many of them seemed unnecessary.
Overall, I thought this was an entertaining book that was a pretty creative way to try and teach children to avoid overindulgent behaviours. It is definitely a fun book for children, but not quite as magical for me as the movie version.
Ratings (10 point scale):
Overall Rating: 7.5