Book Review: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

GoldenTickektby Timothy Lane9/5/16
This book by Roald Dahl is the source for the Gene Wilder movie, Wiilie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (His father’s job is screwing the caps on toothpaste tubes., and he has to support Charlie’s grandparents as well as himself, his wife, and Charlie.)

As in the movie, the mysterious confectioner Willie Wonka has provided 5 golden tickets in his candy bars, to allow 5 children to visit his chocolate factory — which Charlie passes every day on his way home from school. One by one the tickets are won by bratty children (as Charlie’s family sees them from the coverage) until only one is left. Then Charlie finds a bit of money in the snow, and decides to use some of it to buy a chocolate bar — and then a second one, still leaving most of it for his family. This one includes a golden ticket — and it turns out the tour is to be held the next day.

Accompanied by his Grandpa Joe, Charlie joins the tour. Willie Wonka is a very energetic and whimsical sort, but he does have a lot of rooms in his factory. The work is all done by Oompa-Loompas, whom he rescued from a difficult fate and are willing to work for cacao beans (their favorite food). Wonka takes them to various rooms where he shows them what he’s doing. One by one the children give in to their naughty tendencies, and one by one they pay the price for it )though in the end we learn that all of them will at least survive).

After each of the naughty children receives his or her just deserts, the Oompa-Loompas sing a song noting why the child was wrong and needed to be punished. One was too greedy an eater, even when told not to drink from the chocolate river. One was too eager for gum to wait for a test product to be perfected. One (Veruca Salt) was an extreme spoiled brat, who wanted one of Wonka’s trained squirels and wouldn’t take no for an answer. (“All I’ve got at home is two dogs and four cats and six bunny rabbits and two parakeets and three canaries and a green parrot and a turtle an a bowl of goldfish and a cage of white mice and a silly old hamster.” Another chooses to be broadcast on TV.

One thing a conservative can appreciate is not only that such bratty behavior is punished, but that blame is properly placed on the parents for their failures as well. After all, as the Oompa Loompas point out about Veruca Salt, she didn’t spoil herself

In the end, only Charlie is left, and so he gets the final prize — he will be Wonka’s heir, and his family will be able to move into the factory (a much better place to live) — though in the sequel (which I haven’t read, though the first chapter is included here), this turns out to be easier said than done.


Timothy Lane writes from Louisville, Kentucky and publishes the FOSFAX fanzine.
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18 Responses to Book Review: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

  1. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Do the book and the movie compare? Is the slightly sadistic Willy Wonka as played by Gene Wilder consistent with the book? Or is he (in my opinion) more like the truly awful portrayal of Wonka by Johnny Depp? Depp excels at plaining a weird person for the sake of playing a weird person but I thought Wilder excelled at playing a wacky and eccentric candy maker looking for an heir.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      Roald Dahl had his complaints about the movie, including the title’s emphasis on Willy Wonka rather than Charlie Bucket. I think Wilder is largely compatible with the book (and haven’t seen the remake), but note that in the book Charlie and Grandpa Joe don’t break any of the rules, there is no bribery offer regarding the gobsmackers, and there is no confrontation between Wonka and Charlie as a final test. Once the other 4 children are eliminated, Charlie is the winner, and the new heir.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        Okay, thanks. And be sure *not* to watch the remake of the movie (or remake of the book…or, really, a remake of the by-then tired Depp/Burton collaboration).

        It’s a thankless task turning a book into a movie. But I think the dramatic moment when Wilder goes all medieval on Charlie’s ass (the final test) puts the capital “Q” in Quirky for this movie. This is Wilder at his best. And I think it was a nice addition. It’s a great movie because it’s not just a dull children’s movie. It’s a bit “edgy” as is the Mary Poppins movie (which seemed very true to the first book in her general demeanor).

        One of my favorite lines in the Wonka movie is when some kid is trying to use a Wonka device of some kind and Wilder says a very pro-forma Stop. Don’t. Come back.

        • Glenn Fairman says:

          Was I the only human that liked the Burton/Depp version?

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            I’m afraid so, Glenn. 🙂

            • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

              To paraphrase Glenn, “Am I the only human who has neither read the book, nor seen either movie version?”

              • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

                I found the Johnny Depp portrayal of Wonka embarrassingly amateurish. It’s as if he and Burton had gotten together on Day One for a brainstorming session on how to do the character and that was the first one that popped out of Depp. Likely high on dope or something, they both thought it uproariously funny. The rest of the movie degraded from there.

                I thought it was funny when doing a little reading on the Wilder version that it didn’t do well initially at the box office. It became a cult classic, of course. But the reasoning a writer gave (which I’m assuming he’s carrying forward the belief at the time) was that no one wanted to see spoiled children be punished.

                Well, perhaps, but I doubt that. But it did come to be seen as the minor masterpiece that it is.

                Here’s a roundup of the life of Gene Wilder by Daniel Lewis.

  2. Glenn Fairman says:

    One would think that a man ambitious enough to sire children and keep a household could find a profession more lucrative than screwing the caps on toothpaste tubes. I realize that our myths require a certain suspension of disbelief in order to impart their greater wisdom, yet there is a more revelatory justice in the details. We should keep in mind that in the world of men and commerce, each man gets what he deserves.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Grandpa, as played by Jack Albertson, seemed to be the very model of decrepitness having taking up roost in his coop a bit before old age would have brought it on naturally.

      • Glenn Fairman says:

        It seemed as if all were waiting to die until the pipe dream of hitting the impossible lottery revived them. One might draw a crude analogy with subsistence dwelling welfare cretins who depend upon the money that comes from children to live off. An inverted world where the kids support the family in a de facto perversion of the natural order instituted by liberal meddling.

        It might be interesting to envision what occurred to the family after their ship came in. Fairy tales love to chronicle the rags to riches, but the desolate yarns of the darker side of paradise are left to dime store novelists.

        Perhaps Grandpa turned to strong drink and ran off with an Oompa-Loompa in his tricked out Wonkamobile with spinning rims.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          Dahl did a sequel (Charlie and the Glass Elevator) in which they have some adventures on the way to the chocolate factory (starting with a trip into orbit). He intended to do a later sequel, but never got around to it.

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          It seemed as if all were waiting to die until the pipe dream of hitting the impossible lottery revived them.

          State lottery sales generally do very well.

          And regarding Grandpa (at least as portrayed in the movie with Gene Wilder and as played by Jack Albertson), while harmless, is not of particularly sterling character. Charlie is the wide-eyed boy for whom such things as candy factories and Golden Tickets are the stuff dreams are made of.

          I don’t know what kind of social statement the author (and/or movie maker) was trying to make with the family slovenly confined to bed while Charlie was their eyes and ears (and heart) to the outer world.

          But once the plot really gets going, it’s hilarious to see Wonka interacting with the various spoiled children. And if there is a dignified moral to this story, it’s that Charlie refused to take the hand-out when offered. He was indignant at what he saw as the Hillary-like character of Wonka. But little did we know that the slightly sadistic Wonka had a higher plan.

          I watched this movie not too long ago. It’s a real treat. It’s also sort of strange. British author Dahl (or the movie with Wilder) has that odd British quality about it. Many movies I’ve seen don’t hold together, presumably the humor and oddity not transferring well across the ocean. This one thankfully did.

          Gene Wilder died August 29, 2016 at age 83. He’s me if I had gone in another direction. He’s funny but in a slightly absurd way (also described as “delightfully neurotic”). In this interview he mentions why he stopped making movies (the language became too harsh in comedies). The guy may have had his troubles, but he was magic on the screen in some of the best comedies of all time.

          • Timothy Lane says:

            One of his early movies, working with Zero Mostel, was a version of Ionesco’s Rhinoceros, a paean to individualism vs. groupthink.

          • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

            “The Producers” is probably the funniest movie I have ever seen. Bloom and Bialystock are a unique team.

            I also liked Wilder in “The Frisco Kid”. He played an Eastern European rabbi trying to make it to San Francisco. One great scene is when he is traveling through Pennsylvania and runs into a group of I believe, Moravian Christians, whose dress is much like that of an Eastern Orthodox Jew. He is so happy to find his fellow believers and runs up to them shouting “Landsmann, Landsmann” which is what Jews called each other in yiddish. Sadly the people he meets are not Jews, but are of German extraction so they understand some yiddish. Landsmann in German means “countryman”. They treat Wilder and his friend played by Harrison Ford, very well and part in amity.

            • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

              i shall give “The Producers” another try. And I don’t think I’ve ever seen “The Frisco Kid.” I’ll try to view that as well. Thanks for the roundup, Mr. Kung.

            • Timothy Lane says:

              I rather enjoyed The Producers, but haven’t seen The Frisco Kid. But as for funniest movies, I want to mention Blazing Saddles, which is not only a very funny movie featuring Gene Wilder, but would be a wonderful movie to show to a bunch of college snowflakes today. I will also note at least 3 other great movie comedies, Cat Ballou, Bedazzled, and Life of Brian.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        In the book, all 4 grandparents stayed in a single bed all day long. But Grandpa Joe — who had told Charlie all he could about Willy Wonka — managed to rouse himself when Charlie got the golden ticket.

  3. Steve Lancaster says:

    “We are the magic makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams” WW

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