I can’t quite remember where I learned about or how I heard about this October marking the 50th anniversary of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but I do know that I thought it was as good an excuse as any to re-read the book! After all, I had first read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory when I was a kid, along with James and the Giant Peach, Matilda, The Witches, and whole host of other Dahl stories, but it had been a long time since I had checked it out. More often than not, I’ve watched the 1971 movie starring Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka when revisiting the tale.
And to be honest, I don’t think I ever saw the 2005 Johnny Depp remake, or at least not from start to finish. (This was partly because it seemed to be Johnny Depp playing Johnny Depp, and partly because I was getting a bit tired of the Tim Burton-Helena Bonham-Carter-Johnny Depp trifecta.) That said, I do remember there being a debate when it came out though, about how it was darker and closer to Dahl’s original story, so I was curious to see how the book read now that I am all grown-up.
For the most part, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was exactly what I was expecting. It was a fast read and I remembered most of the book’s order, as well as the general story line. But there were a couple of things that struck me this time around.
First of all, four of the five Golden Ticket winners – Augustus Gloop, Violet Beauregarde, Veruca Salt, and Mike Teavee – are disposed of rather quickly. It takes thirteen chapters – nearly half of the book – for the children and their relatives to even arrive at the gates of Wonka’s chocolate factory. Then, just two chapters after they begin their tour and enter the Chocolate Room, Augustus goes up the pipe. Four chapters later, we lose Violet. In three, Veruca is pushed down a trash chute. And three more after that, Mike is “sent by television” from one set to another.
While I somewhat understand the need for this pace – children’s attention spans are relatively short – I was much more aware of it this time around. In fact, it almost seemed like Dahl just wanted to get the book over with as quickly as possible.
Then there are the different ways the children are dispatched. To be sure, I remembered what happened to all of them as they traversed the vast factory, so there were no surprises there. But I didn’t recall the goodbye songs from the Oompa-Loompas being so long (some of them went on for a few pages), or so harsh. For example, while Augustus seemed to be a fairly horrible kid (let’s face it, most of them were), the song goes into great detail about how he could be turned into fudge:
Slowly, the wheels go round and round,
The cogs begin to grind and pound;
A hundred knives to slice, slice, slice;
We add some sugar, cream, and spice;
We boil him for a minute more,
Until we’re absolutely sure
That all the greed and all the gall
Is boiled away for once and all.
I know that I didn’t think much of that when I was a kid; in fact, I probably giggled over the idea of someone being turned into fudge because it seemed so ridiculous. Now though, it just seemed rather macabre.
Overall, I enjoyed reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory again – if only for nostalgia’s sake – but there were certainly darker passages than I had expected. It has also made me rethink my plan to revisit some of my other favorite childhood stories. In fact, I think I’d rather keep those memories a little more intact.