Before there were amorous zombies, sleuthing twelve year-olds, or even a teacher who traipsed around in his underwear, children turned to Roald Dahl for their literary entertainment. I thought it the perfect time to zip through time and relive one of my childhood favourites, in hopes that I might soon introduce my son to the wonders of Willy Wonka and his glorious factory. Dahl opens by presenting the reader with Charlie Bucket and his family, confined to a small cottage on the outskirts of town and as poor as can be. Charlie’s one true love is to receive a bar of Wonka’s chocolate on his birthday, which he savours for a month. When news comes that the famous Willy Wonka will open his factory up for five children to tour, the world goes mad. Five golden tickets have been placed in random bars of chocolate, leaving everyone to buy and tear through the wrapping in hopes of finding that glistening entry pass. One by one, tickets emerge when children purchase bars upon bars: first Augustus Gloop, then Veruca Salt, Violet Beauregarde, and Mike Teavee. Much press coverage is made of these four, though there remains a single ticket left out there, waiting for a pair of grubby hands to grip it by the corner. On a gamble, Charlie uses a coin his discovers and purchases a bar of chocolate that does, miraculously, hold the final ticket. After choosing to attend the factory with his Grandpa Joe, they set off. Arriving at Wonka’s delectable abode, all the children and their chaperones enter and begin learning of the wonders of chocolate making, from the rivers of chocolate to the rooms filled with nut-cracking squirrels, through to experimental chewing gums that will replace the need for meals. All this is overseen by a collection of small people, the Oompa Loompas, whose poetic verses are as exciting as their appearance. One by one, the children flock to something they cannot do without, slowing falling prey to the machinations of the tubes, trapdoors, temptations, and televisions within the factory, leaving Charlie and Grandpa Joe alone as the tour comes to a close. Wonka’s revelation of this fact leads him to make an offer to Charlie that is more than any child might dream and turns the future of Wonka’s factory on its head. Surely, Dahl will expound on that in the sequel, on which I will firmly place my hands like a gluttonous child looking for a golden ticket. Oh, to be a child again!
I will never forget growing up with Roald Dahl’s books around me. Many of his stories are household classics for me, as is the 1971 movie of this book, where Gene Wilder brought Willy Wonka to life. As an adult, I can see some of the themes that Dahl seeks to instil in his readers, about fate, greed, gluttony, and patience. Told in such a fabulous manner as to entertain rather than inculcate, Dahl does not go for the pizzazz and hoopla of some drivel authors use now to lure readers into their novels. I am quite sure everyone wonders about an Oompa Loompa on occasion, which is enough to make me want to return to these books on a regular basis. One cannot criticize Dahl’s work without upsetting a generation or two of readers, in its simplicity and complex themes offered up simultaneously. I would venture to say, the reader and listener (adult and child, alike) will take something from this book and find magic in the formulation. Brilliant in its crafting and heart-warming in the delivery.
Kudos, Mr. Dahl for touching so many lives with your creativity and awesomeness.