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Chocolate Factory
Image source: Wikimedia

Book Review of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1967)

Jo Ward itcherEveryone knows this story, don’t they? You’ve watched one if not both of the excellent films. Why would you read the book? Hopefully, this book review of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory will explain. ~ Jo Ward

The Book Review for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

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Charlie Bucket is a young boy who lives with his parents and both sets of grandparents in extreme poverty. They eat only cabbages and potatoes, the four grandparents share one bed, and the house has only two rooms.

Charlie loves chocolate (who doesn’t?) but only gets one bar a year, on his birthday.

What makes it worse is that Charlie just happens to live in the same town as the most famous chocolate factory in the world, that of Mr Willy Wonka.

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A Golden Opportunity

When five golden tickets are released hidden inside chocolate bars, the world goes mad trying to find them. The winners will be able to go inside Wonka’s factory, something which hasn’t happened in years. People buy chocolate bars in their thousands. What chance does Charlie have, with his one bar a year?

Well, since the book is called Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, every chance (although my five year old didn’t pick this connection up and was genuinely thrilled and surprised when he found his golden ticket!).

Inside the Gates

So, Charlie is one of five children to make it inside the hallowed halls.

The four children who join him are a collection of repellent characters, who, one by one, get their comeuppance, leaving Charlie with the prize.

Which is…. read the book and find out!

This book review about Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is not really about telling you the plot line though – I suspect most people have a rough idea. It’s about why you should take the time to actually read the book, if you haven’t already.

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Words and Words and Words…

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Image source: USmagazine

Roald Dahl is one of the best writers of children’s stories, ever. His language is wonderful. Far from dumbing down, his vocabulary is exciting and full. Just take this excerpt, from the instructions to the Golden Ticket winners:

“Mystic and marvellous surprises, that will entrance, delight, intrigue, astonish and perplex you beyond measure”

He writes with the assumption that the child reading is a clever individual, who deserves not to be patronised, which means the book is also fun to read as an adult.

When existing words don’t quite describe what he wants, he makes them up. A chatbag is someone who talks a lot; a babblement a nice, gossipy conversation. Don’t approve of making words up? Well, it worked for Shakespeare….

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Larger than Life

Dahl is outstanding at creating characters. Many of his characters are extreme.

The winning children, Charlie excepted, are a hideous bunch of kids.

Veruca Salt, with stratospheric levels of materialism, is especially repugnant, while Mike Teavee is a very apt warning for today’s children.

Even as a child I thought Violet Beauregarde, whose worst habit is chewing gum, had a harsh fate – I liked her otherwise.

But I had no patience for Augustus Gloop (greedy) or for Veruca. Sorry, did I mention that?!

Dahl is quite clear that repulsive children are produced by slack parents, who are equally repellent in their own ways, just as Charlie’s Grandpa Joe is everything a kindly granddad should be.

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Willy Wonka

Wonka is the kind of zany inventor that a chocolate maker should be. He’s larger than life.

He is also very child like, in his excitability and enthusiasm, which makes him an easy character for children to relate to. At first he appears very naive, but you do start to wonder if he is quite as naive as appearances suggest.

He directs several remarks to parents, which, far from reassuring them about their offspring’s fate, send them into panic. I suspect he does this quite intentionally – making the parent pay for the child’s shortcomings.

How can you review Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and not mention the Oompa Loompas? What a wonderful, magical set of people to staff your factory with. Dahl shows his genius with the rhymes the Oompa Loompas sing after each child is eliminated – again, his use of language is superb.

Gene Wilder gave us a Wonka who was zany but verging on sinister. Johnny Depp’s Wonka was child-like but still not quite Dahl’s creation. Both films played around with the story, the Depp film more so.

If you want pure, unadulterated Dahl, you have to read the book and take in the sweep of language and characterisation for yourself.

The tale is every child’s dream. It is the ultimate ‘rags to riches’ tale, based on chocolate. Who doesn’t want to go inside a chocolate factory and discover, not a prosaic reality, but magic at work?

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a glorious ride through every child’s dream, with language to delight. It is, however, a child’s book – so it doesn’t last long enough!

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What about You?

Would you read this as an adult or do you never read ‘children’s books’?

Is it enough to know the story, so watching the films is fine, or is it always good to read the book for yourself?

Let us know your thoughts.

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