21 December 2007

It's about just deserts and not just about desserts

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Roald Dahl
Puffin, 1998

Reading a novel after having seen a cinematic adaptation is always a challenge. One of the deepest joys of reading---relying on one's imagination to create the characters, their voices, the locales, etc.---is preempted and nullified by the choices made by directors, producers, casting agents, and set designers. Thankfully, the best books which have been adapted for the screen are complex and spacious enough that they allow some free play in spite of this imaginative preemption, and such is the case with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

The plot should be familiar to anyone who has seen either film version, but for those who are new to the tale, young protagonist Charlie Bucket is a seriously impoverished and malnourished child who lives on the edge of a town whose main focus is Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory. This factory, in which no one (at least, no human being) has worked for the last decade, is the ultimate children's fantasy---part candy store, part amusement park, and part haunted house. As fate would have it, Mr. Wonka has decided re-open his factory, but only to five children and their guardians, by way of a lottery, in the form of five Golden Tickets hidden in the wrappers of his candy bars.

Needless to say, Charlie finds a ticket and gets taken on the adventure of a lifetime, along with his Grandpa Joe (amazingly spry at 96!) and four other nasty, bratty children. What happens along the way will have the whole family cracking up, and hopefully, learning a bit about better behavior as well. Dahl's now-classic tale is a wonderfully silly morality play about how not to behave and about the consequences, good and bad, of our actions, and the format of the book, written as short illustrated chapters, makes it great for family reading aloud. In other words, this is a gem for kids and adults alike. (There are low-star reviews by those who are horrified by the "violence" in this story, which is frankly as silly as anything that happens in the book. All the kids make it out of the Factory in the end, with a lifetime's supply of candy no less, having learned lessons in appropriate behavior. 'Nuff said.)

(This review was originally written on September 14, 2006.)

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