Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, like several of Roald Dahl’s other works, has become a modern classic. Though I have not seen either of the two major motion pictures based on this book, it is the sort of whimsical, imaginative, wild romp that I’m sure would translate well into the big screen.
The protagonist of the tale is Charlie, an undernourished, impoverished, but noble boy who walks by the Chocolate Factory every day dreaming of what is inside. Charlie is a real treat for the reader. We’re told early on that he is “the hero,” and he more than lives up to his billing. He makes right choice after right choice, always thinking of others, and feeling compassion even for other characters who get what they have coming to them. Dahl is shameless about how wonderful Charlie is, but we don’t mind. It’s so rare to see a hero this pure and worthy in modern fiction.
As wonderful as Charlie is, the main attraction of the story is actually Willy Wonka, the owner of the titular Chocolate Factory. Here Dahl outdoes himself in creating an iconic, memorable character. If there were an award for strangest character in fiction, he would certainly be in the running. From his garish clothing, to his seeming obliviousness to anyone who thinks him odd, to his indifference to the well-being of the other children who, along with Charlie, win one of the golden tickets to be able to tour his factory (but who, unlike him are spoiled brats), Wonka clearly lives up to the word which his name closely resembles.
Another of the delights of this story are the Oompa Loompas, who run the factory for Willy Wonka. These tiny little imps who work for cocoa beans can get so silly at times it’s a wonder any chocolate ever gets made at Wonka’s factory.
They also love to break out in song, particularly when one of Charlie’s bratty tour mates falls in a river of chocolate or eats something they should not have. At first these songs seem to be just for laughs, and maybe even a little cruel, but as the story goes on, it becomes clear that they serve a dual purpose.
Each of the children besides Charlie represents a particular kind of child with a particular kind of vice for which Dahl takes aim with his pen. And it is primarily through these songs that Dahl sums up the point he is trying to make. So, while a perpetual diet of candy is not exactly the best piece of advice, the book does offer some great lessons on other, less edible vices.
This is one that readers will enjoy for years to come. Because, like one of Wonka’s everlasting gobstoppers, it is sweet and colorful and it never loses its taste. Bon appetit!