Sunday, May 24, 2015

REVIEW: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
Publication Year: 1964
Genre: Middle Grade, Fantasy
Series: Charlie Bucket #1
Awards: NA
Format: Audio, Electronic from Library
Narrator: Eric Idle

I am in the embarrassing position of not having read Roald Dahl as a child.  In order to correct this fact I was drawn to pick up Charlie and the Chocolate Factory because the 1971 movie based on the book, starring Gene Wilder, is one of my favorite movies of all time.  In a way and unfortunately, this was a real detriment to my appreciation of the book which I'll touch on later, but full due must be given to Dahl as this is his imagination and it is wondrous. 

For those unaware, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory tells the story of a poor boy, Charlie Bucket living with his mother, father and four grandparents.  The Buckets live in deepest poverty and have only a little cabbage soup and bread to eat each day.  As such, Charlie and all his family share a special fascination with the mysterious and wonderful chocolate factory that operates in their town.  When the proprietor of this factory, Willy Wonka, opens his doors for the first time in many years to five lucky children who find golden tickets hidden in his candy bars, it fires the hope and imagination of all the Buckets but especially little Charlie. It seems impossible but Charlie does find a golden ticket and he and his Grandpa Joe head off to tour the wondrous world of Willy Wonka. 

So I should have called this post, 'Thoughts on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' but I'm afraid that may have made it sound more profound than it is:0).  The thing is I am finding it exceedingly difficult to actually rate and review the book. If I'm honest it was a 3 out of 5 as far as my reading experience goes but that is not really its fault.  It's a wonderful book, imaginative and unique with some of the most memorable child trope characters ever created: Augustus Gloop, Veruca Salt, Mike TV, and Violet Beauregard.  The fates of these children is also inventive and instructive.  The Oompa Loompas are weird and wonderful in all their judgmental industriousness.  Willy Wonka and his factory are like nothing I've ever encountered.  It's a perfect little story, obviously meant for 8-11 year olds or thereabouts. 

The problem is I was a little bored listening to it.  I've watched Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory countless times in my life and it sticks quite exactly to the book with a few notable exceptions.  And those exceptions, I think actually improve upon the book.  Adding the Slugworth spying angle to the movie, aka the test, creates dramatic tension that doesn't exist in the book at all.  At the end of the book, Willy Wonka just realizes Charlie's the only one left and everything's settled.  Also the Willy Wonka of the book is eccentric to be sure but otherwise he's really a little bland compared to the movie version.  Gene Wilder skates a line between danger and whimsy when playing Wonka which makes him fascinating and also helps along the tension in Charlie's decision at the end of the movie. 

So how to rate the book?  It's 4 to 4.5 if I try to be objective about it and give it credit for giving rise to a spectacular movie but it was a 3 reading experience.  Even with Eric Idle reading!  The former Python did a great job and has the perfect voice for the story but he didn't do anything especially interesting with it.

So what do you all think?  Have you ever struggled to properly review a book AFTER you've watched the movie of the book and loved it?  I think if they are quite a bit different, it helps but when the movie is a faithful dramatization of the book I find it harder.  For example, I read the Anne of Green Gables after having been obsessed with the mini-series but the the book and mini-series are different enough, I could appreciate both equally for what they offer.

FINAL VERDICT:  It is not a surprise that this is considered a children's classic and has been adapted twice into movies - its imaginative and weird and delightful!  3.5 out of 5 stars.
Read Harder Challenge: #6 - A book by a person whose gender is different than your own

#6 - Fiction for Foodies.  I know it's a stretch but the descriptions of the candy would make any foodie's mouth water.

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