Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

Rating 9.0/10
50 years old and still as tasty as ever!

Book of the Month

It feels highly appropriate that I am now writing a review of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, since 27 years ago, when I was roughly four years old, my dad sat down and read my brother and I the whole thing over several successive evenings.

I have heard some people say that when they reread a childhood favourite, they find it smaller and more disappointing than expected. Well not me! I've read the book many times since those initial evenings with my dad and still think it's wonderful, which either means I have the literary appreciation of a four year old, or that I was a four year old with very good taste!

One thing I can however do now, which I could not do when I was four, is say precisely what makes this book, published 50 years ago last year, such a classic.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is in many ways a modern (or at least early 20th century) fairy tale. It begins with Charlie Bucket and his large family, including four grandparents living on the edge of a small town in a state of desperate poverty. Charlie's grandpa Jo tells him stories of the wonderful Mr. Willy Wonka, the legendary chocolate maker.

Shortly thereafter the idea of five golden tickets is introduced, five chances for children across the world to tore Mr Wonka’s factory and earn a life time supply of sweets and we slowly learn of the first four finders.

One thing that struck me about this first section of the book is just how well crafted it is. Dahl uses a wonderful economy of language to contrast the poverty of the Bucket family with the stories told by Grandpa Jo to Charlie of the wonderful Mr. Wonka and his chocolate factory. Indeed, the simple motif of food for suffering, contrasting the cabbage and potatoes that Charlie's family live on with the stories of Willy Wonka's magical and improbable sweets almost reminded me of George R. R. Martin, as well as being a clear indicator to any child of just what "being poor" was really like. There is also a stark brutality to some of these sections that clearly show's Dahl's belief that children do not need to be patronised, such as the description of Charlie, on the edge of starvation after his father loses his job, having to sit inside and rest rather than go outside to play in the snow.

Charlie himself is also an extremely well crafted character in this first section of the book. One of my complaints of the 1973 Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory musical (a film which Dahl himself disavowed) was that Charley was portrayed far too unrealistically sweet. He was a classic virtuous TV boy whose goodness was rammed down your throat. The book however begins by picturing Charlie through the love his parents and grandparents have for him, and what hints to the "goodness" of his character we get are wonderfully understated, like the description of him making one bar of chocolate last for months (quite a contrast to some of the less virtuous children we meet later), or the account of him refusing to accept extra food from his mother.

My favourite Charlie moment occurs when he finds some money in the street, a half crown in the original copy my dad read me in the early 80's though in more modern versions a fifty pence peace. Charlie, desperate from starvation runs into a small local shop, buys a chocolate bar and in utter desperation wolfs the whole thing in less than a minute. It's such a natural reaction and Dahl plays it so straight it definitely brings home that Charlie is a real character.

It is also in this first section of the book that we are introduced, through Mr. Bucket's reading of a newspaper, to the four other finders of Mr. Wonka’s Golden Tickets. By having the stories read from a newspaper Dahl rather cleverly lets the reactions of the Bucket family and the condemnation of the bad behaviour of the other children be quite natural in dialogue, such as Grandma Georgina's "a repulsive boy" comment upon the greedy Augustus Gloop. After all I'm pretty sure every family who has ever read a newspaper or watched TV news together pass such casual little judgements upon the people shown. While Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is indeed something of a morality tale, as with a lot of Dahl's writing, the morality comes from the story rather than the story existing just to teach a moral lesson, thus the comments by the Bucket family upon the other children are quite in character.

Before beginning my recent reread of the story, I did wonder how dated some of the bad children and their foibles might be, particularly the violent television obsessed Mike Teavee (who was transformed into a joyless computer nerd by Tim Burton in the 2005 film).

Upon rereading however, it did occur to me that in a world of ultra violent crime drama and gangster rap, Mike Teavee's love of watching television gangsters wasn't quite so out of place, particularly with how stark the divide between "children’s" and "adult" programs shown these days, indeed only his coat with the Lone Ranger picture (and perhaps some of the illustrations), suggest that he was particularly tied to westerns, a film style far more popular in the sixties than today. The only one of the four children I found less satisfactory was Violet Beauregarde, the girl obsessed with chewing gum, since fundamentally there didn't seem to really be anything that wrong with what she was doing. Though she does come across as brash, arrogant and over confident, it doesn't seem attributing this to gum chewing is reasonable, the way Mike Teavee's violent temper and disinterest is tied to his addiction to violent television. I suspect this is why Tim Burton also gave her an obsession with winning and being a stereotypical American girl.

After several notable fake outs and some quite clever playing with the reader's expectations, Dahl does have Charlie find the fifth golden ticket and attend the factory where he meets the book's other most notable character, chocolate maker and seemingly magical genius Willy Wonka.

There have been several different portrayals and ideas about Wonka over the years, from Johnny Depp's childlike maniac to Gene Wilder's manipulative (and to my mind quite dislikeable) version. Reading the book however it struck me that Mr. Wonka really doesn't need the extra layers of characterisation that have been attributed to him at all. He is purely and simply a genius, in love with his creations, proud of his factory and (as revealed at the end of the novel) in need of an apprentice. He's an eccentric artist with a sense of wonder about the world and a love of invention, and any extra additions to his character, even Johnny Depp's lost little boy angle or Gene Wilder's slightly less pleasant master manipulator streak are neither in evidence in the book, nor are they necessary. Not every character has to be convoluted in order to be well drawn, and Wonka is a perfect example.

Inside the factory is where the real fun begins, and this is one occasion where the reality definitely lives up to the prior build-up. One characteristic which Dahl shares with many great fantasy authors from Lovecraft to Tolkien is that he is able to suggest a far larger and more magical world than he actually shows. The innumerable corridors, the many doors of the factory and what Willy Wonka says of the factory's size and underground workings, not to mention some wonderful brief glimpses of magical moments (something Dahl does extremely well), suggest that the factory is far larger and stranger even than what we see. Thus, whether the full description of the meadow constructed entirely of chocolate and edible sugar, the ride down the chocolate river or the brief glimpse of "square sweets that look round" everything is built in exquisite and eye catching detail, littered with puns (butter scotch and butter jinn) and plenty of the trademark Dahl rhymes and humour. The style is masterful, neither too brief nor overly florid and (as we'd hope from a book about a chocolate factory) appeals just as much to all senses, rather than just being a described film script.

Another characteristic which Dahl has in common with the great writers of epic fantasy, is that the world of the factory is not one which is altogether safe. One of Dahl's realisations was that children are not incapable of standing disturbing situations, so long as things work out in the end, and so long as the majority of the unpleasantness happens to the bad characters. Nowhere is this more clearly in evidence than in the factory, where the various bad children each fall foul to a somewhat ironic accident, such as Augustus Gloop's ascent up the pipe after trying to drink chocolate from the chocolate river, or Violet Beauregarde being turned into a human blueberry after eating a chewing gum meal.

It is debatable to what extent Mr. Wonka wanted this to happen (indeed Gene Wilder's portrayal in the 1973 film makes it pretty clear that he was manipulating matters behind the scenes). Myself however, after reading the book it does seem Mr. Wonka's dismay at the children's accidents was entirely genuine, though to what extent his concern was for the children and to what extent it was for the misuse of his creations is debatable.

As with the Bucket family's comments upon reading about the children in the news paper, the Oompa Loompa's songs can be seen as a whimsical bit of rhyming, as much as moral statements on the flaws of the children, poetic justice in equal measure, though notably Dahl does soften the blow somewhat by showing the children all alive and well at the end of the book (albeit perhaps not the way they were before).

My one problem with the factory section of the book, is that Charlie rather falls off the map. Though many of the descriptions are from his perspective, he feels a largely passive character, simply trailing around the factory in an understandable state of wonder and watching as the four other children fall foul of their own various character flaws. It is eventually revealed that Wonka was looking for a young apprentice that he could teach, hence the need for the Golden Tickets, however having Charlie effectively win by default feels a distinct anti-climax. It's notable that in both film versions performs some act for Mr. Wonka at the end of the factory  tour which served to distinguish him as a character and also (in the Tim Burton film at least) cement his friendship with the chocolate maker. Apparently, Dahl originally had as many as 20 children enter the factory to meet unfortunate accidents, then cut the number down steadily as he wrote. The chapter detailing the sixth child, a swatty, education obsessed girl called Miranda Piker and her vanishment by magic powder was made available to the public in 2007 and can be found and read online.

I do wonder if perhaps Dahl got somewhat over focused on providing ironic punishments for bad children so that he neglected a correct ending for a good one. This lack of climax and easy resolution does make the book's ending rather flat, despite the impressive sequence of the great glass elevator flying out of the top of the factory roof. There is no risk to Charley and no obstacle he overcomes at the end to distinguish himself, indeed you almost expect Willy Wonka to turn around to Charlie and simply thank him and send him home. And the end would simply be that Charlie had a wonderful day and earned a life time supply of chocolate so isn't hungry anymore. I suspect this anti-climax is the reason that Charlie and the chocolate factory is the only one of Dahl's children's books to have a sequel. Indeed, in Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator one of the notable things is how we do see the budding teacher/pupil relationship between Charlie and Willy Wonka, and how Charlie does distinguish himself as exceptional.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has had a lot of attention over the years, and has at turns been called imperialistic, racist, patronising and disturbing. There have been countless merchandising deals (a shame the rights were bought by such a rotten chocolate maker as Nestlé), two film adaptations, various computer games, rides, and a Broadway musical. Behind all of that however is a very amazing book that was written fifty years ago, which is still just as fantastic and delightful today as it was back in the sixties. Great ideas, well crafted prose, and an understatement of its morality make Charlie and the Chocolate Factory a modern fairy tale that will likely be popular for years to come, among children and any adults who aren't entirely devoid of any sense of magic.

This Charlie and the Chocolate Factory book review was written by

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Have you read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory?

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Charlie and the Chocolate Factory reader reviews

from London

10-stars

I love this 📚.It has so much fascinating stuff in it (in my opinion).Who would never read it. SO GOOD!!!

from Nepal

10-stars

Loved it so much.

from South Africa

10-stars

FANTASTiC!!!!!!!!!!!!

from South Africa

10-stars

Very lovely book

from America

10-stars

I really liked this book because it is true and not true at the same time. It is true that children like Charlie are living with their families slowly starving, having to see others indulging themselves because they have money, but the story shows that miracles can happen!

from England

10-stars

It was a lovely book to read and was very fascinating too!! I really loved it and I also think that Roald Dahl is an amazing author...

from India

10-stars

I loved this book. I saw the flim based on it too. This book is the best book I have read till now.

from USA

10-stars

I luv this book and can reread it anytime. <3

from India

10-stars

This book is really wonderful for kids. It has a little bit of everything: fiction, humour, rhythm and of course feelings.

from South Africa

10-stars

Its a great book and everything about it is so perfect. I recommend the book to youngsters who love fantasy, imagination books etc . I loooooooove the book very much.

from Santa Rosa

10-stars

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is an amazing book because it has a lot of imagination that Roald Dahl put into making this book. Charlie has enthusiasm in this book that is why I love this book sooooooooooooo much.

from India

10-stars

I can read it any time.

from Qatar

9-stars

This is book is my all time favourite! <3

from India

8-stars

Book title: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Author: Roald Dahl Illustrator – Quentin Blake Genre - Fiction Publisher: Puffin Books; Penguin Group Place – Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York 10014, USA Publication Date – 1964 Edition – 2007 Page Count – 200 pages Price - $16.95 ISBN – 978-0-141-32271-1 Reviewed by Rashmi Sacher If I have to describe my experience with this book in Roald Dahl’s words, I would say ‘SCRUMDIDDLYUMPTIOUS’ – a word invented by R. Dahl, which means delicious and lovely. This book truly is amazing. It comes with an interesting title ‘Charlie and the Chocolate factory’ which adequately encapsulates the message of the text. It is a very pacey and eventful read. There is no way that the reader would feel bored during it’s read as there are a lot of events happening to keep up with. The core strength of the book lies in R. Dahl’s brilliant imagination and Ouentin Blake’s wonderful illustrations. If wish there were little more illustrations to make it a visual treat. The story is about a sweet, sensible, poor boy aka our hero, Charlie Bucket. Charlies lives in a small wooden house with his mother (Mrs Bucket), father (Mr. Bucket), Grandpa Joe, Grandma Josephine, Grandpa George and Grandma Georgina. This poverty stricken family is barely able to make both its ends meet as Mr Bucket is the only breadwinner of the family. He works on meagre wages in a toothpaste factory as toothpaste cap-screwer. The only few thing they can afford and survive on are boiled potatoes, cabbage and cabbage soup. Though they never starve but they always have a horrible empty feeling in their stomachs and Charlie feels it worst of all. On his way to school, everyday Charlie passes by Mr. Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. It is no ordinary chocolate factory and Mr. Wonka no ordinary chocolate maker. He is magician-cum-inventor of the chocolate world, who owns the biggest and most famous factory known for producing the most amazingly tasting heart melting chocolates in the whole wide world. Every time Charlie passes it he gets entrapped and enchanted by the wonderfully sweet smell of melted chocolate. And every time when he gets entrapped by this sweet chocolaty whiff, his desire to get inside the factory grows more. But sadly there is no way one can go inside it as the factory gates have never been opened since a long time. Mr. Wonka shut himself off from the public years before because his workers were selling his new ideas to rival companies. Suddenly one day Mr. Wonka makes an announcement that he is opening his factory to the five lucky people who find a golden ticket in his chocolate bars. Finally Charlie makes it to this amazing world of chocolate through a golden ticket. Besides him there are four more lucky winners of the golden ticket. Their names are Augustus Gloop (a greedy boy), Veruca Salt (a spoiled brat), Violet Beauregarde (a constant gum chewer) and Mike Teavee (a violent couch potato). Inside the factory follows a series of wonderfully exciting and adventurous events which leaves our little Charlie astonished, amazed, flabbergasted and at times even terrified and stunned. In the magical factory of chocolate, kids witness a chocolate river, minty sugar grass, television chocolate etc. but my personal favourite is the roller coaster glass lift as it elevates the pace of the book to a greater level. R. Dahl not only widens your imagination but also your vocabulary as he introduces some interesting terms to his reader, for example – snozzwangers, hornswogglers, whangdoodles, Oompa-loompas, etc. The book does cater to young reader but is not at all childish in its approach. It has got a write mix of sensibility, fun, excitement and humour. It is by no means preachy but does leave you with the following message – a) One should not be greedy for anything in life. b) Books are the best source of entertainment. c) One should always pay heed to the elders’ advice. d) Parents are sorely responsible in turning a kid into a brat. Parents should make a sensible choice as to which all wishes of their child’s they should cater to and which all they should ignore. To saviour the true essence of this book, (if I may take the liberty to make a suggestion) I would suggest you to read it in a cosy, comfy corner, sipping hot chocolate while dunking your favourite cookies in it. In all I would say it is a chocolate melting, candy popping, gum bursting, jaw sticking, bar crackling sweet adventurous story book. Happy reading folks!!

from South Africa

9-stars

It's a lovely book.

9.7/10 from 16 reviews

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