Saturday, March 13, 2010


This book is a classic and I was thrilled to read it again this week. When I’m working on a middle grade project, I like to spice up my reading with both new books and books I loved from my childhood. Roald Dahl was/is my favorite author (him and Stephen King), and I figure when I’m seeking inspiration I could do a lot worse. For that reason, expect plenty more of Dahl’s books to be my Book of the Week.

I’m not going to bother with a summary of this book. If you’re reading a blog about middle grade novels, I’ll assume you’re familiar with the basic story of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. That’s one of the reasons I chose to reread the book now. Its story is so well known to me I can all but ignore it and focus my attention on Dahl’s craftsmanship. I know that Charlie is a character we’re hoping will find a golden ticket and get to tour the chocolate factory, but why do we hope this? How does Dahl convince us to care about Charlie and his lack of a chocolate factory tour?

What I learned this time through is that Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is actually a horror story for children. Seriously. How else is one to explain the chapter in which a little girl is attacked by an army of squirrels in what has to be one of the creepiest scenes in all of middle grade and adult fiction?

And after all, Roald Dahl wrote a great deal of horror for adults (another reason I love him). When I read this book as a child, I hadn't spent any time watching, reading, or writing horror, so I never picked up on it before. Reading the book again as an adult, I have now written a fair amount of horror and I know it when I see it.

Willy Wonka is a scary dude. So get this: he invites 5 children to tour his chocolate factory, then disposes of one child after another until he is left with one child (innocent and pure like the best teenage virgin horror heroines) who is rewarded with survival and a chocolate factory.

Note to any screenwriters reading this blog: you could totally adapt this plot to a teen scream fest. Imagine five teenagers go someplace creepy, like say, an old factory, and a maniac kills the ones who have sex, who do drugs, who drink, who pollute the environment (it’s your morality play, pick your vices), until there is only the one virgin left who defeats the maniac or reaches a compromise and gets to live happily ever after because he/she is a virgin.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is the same story, only instead of doing drugs or having sex, the sinners in this tale watch too much television, chew too much gum, eat too much food, and are spoiled to the point of being a “bad nut.” If you don’t believe me, reread the rhymes spoken by the oompa loompas who serve mainly as a Greek chorus, and are pleased when each sinner has been disposed of.

Willy Wonka accidentally-on-purpose puts each of these terrible children in a situation where their own vice is turned against them, sort of like Kevin Spacey's character in Se7en, but for kids! If I were Charlie, by the end of that tour I would be screaming my head off in terror, worried about how Willy Wonka was going to blow me up into a blueberry, shrink me to the size of cockroach, let me get sucked into a pipe, or sick an army of squirrels on me (just thinking about it sends a shiver up my spine).

Don’t get me wrong. Knowing that Dahl wrote a horror story for children almost as scary as The Witches only makes me love him more. Part of the appeal of the horror story is that the reader is able to see characters get what they deserve. If a person is a jerk in a horror story, the reader can look forward to seeing that character get what’s coming to him. Children have to deal with jerks just as surely as adults do. I think part of the reason I loved this story as a child is because it was fun to see the bad kids punished.

The last observation I want to make is just how skilled Dahl is at moving a story. He conveys settings and actions through dialogue, thus saving space and increasing his pace. He jump cuts frequently and isn't afraid to have characters state their motivations so long as they do it in a funny or clever fashion. Roald Dahl moves his stories along so fast he could have written War and Peace in about 150 pages or so and you wouldn't notice anything missing from the original.

STANDARD DISCLAIMER: Book of the Week is simply the best book I happened to read in a given week. There are likely other books as good or better that I just didn’t happen to read that week. Also, all reviews here will be written to highlight a book’s positive qualities. It is my policy that if I don’t have something nice to say online, I won’t say anything at all (usually). I’ll leave you to discover the negative qualities of each week’s book on your own.

1 comment:

  1. omggggg Charlie and the Chocolate Factory!!! what a great review! i haven't seen many bloggers reviewing the classics.

    thanks for this! loveddddd this book!!


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