Hyperbole is Hilarity: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
I thoroughly enjoyed reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1964) by Roald Dahl. It is number 99 on the BBC book list. Dahl is one of my favorite children’s authors. His style is goofy, creepy, funny, and enthralling. I remember reading The Witches as a child and just being enchanted and frightened out of my wits at the same time. And of course, I read many more of his books as well.
I also used to watch the movie version, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, starring Gene Wilder. As I read the book, I had the film’s songs running through my head (along with childhood memories of watching the movie), and I was impressed at how well the movie followed the book, although it was not as funny as the book is, at least to my memory. I have not seen the more recent film version with Johnny Depp. Should I? Is it good?
The book was funnier because of the little details and descriptions of the family. Charlie’s dad has a job in a factory where he screws on toothpaste caps for a living. Charlie’s grandparents are bedridden and have been for twenty years. They also have matching names: Grandpa Joe and Grandma Josephine, and Grandpa George and Grandma Georgina. Additionally, Dahl describes the many types of candy and chocolate both in the factory and on the shelves of the stores. It’s delightful to read these imaginative descriptions.
The book struck me as two things: a warning against gluttony (in many forms) and a children’s version of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None.
Gluttony is addressed through the personalities of the children with golden tickets who are then admitted into Mr. Wonka’s factory for a tour. Augustus Gloop eats too much and is chubby. Violet Beauregarde chews gum all the time and indulges in that nasty habit more than is necessary (or sanitary). Veruca Salt wants everything and has never been told no. Anything she sees, her parents buy for her. Mike Teavee watches television all of the time, as his name suggests. He cannot stop. (He reminds me of my three-year-old.) All of these children are overindulgent and have overindulged.
Charlie Bucket is the only one who has gone without, eating cabbage soup for nearly every meal. He comes from a poor but happy family, and he has learned the value of hard work and of sacrifice. To him, one chocolate bar a year is a luxury. The other children are foils to Charlie’s goodness, and they are extreme examples of gluttony. There are also some lessons in parenting and the value of saying no hidden in the book’s exaggerated situations.
As to Agatha Christie, the story slowly sees the children disappearing. Augustus falls into the chocolate river and is sucked up a pipe. Violet turns into a blueberry and is rolled away. Veruca is attacked by squirrels and thrown down the “bad nut” shoot. Finally, Mike is shrunken into a television character. They all are slowly knocked out of the “competition” in the chocolate factory because of their own vices. (Sounds a lot like life, if you ask me.) Charlie remains the only child with self control, and he finds himself rewarded with being the heir to the factory.
It is quite a fantastic and magical story that I can’t imagine any child (or adult) not liking. Hyperbole is the stuff of hilarity.