July 15, 2010

Fizzy Lifting Drink?: On Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

My memories of Charlie are from the movies. I never read the book, but the movies do add things as movies will do and now I understand the differences arising between the two Chocolate Factory movies. The directors had to add some sort of conflict. Dahl's story is like this: Charlie is poor; Charlie gets golden ticket; Charlie is virtuous where the other children are bad; Charlie is awarded factory by Wonka.

In this, the original story, everything plays out nicely and everything is too simple. Charlie is poor but his family is entirely good. All the others we see are horrible and one-dimensional and their defining traits become the mode for their downfall. But if you're poor you can be good just by keeping your head down and good things will happen to you. I was dismayed to learn that Charlie and his grandpa avoided the Fizzy Lifting Drink and avoided any complexity to their characters as is in the version I cherished.

Wonka is an entirely wonderful and novel creation, and I understand why such talented actors wanted to fill his shoes. However, he is not a hero of the working class. Expelling all your workers as a way to avoid corporate espionage is bad enough, but enslaving a whole race of people as your personal worker-army is a little much. I would hope that the Salts or the Gloops or one of the other families enlighten the government as to the conditions at the factory. Also: Wonka has a beard.

In the end, reading the book for beloved stories like this always create more perspective. Dahl is a talented writer but this creation is written for a different audience than me. In that respects, I feel it is an effective text. For me however, it works in concert with the creative efforts spawned by it to forge a synthetic idea of just Who Willy Wonka and Charlie Bucket really are. I am glad I read it.