Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by Roald Dahl

Second paragraph of third chapter:

‘Did Mr Wonka do it, Grandpa?’

When I first read this book, aged 7 or so, I was expecting horror – good old Puffin Post had published an excised chapter, “Spotty Powder”, back in 1973, concerning the fate of another obnoxious child visitor, Miranda Piker, and it is much darker than any of the bits that made it into the final book. The chill that went down my back as I read it has stayed with me for 43 years:

There was a moment’s silence. Then, far off in the distance, from somewhere deep underground, there came a fearful scream.

“That’s my husband!” cried Mrs Piker, going blue in the face. There was another scream.

“And that’s Miranda!” yelled Mrs Piker, beginning to hop around in circles. “What’s happening to them? What have you got down there, you dreadful beast?”

“Oh, nothing much,” Mr Wonka answered. “Just a lot of cogs and wheels and chains and things like that, all going round and round and round.”

“You villain!” she screamed. “I know your tricks! You’re grinding them into powder! In two minutes my darling Miranda will come pouring out of one of those dreadful pipes, and so will my husband!”

“Of course,” said Mr Wonka. “That’s part of the recipe.”

You can read it here (NB although that page claims the chapter was only rediscovered in 2005, I have very vivid memories of reading it in 1973).

In fact I was both relieved and slightly disappointed that none of the four nasty children in the published text suffers quite as horrible a fate, and they all get out alive at the end (whereas one gets the distinct sense that Miranda and her father won’t).

It’s really difficult to read the original novel now without seeing clashing visions of Gene Wilder and Johnny Depp being Willy Wonka, and of the 1971 Oompa-Loompas vs Deep Roy. It’s a story where the grotesque, benevolent but also threatening Wonka uses the Oompa-Loompas as agents of moral justice, bringing about the downfall of evil (gluttony, parental indulgence, excessive use of chewing gum and too much television) and the triumph of impoverished virtue (Charlie and his family, who are otherwise not all that interesting). But this is in the context of a dystopian consumerist society, whose tastes Wonka is pandering to, a course that he expects Charlie to take up in due course; and a close examination of how Wonka runs his factory is also rather uncomfortable.

So, like most of Dahl’s better stories, it’s a fairy tale with a troubling core.

The is the most popular book in my library that I had not yet reviewed on line. Next in that pile is Gulliver’s Travels, by Jonathan Swift.