Roald Dahl’s classic Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (publ. 1964) is turning 50 this year. I read this book over and over when I was a young girl, along with the sequel Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator. I was going to say that was in the days before Willy Wonka took center stage for the movie titles, but really, Gene Wilder’s rendition of this larger-than-life character in the 1971 movie was contemporaneous to my reading the book. They are utterly intertwined. I think I liked them equally well, and felt that the movie was further illustrating the book in my mind at night as I read. Naturally, I still have my dog-eared, ratty copy.
I also still have my copy of James and the Giant Peach, which I think I liked even better. To me, it was the best escape-adventure ever and is even older (publ. 1961).
I was pleased to see a tribute to Mr. Dahl’s wonderful tale of Charlie on author Nathan Bransford’s blog. Nathan is spot on that for a child, the “sinister underpinning” of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory made it, along with the Giant Peach story, positively irresistible. And I would add the indelible melancholy was another draw. These books were fanciful but didn’t talk down to children; they didn’t offer a false world without sorrow or fear.
No matter how many times, I read these two books, I dreaded Charlie’s birthday scene when he opens that one chocolate bar and doesn’t find the golden ticket, and I urged him to get out of the sweet shop and run home after he did find a ticket; of course, I feared the scary spy who intercepts him, but oddly enough I wasn’t bothered by any of the things that happened to the other children once inside the factory. In the Giant Peach, Spiker and Sponge were, to me, both absolutely terrifying. And what about the heart-wrenching moment when the magic all disappeared back into the earth and James seemed doom to stay with his terrible aunties forever?
It’s all coming back to me. And no matter how many times I read those tales, I still felt every emotion of sadness, fear, and joy right along with the characters.
Mr. Dahl was truly one of the greatest storytellers of all time, and not only for children. To his spirit, I say thank you from the little girl who went to bed with his books next to my pillow.
What about you? Any magical childhood stories that still feel your head with their characters or vivid images?