Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by Roald Dahl

Written by Roald Dahl and Narrated by Eric Idle

Reason for Reading: I’d watched the two movies with my nephew, who’d just read the book, and I decided that I wanted to know which one was more true to the book. 

Genre: Children’s Fantasy / Humor / Adventure

When Willie Wonka announces that he’s hidden 5 golden tickets to his fantasticly famous, but very mysterious, chocolate factory, Charlie Bucket wishes more than anything that he could be one of the lucky 5 winners. But Charlie is very poor and can not afford to buy any of the chocolate bars that conceal the tickets. Luck knocks unexpectedly, though, and he’s up for the adventure of a life-time with 4 other kids – each of whom has at least one huge personality flaw. Violet Beauregarde is uber-competitive and has a nasty chewing-gum habit, Veruca Salt is spoiled rotten, Mike Teavee is a know-it-all who watches too much TV, and Augustus Gloop is grossly overweight and incredibly greedy. As the eccentric Willie Wonka takes the kids on a wild tour of his factory, each of the kids suffers dire consequences of their flaws. 

This is my FAVORITE Roald Dahl book. Hilarious and fun – and it has a classic movie that makes me even fonder of it. 🙂 I really enjoyed listening to Idle’s fantastic narration of the story – though I wish he’d sung the Oompa Loompa songs instead of just reading them. But no one’s perfect. 🙂 I think I enjoyed this book just as much as an adult as I had as a child. 

My nephew and I compared the two film adaptations. The first was the Gene Wilder version from 1971 and the second was the Johnny Depp version from 2005. I hadn’t seen the classic movie for many years, but I had watched the newer one when it came out. I remember being disappointed in the newer version, but this time around I rather enjoyed it. Yes. It was different than the classic movie, but they were both very interesting interpretations. They both took some artistic license – and each had some stronger points and weaker points. The 1971 version, of course, inserted all that stuff about Arthur Slugworth (not to be confused with Horace Slughorn) and the 2005 version inserted all that stuff about Wonka’s father. Other than that, there were only minor tweaks to the story in either one, and I was surprised to realize that they both were equally true to the book, in their own way.

So, who’s my favorite Willie Wonka? I don’t know! That’s really hard to decide. The character was acted QUITE well both by Wilder and by Depp, though in very different ways. Wilder’s was eccentric in a crazy-scary sort of way. Depp was eccentric in a wacky-vulnerable-creepy sort of way. These were very different interpretations  but I was surprised to realize that they were more similar to each other in some ways than they were to the book character (as read by Idle). Both of Depp and Wilder (especially Wilder) seemed almost to encourage the nasty little kids to misbehave. Willie Wonka of the book seemed mostly unconcerned with the consequences of misbehavior, but seemed to genuinely warn them not to misbehave. 
Charlie Bucket was cute in both movies, and the interpretations of the actors was fairly similar. I think Peter Gardner, of the 1971 version, sparkled just a tab bit more. Look at that cute expression when he finds the ticket. 🙂
Violet Beauregarde was modernized in the 2005 version. She was still the over-competitive gum-chewing brat written by Dahl, but she was the daughter of a win-or-die beauty queen and was totally kick-butt in a losing-isn’t-an-option-because-you’re-better-than-them sort of way. Basically, it’s making fun of a certain stereotype of over-competitive girls that didn’t exist when Dahl wrote the book. So, the Violet of the 1971 version was more true to the kid in the book, but  I could better relate to the stereotype portrayed in the 2005 version – and I think this modernization was spot-on with the message Dahl portrayed in his book.
Veruca Salt was cuter in the 2005 version, but she had SO much more attitude in the 1971 version. Look at that “I want it NOW!” face. Definitely a bad egg.

Mike Teavee was obnoxious in both versions. He was modernized a bit in the 2005 version – he was addicted to video games rather than TV – but their interpretations of the character were pretty similar and I don’t see any reason to think one did a better job than the other.
The first thing my nephew said when he saw Augustus Gloop in the 2005 version is “he’s even fatter in this one!” Indeed, the only character trait Augustus had in the 2005 version is that he was severely obese. To the point of it being a little too much, I feel. Augustus Gloop in the 1971 version is quite fat enough to get the point across, and he has a lot more personality. 

Which movie did you like better, and why?

Guns, Germs, and Steel

I have been watching the National Geographic Documentary “Guns, Germs, and Steel,” based on the best-selling book by Jared Diamond. This was excellently filmed and very interesting. I recommend it to anyone interested in anthropology or history. The main question addressed is—“Why do white men have more cargo?” In other words, why were Europeans successful in conquering and colonizing most of the world? For risk of simplification, I will summarize Diamond’s idea:

The Fertile Crescent in the Middle East was the geographically lucky origin of not only wheat and barley (VERY important staple crops) but also of most of the domesticated animals. This herding and farming culture provided enough agricultural excess to support non-herders and non-farmers, who were able to develop technology and skills (like writing). Their closeness to animals also exposed these people to germs, which over hundreds of years they developed a genetic immunity to. The ideas, animals, and crops easily spread along an East-West axis (where people were attracted to similar climates and lengths of days) into Europe, Asia, and Northern Africa. So in the end, Europeans had guns, germs, and steel on their side.

The Americas, unlike Eurasia, are narrowly shaped along the East-West axis and broadly shaped along the North-South axis. Therefore, although there were some crops, one domesticated animal (the llama), and one written language (that of the Mayans in Central America), technology and food was not easily interchanged in the Americas. When Europeans came with their guns, germs, and steel, the native population was decimated.

Although I find this idea very fascinating and fairly convincing, I have a few qualms. First of all, I understand that the area around Panama is very narrowly shaped along the East-West axis, making exchange of ideas and goods difficult. However, North America, at least, is not too VERY long and narrow. Not narrow enough for this to be the main factor which slowed the progress of civilization. The documentary also does not address the reason why the Europeans apparently won this war. After all, if it is merely geographical closeness along an East-West axis to the Fertile Crescent, then wouldn’t Asia be just as likely to succeed as Europe? And, in fact, the moors were quite successful for quite a long while. So why didn’t they colonize the Americas, India, Africa, and Australia?

My answer to that is “just wait.” The war isn’t over yet.