Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Another Month in the Classics: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

First, an Introduction:

New Year’s Day found me sitting at my little desk, contemplating resolutions that I might want to have and keep. I scribbled them all down—twenty-five or more notions—onto a slip of paper and tacked to the cork board which is suspended above my desk. Among these things, the third down on the list, was to ‘read a minimum of two “classics” a month’. I might have been a bit over-ambitious in saying ‘two’ classics every month. As my sister pointed out in a jest: “You mean you’re going to read Moby Dick and War and Peace in the same month?” Yes, well, that could be a bit daunting, couldn’t it? Still, I resolved to try—even if some of those more lengthy works never made it into my scheme, and I would be just as happy if they didn’t.

During the month of January, I contented myself with perusing about half of a collection of Grimm’s fairytales—collection I resolved to come back to at a later date so as to structure a sort of ‘fairytale’ reading schedule and actually allow myself to dig into the old tales more. When February rolled in, I settled down into the armor-clad hull of the Nautilus with Captain Nemo, Professor Arronax, his faithful servant Consiel, and the vibrant Ned Land. (But more on them later)

And now, the Point:

The second classic for this month was brought to mind by the viewing of the film which shares the same title, ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’. (Mind you, the Gene Wilder version, and not the one featuring Johnny Depp.) I had seen the movie years before, but had mostly forgotten about it until it was dug out of a stack of tapes and revived. My family sat down together to watch and, whatever I might have thought of the film the first time I saw it, this time was purely magical.

I honestly cannot remember how much I liked the movie before, I think I enjoyed it but found it a little too strange. Now, I adored it and all it’s Willy Wackiness. And, even though I knew much of the story and the ending, it was like witnessing one’s favorite story all over again but also for the first time. I was reliving a moment of bliss and wonder and didn’t want it to end. I didn’t realize just how much I loved that movie.

With the movie over, I remembered that my dad had once kept a copy of Dahl’s book on his shelf but was unable to find it. Instead, I discovered a long-lost collection of children’s poetry of my sister’s and, before returning it to her (ahem), thumbed through its pages. There, I found a number of Dahl’s other works, and laughed aloud when I read his version of Little Red Riding Hood. I knew he was a classic author, but I’d never really given Roald Dahl much thought, despite having seen so much of his work in the media and hearing him quoted by my favorite contemporary authors on more than one occasion. I resolved then, that I must educate myself on this classic children’s writer as a matter of principle if nothing else.

So, from my local library this week, I picked up a copy of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and read it all in the course of one afternoon. Although there were, of course, marked differences between the movie I had come to love and Dahl’s original, the same charm and wittiness and over all ludicrous nature of the story had me once again spell-bound. It’s hard to say which I prefer, the movie or the book. 

I feel guilty admitting this, but it’s absurd when you think about it. After all, Don’t Judge the Book by its Movie does not have to hold true, does it? Whenever we hear that one of our favorite stories is to be introduced into the world of Hollywood, we rejoice and anticipate the arrival. Often, our hopes are held too high aloft and come crashing down a bit, but at times we are rewarded. (Aside: I should add that I also watched Disney’s 20,00 Leagues Under the Sea and was not overtly impressed, although it made a fair showing.) So why should I feel any consternation in the fact that the movie was a good adaptation? (Aside: Forgive me, I cannot say one way or another about the new version of the film, although my curiosity is now peaked and I may soon view it also.)

In any case, I am quite pleased to add Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to my list of favorite classics and look forward to reading Dahl’s other stories in the near future.

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