Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – A compendium of boy and girl heroes V


Welcome back honorary Hibernauts! Today’s blog  serves up another literary figure who helped mould the character of Sebastian, protagonist in Beyond the Gloaming (Phantasm Books, 2014). First, though, I have a guilty confession. When I originally conceived of the series and reflected on the young literary characters I had loved as a child, only boy heroes sprang to mind. It was for no other reason than this that I entitled the blog so. Not long afterwards, something began gnawing at me, or rather someone did. Despite her tugging away at my shirt sleeves determinedly it took me forever to figure out who it was. Back in the 1960’s and 70’s, I tended to steer clear of the books my sister’s read, so Heidi, Sara Crewe, Anne (of Green Gables), the girls from Little House on the Prairie and Little Women never got a look in, except for glimpses of saccharine film and television adaptations. Even the subversive Pippi Longstocking failed to cross my path, though the greatest crime of all is that I did not read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland until my teens, reliant as a child on picture books and Disney. Yet one heroine did come to my attention, possibly because neither sister had read her story, and she left a singular impression on me for years. So when she leapt up at me the other day and memories of our time together came flooding back, I felt ashamed I had forgotten her and crestfallen I had not included girls in the blog’s title. So, sorry Lina, I love you very much, and more of you in my next blog.


Today is the turn of Charlie Bucket, eponymous hero of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. As a child, I tended to identify most with fictional characters that leapt out of the pages and identified with me, and of the boy heroes so far, Charlie felt closest. His family was from the same grotty background and shared our impoverished hauteur and eccentricity, and they  lived in the present day. Just as they could ill afford food (an occasional, alarming situation at our house), sweets were an occasional delight (though to be fair, while Charlie only got them on his birthday, my siblings and I shared a quarter of dolly mixtures most Saturday nights, as my mother curled up with a Fry’s Chocolate Cream). I cannot recall as exciting a literary moment in my childhood as when Charlie finds the golden ticket, my eyes positively pricked with joy for him/me. His hero status comes, however, not from his ordinariness, but from his goodness, a goodness which in other hands would appear mawkish, but which the darkly sour Dahl handles deftly. Charlie’s kindness should not be gauged against the faults of the other ticket winners  – the wonderfully named Veruca Salt, Augustus Gloop, Violet Beauregarde and the Amis-esque Mike Teavee – for all are gross caricatures against which the average bully would excel in compassion; no, his goodness lies in the humility, integrity and quiet dignity he exhibits long before he finds the ticket. Willy Wonka does not have to decide on his heir, it is decided for him by a process of elimination, the others quickly dispatching their claims, yet there could have been hundreds of other children with tickets and Charlie would have still won out.


I must say I am not a fan of either film adaptation. I love Gene Wilder, but was not convinced by his portrayal of Willy Wonka in the 1971 version, he frankly creeped me out, and I hated the Americanisation of the film, it removed any personal connection I had. Granted, small parts were handed to Pat Coombs, David Battley and Tim Brooke Taylor, but the great Roy Kinnear was woefully misused. I read today that Dahl disowned the film, which pleased me greatly as I had felt heretical for years. I wonder how it would have turned out had Dahl’s ideal to play the enigmatic Wonka been given the part, gloriously I bet, for it was Spike Milligan. I’m sure his second choice would have been infinitely better too, Ron Moody – always a class act, though probably not his third, Jon Pertwee, who I loved as Dr Who, but loathed as Worzel Gummidge. Anyway, here’s the trailer:

As for the Tim Burton version, what can I say? When you are adapting an author with such a striking, robust and sinisterly humorous style you leave well alone, the material speaks for itself. But this is Burton we are talking about, a director who can no less dollop his superannuated vision on a project than keep Helena Bonham Carter out of it. For all that, the film had some positive points. At least he kept it British at heart, and Freddie Highmore was excellent as Charlie, and he did cast David Kelly (cousin Enda in the vastly underrated Me Mammy, and O’Reilly in Fawly Towers).  And while Depp was as unsuited and as hopeless as Wilder at capturing the essence of Wonka, I shuddered when I saw the list of originals who had been considered prior to Burton’s involvement: Nicholas Cage, Jim Carrey, Michael Keaton, Brad Pitt, Will Smith and Adam Sandler. Arrrrggghhh! For the sake of fairness, here is the Burton trailer:

The only other Dahl I read as a child was James and the Giant Peach. While I thoroughly enjoyed it James, despite his travails at the hands of his evil aunts, did not strike me as a boy with hero qualities. He goes on an adventure, but one so surreal and idiosyncratic as to be admired rather than envied; neither is he changed at the end, in no way moved towards greatness. And before anyone accuses me of blatantly ignoring the wonderful Matilda, it was not published until I was well into my twenties. 

I’ll finish with some very exciting news. The giant scissors have been snip-snipping away and has opened its doors to book lovers everywhere. So, if you want to meet Sebastian for the first time hop across and download the first chapter of Beyond the Gloaming for free. Now you can see what all the fuss is about.

And answer me this, who is your favourite girl hero?

Goodbye, Mrs. Gloop. Adieu. Auf Wiedersehen. Gesundheit. Farewell.


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