If you haven’t gathered from one of my previous Rewind posts, I am a huge Roald Dahl fan. Recently I’ve been rereading my old favourites and rediscovering ones I don’t remember liking very much as a child. Two such titles are Danny the Champion of the World and Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator. While I thoroughly enjoyed the former, I was not at all impressed with the latter. Dahl was certainly a genius but even they can sometimes slip up. Let’s get the worst of it over with.
Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator
I was never crazy about Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The plot lacks focus, the tone is uneven and the tired old trope of “this is what happens to kids who are naughty” irritates me no end. Most of it seems like a personal rant from a grown up than an entertaining children’s story. That being said I can’t deny it’s a brilliant premise. A little boy wins a trip around a chocolate factory and discovers it’s run by a magician who can can make your dreams into a reality. You’d be hard pushed to find a more interesting idea for young readers. Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator does not seem to even get this far.
Other than the basic “continuing adventures of” there is no real plot at all. he only real way to describe the general concept is really to give a synopsis. Willy Wonka and Charlie, along with the entire Bucket family, fly up into space in the Great Glass Lift (now called an Elevator for some reason) Mr. Wonka uses in his factory. They float about in orbit, land inside a hotel in space, encounter some aliens, fly away after rescuing some astronauts and then land back inside the Chocolate Factory where Mr. Wonka reveals a pill he invents which turns old people younger. Someone takes too much, they go to save her from oblivion, bring her back and then all get invited to the White House for tea. The fact that the book cannot be summed up distinctly without going into the minutiae of the so-called plot indicates how bad a book this is. Just a series of events which have absolutely nothing to do with the characters.
Speaking of which, there are far too many of them here. Not only is Willy Wonka joined by Charlie and Grandpa Joe on a new adventure but both of Charlie’s parents and the other three grandparents as well. The two parents say and do nothing for most of the book and the three old folk are now cranky antagonists and show Charlie none of the love and support they did before. To cap it all off, the book utterly fails at being funny. Dahl seems to be imitating a Spike Milligan-esque adventure as it’s nothing but random slices of zany antics and made up words with the occasional joke at racial stereotypes littering every chapter. Unfortunately, none of this made me laugh and actually found it quite painful to get through.
I have a strong feeling that Roald Dahl never meant to write a sequel to the original book, otherwise he would never have brought Charlie Bucket’s entire family into the elevator. It worked as a nice way to finish a story but an awful way to start one and I can’t help but feel that Dahl was not fully committed to writing this. It has no structure, no concept, bad continuity, a lack of devotion it’s just simply no fun.
Danny the Champion of the World
Roald Dahl‘s stories for children are renowned for their imagination, humour and fantasy. What makes them better than any other kids books is the real world approach to the fantasy and the beautiful description of events and surroundings. Danny the Champion of the World is a very realistic story and quite dramatic in places so don’t expect to laugh much. Instead it features the less acknowledged yet equally impressive qualities of Dahl’s writing; excellent pacing, realistic characters and beautiful descriptions of events and surroundings which can make even the youngest reader feel as if they are really there.
Told in the first person, it’s about a year in the life of Danny, a young boy who loves with his father in a Gypsy caravan. By day they run a garage and filling station and are known as the best auto mechanics in the county. One night, Danny discovers his father is also famous for being the best poacher in the county as well and they soon fall foul of the estate owner and bullying fat cat Mr. Hazell. The majority of the book is about Danny recounting his relationship with his father who had to raise his son by himself after the death of his wife. Danny’s father tells him stories of his poaching days, teaches him the names of all the trees, plants and animals that live near him, instructs him on how to dismantle and repair an internal combustion engine and even informs him of a Big Friendly Giant he once saw.
It’s a shame this book get’s overlooked as artistically it really is an important part of Roald Dahl’s bibliography. Real human lives, social boundaries and class rifts are all beautifully captured and presented to children without losing any of the commentary. It’s also, as I said, splendidly written. You can almost smell the dry leaves and tree bark as Danny recalls his walks to school and especially during the tense moments where he and his father are hiding from the game wardens in their nefarious poaching schemes. I urge you to read this book. It will make you appreciate the staggering creativity of Roald Dahl in way you never did before.