Though there are exceptions to the rule, sequels have a really bad habit of making audiences roll their eyes, foam at the mouth, or heave a brokenhearted sigh. Some relish the chance to revisit their favorite characters and join them on new adventures, while others would rather cherish the memories they already have and not risk tarnishing them. But in this case, I think the problem lays not in that the sequel is necessarily bad, but that its predecessor is just too good. First published all the way back in 1964, the original has since been adapted to film no less than three times (in ’71, ’05, and ’17) and has its own video games, musicals, and even an opera! Even more amazing, one of its main characters has become so synonymous with chocolate and madness—always a dangerous combination, no matter how you slice it—that it even inspired an entire candy brand for real-life confectionery corporation, Nestlé! How in that name of all that is scrumdiddlyumptious can a sequel top that? Well . . . it doesn’t. But that’s not to say it doesn’t have its own sweet, far-out charm!
Little Charlie Bucket thought all his dreams had come true when he was invited to visit the amazing factory of the marvelously mad chocolatier, Mr. Willy Wonka, and learn the incredible candy-making secrets within. But the aftermath has turned out to be far more wonderful than he ever could have imagined. Now officially Mr. Wonka’s successor, Charlie is on his way to his new home at the chocolate factory along with his large, tight-knit family: his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Bucket, and his grandparents, Grandpa Joe and the perpetually bed-ridden Grandma Josephine, Grandpa George, and Grandma Georgia. Off they blast in Mr. Wonka’s Great Glass Elevator toward the factory. But an ill-timed mishap instead sends them all hurtling into orbit! Now the unlikely space crew must face off against dimwitted astronauts, paranoid politicians, and the terrifying man-eating aliens, the Vermicious Knids, all within a flying space hotel! All in a day’s work for Charlie and Mr. Wonka, of course. The next order of business upon their death-defying return? Getting the three cranky grandparents out of bed, with the aid of Mr. Wonka’s latest magical concoction, Wonka-Vite. But when a massive overdose results in this absurdly simple task going even more absurdly awry, it’s up to Charlie and Mr. Wonka to save the day once again!
To answer your question: no, this is not another author’s continuation of a classic story. This is, in fact, the official sequel to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, written by Roald Dahl himself. Fun fact: he had actually planned to make the Charlie/Wonka stories into a trilogy. He wrote only a single chapter of the planned third book, Charlie in the White House, which can now be found on display at the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre in England.
As I touched on before, I won’t pretend that this is a superior follow-up, or even one of Dahl’s better children’s books, in my opinion. Having re-read it as an adult and looking through reviews on Barnes & Noble and Amazon, I can see why people seem to be particularly divisive about it. Among others, various judgements include “fantastic,” “boring,” and “Um . . . what the heck did I just read?” I think this comes not so much from writing quality as reader subjectivity. For example, literally the first half of the story takes place in outer space and we only get to the chocolate factory much later. A downside of this is that readers unfortunately don’t get to explore as much of the latter, or its bizarre, colorful rooms and their edible wonders. On the other hand, this does allow for a more seamless and focused plot. The first book is very episodic in format, jumping from enchanted candy and one nasty Golden Ticket winner and their literal just desserts to another in rapid succession. Here, as the plot is basically comprised of only two main episodes, the segues are much smoother, and we get more development of characters who may not have gotten a lot of page time before, namely the Bucket family, as well as a deeper look into the friendship between Charlie and Mr. Wonka.
Wonka is as wonderfully eccentric as ever, with his “never say die” attitude and convenient “deafness” for every trivial question, not to mention his brilliantly nonsensical Carroll-esque one-liners. This is also why I prefer Gene Wilder’s movie performance of Wonka over Johnny Depp’s. He nailed the book’s character as a fun mix of whimsical, optimistic child-at-heart and wise, enigmatic wizard, as opposed to a creepy, unhinged weirdo with severe Peter Pan Syndrome. Charlie, though very likeable, brave, and open-minded, admittedly doesn’t stand out as much as a character this time around. That being said, he does continue to serve as a vital link not only between readers and the story’s fanciful dream world, but also between the reality that normal people would cling to and the magic and adventure that said people, especially adults, would otherwise miss out on due to ignorance or fear:
“‘What in the world keeps this thing up in the air?’ croaked Grandma Josephine.
‘Skyhooks,’ said Mr. Wonka.
‘You amaze me,’ said Grandma Josephine.
‘Dear lady,’ said Mr. Wonka, ‘you are new to the scene. When you have been with us a little longer, nothing will amaze you.’
‘These skyhooks,’ said Grandma Josephine. ‘I assume one end is hooked onto this contraption we’re riding in. Right?’
‘Right,’ said Mr. Wonka.
‘What’s the other end hooked onto?’ said Grandma Josephine.
‘Every day,’ said Mr. Wonka, ‘I get deafer and deafer. Remind me, please, to call up my ear doctor the moment we get back.’
‘Charlie,’ said Grandma Josephine. ‘I don’t think I trust this gentleman very much.’
‘Nor do I,’ said Grandma Georgina. ‘He footles around.’
Charlie leaned over the bed and whispered to the two old women. ‘Please,’ he said, ‘don’t spoil everything. Mr. Wonka is a fantastic man. He’s my friend. I love him.’
‘Charlie’s right,’ whispered Grandpa Joe, joining the group. ‘Now you be quiet, Josie, and don’t make trouble.’
‘We must hurry!’ said Mr. Wonka. ‘We have so much time and so little to do! No! Wait! Strike that! Reverse it! Thank you! Now back to the factory!’ he cried, clapping his hands once and springing two feet in the air with two feet. ‘Back we fly to the factory! But we must go up before we can come down! We must go higher and higher!’
[ . . . ]
‘But why?’ they all shouted at once. ‘Why up and not down?’
‘Because the higher we are when we start coming down, the faster we’ll be going when we hit,’ said Mr. Wonka. ‘We’ve got to be going at an absolutely sizzling speed when we hit!’
‘When we hit what?’ they cried.
‘The factory, of course,’ answered Mr. Wonka.
‘You must be whackers!’ said Grandma Josephine. ‘We’ll all be pulpified!’
‘We’ll be scrambled like eggs!’ said Grandma Georgina.
‘That,’ said Mr. Wonka, ‘is a chance we shall have to take.’
‘You’re joking,’ said Grandma Josephine. ‘Tell us you’re joking.’
‘Madam,’ said Mr. Wonka, ‘I never joke.’
‘Oh, my dears!’ cried Grandma Georgina. ‘We’ll be lixivated, every one of us!’
‘More than likely,’ said Mr. Wonka.
[ . . . ]
‘Mr. Wonka!’ [Charlie] yelled above the noise. ‘What I don’t understand is why we’ve got to come down at such a terrific speed.’
‘My dear boy,’ Mr. Wonka answered, ‘if we don’t come down at a terrific speed, we’ll never burst our way back in through the roof of the factory. It’s not easy to punch a hole in a roof as strong as that.’
‘But there’s a hole in it already,’ said Charlie. ‘We made it when we came out.’
‘Then we shall make another,’ said Mr. Wonka. ‘Two holes are better than one. Any mouse will tell you that.’” (p. 2-5)
One of Dahl’s talents as a children’s writer was his ability to inject just the right amount of comedy into his more dangerous plot points in order to take away the edge of horror. Not unlike in traditional fairy tales, the circumstances could be so outlandish that even if death does occur, it’s a lot less likely to phase you, especially if happens to the bad guys. Be honest: how many of you really feared for the lives of Augustus Gloop, Violet Beauregarde, Veruca Salt, and Mike Teevee in the face of the literally sticky situations they’d so arrogantly gotten themselves into? This time around, though, Dahl raises the stakes. In the climax of the space episode, a particularly venomous Vermicous Knid is in hot pursuit of the Great Glass Elevator and its occupants as they fly above planet earth. No matter how deadly they are, aliens that looks like giant googly-eyed chicken nuggets able to elongate itself like snakes and form letters to spell out the word “SCRAM” come off to me as more funny than scary. And then you have Wonka taunting them in verse that’s just as wild as anything the Oompa Loompas could think up. It’s almost like Dahl’s practically daring you to keep your face straight:
“And there it was, cruising effortlessly alongside them, a simply colossal Vermicious Knid, as thick as a whale, as long as a truck, with the most brutal vermicious look in its eye. It was no more than a dozen yards away, egg-shaped, slimy, greenish brown, with one malevolent red eye (the only one visible) fixed intently upon the people floating inside the Great Glass Elevator.
[ . . . ]
‘Oh, you Knid, you are vile and vermicious!’
cried Mr. Wonka.
‘You are slimy and soggy and squishous!
But what do we care
’Cause you can’t get in here,
So hop it and don’t get ambitious!’
At this point, the massive Knid outside turned and started cruising away from the Elevator. ‘There you are!’ cried Mr. Wonka, triumphant. ‘It heard me! It’s going home!’ But Mr. Wonka was wrong. When the creature was about a hundred yards away, it stopped, hovered for a moment, then went smoothly in reverse, coming back toward the Elevator with its rear-end (which was the pointed end of the egg) now in front. Even going backward, its acceleration was unbelievable. It was like some monstrous bullet coming at them and it came so fast nobody had time even to cry out.
CRASH! It struck the Glass Elevator with the most enormous bang and the whole thing shivered and shook, but the glass held and the Knid bounced off like a rubber ball.
‘What did I tell you!’ shouted Mr. Wonka, triumphant. ‘We’re safe as sausages in here!’
‘He’ll have a nasty headache after that,’ said Grandpa Joe.
‘It’s not his head, it’s his bottom!’ said Charlie. ‘Look Grandpa, there’s a big bump coming up on the pointed end where he hit! It’s turning black and blue!’
And so it was. A purple bruisy bump the size of a small automobile was appearing on the pointed rear-end of the giant Knid. ‘Hello, you dirty great beast!’ cried Mr. Wonka.
‘Hello, you great Knid! Tell us, how do you do?
You’re a rather strange color today.
Your bottom is purple and lavender blue.
Should it really be looking that way?
Are you not feeling well? Are you going to faint?
Is it something we cannot discuss?
It must be a very unpleasant complaint,
For your fanny’s as big as a bus!
Let me get you a doctor. I know just the man
For a Knid with a nasty disease.
He’s a butcher by trade which is not a bad plan,
And he charges quite reasonable fees.
Ah! Here he is now! Doc, you really are kind
To travel so far into space. There’s your patient, the Knid with the
Do you think it’s a desperate case?
“Great heavens above! It’s no wonder he’s pale!”
Said the doc with a horrible grin.
“There’s a sort of balloon on the end of his tail!
I must prick it at once with a pin!”
So he got out a thing like an Indian spear,
With feathers all over the top,
And he lunged and he caught the Knid smack
in the rear,
But alas, the balloon didn’t pop!
Cried the Knid, ‘What on earth am I going to do
With this painful preposterous lump?
I can’t remain standing the whole summer
And I cannot sit down on my rump!
“It’s a bad case of rear-ache,” the medico said,
“And it’s something I cannot repair.
If you want to sit down, you must sit on
With your bottom high up in the air!’’’” (p. 57-61)
Dahl refused to permit this sequel to receive the film treatment in his lifetime due to his strong disdain for the adaptation Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Truth be told, I personally doubt a Glass Elevator movie would do that well, but I’m fond enough of Dahl’s work that curiosity would compel me to see it if it ever did come to fruition. Regardless, those searching for his stylistic trademarks won’t be disappointed here. While Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator doesn’t quite live up to its predecessor in terms of surprise twists and over the top silliness, I don’t think it should be dismissed as a bad nut to be tossed down the garbage chute either, as it certainly isn’t lacking in the wit, poetry, and imagination that immortalized Dahl’s name in children’s literature. Try this underrated treat for yourself, and see if it’s wild and wacky enough for your mental taste buds.
Credits: All images, audio, and links belong to their respective owners; no copyright infringement is intended.
All book excerpts are from Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator by Roald Dahl (Puffin Edition 1998, published by the Penguin Group, New York, NY).
“The Call” — Briand Morrison and Roxann Berglund
“Space Adventure” – The Green Orbs
“Nutty Comedy” – Biz Baz Studio
“Cartoon Space Utopia” – Sir Cubworth
Listen to the episode here!
Roald Dahl on Wikipedia
Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator on Roald Dahl's Official Website
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Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator on Common Sense Media
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