15 September 2011

"Bring on the Vita Wonk!"

Like every child with working eyes and an imagination, I devoured Roald Dahl's books. This week's story of his decrepit hut where he brought his characters to life is both enlightening and depressing.

However, when I think of him now I think, rather churlishly, of his major continuity error. Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, his most famous and most reproduced work, was a glorious read. Then out came the sequel, Charlie And The Great Glass Elevator.

If you remember, via either book or film, the original story ends with Charlie being told by Willy Wonka that he was giving him the factory as a gift, and the whole family - mum, dad, four extremely elderly grandparents - could all move in too. And so the factory's transparent portable lift crashed right through the roof of the Bucket family's tiny home and collected the remaining members of the clan, the three bed-bound grandparents pushed in via their bed, still in their nightshirts.

Then, via the book, the sequel took us into space and a bit of a to-do with the American government and the Vermicious Knids, before Wonka revealed his new sideline into health foods with Wonka Vite - the pill that would take 20 years off your life. The three bedridden grandparents - who, incidentally, had taken an illogical dislike to Wonka despite endorsing Charlie's hero-worship of him in the first book - took far too many pills each. Grandpa George and Grandma Josephine went back to being babies, and Grandma Georgina disappeared entirely.

Now, here lies the problem. For this storyline to work, Dahl put words into secondary characters' mouths that revealed that the three affected grandparents were 81, 80 and 78 respectively. Yet in the first book, when first describing them, he said that all four were over 90 and Grandpa Joe, who didn't do Wonka Vite as he was long already up and out of bed for his trip round the factory with Charlie and didn't think Wonka had anything to prove, was labelled the eldest at 96 and a half. As all three remaining grandparents took four pills each, they should all have been reduced to school age children, not babies or glints in the muffin man's eye.

Of course, the fantasy brilliance continued with Georgina's revival as a woman of more than 300 years of age ("the Mayflower!") prior to the introduction of Vita Wonk to revert the babies back to old gifferdom. And Dahl did write it beautifully. But he made a massive error. If this nine year old child noticed it, how on earth did he or his publishers not?

It's a bit late to get worked up about it, I know...


Mondo said...

What a spot - have you had a re-read recently then? I'm always boggled by how few Factory readers went on to become Elevator readers. And that fly trap construction was fantastic. It was so long ago that I chewed though both books - that my mental image of the illustrations will always be of the pre-Quentin Blake artwork

Matthew Rudd said...

Not re-read them at all, Mondo. I remember thinking it odd that the grandparents had got younger at the time, though Dahl didn't reveal this until after they'd taken the Wonka Vite. I suppose it was harder for him to recreate them as teenagers but even so it was a very careless bit of plot-forming and pretty much ruined the book. Of course, we were supposed to believe that Knids, Oompah Loompahs and lickable wallpaper existed and accepted that, but not an unexplained reduction in three people's ages. Kids, eh?

You're absolutely right about how few seemed to bother with the sequel at all.

Lee Slator said...

I can't recall the story of the Great Glass Elevator so I can only assume I didn't read it.

Which Roald Dahl novel is your favourite though? I've been trying to decide which is mine.

Matthew Rudd said...

Danny The Champion Of The World. A real story, told in the first person, with class issues and family struggles, and no fantasy or sci-fi element. It was the Dahl I re-read the most.

Lee Slator said...

I had completely forgotten about that one! Good choice though.

I'm leaning towards James and the Giant Peach for some reason. I didn't really re-read them, or not that I remember. I was more into Enid Blyton I seem to recall.