For those who may have forgotten, in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, we find that Willy Wonka has a special glass elevator which travels not only up and down but also horizontally. This allows him to travel more or less anywhere in his candy factory. As it turns out, this elevator can also be used outside of the factory. After Charlie inherits the factory, he and his grandfather and Willy Wonka take the elevator to Charlie's house, to pick up his family so they can come back and live in the factory. In order to get back into the factory, Wonka says that they need to go high enough to be able to break through the roof when they come down, so he takes them quite high up in the elevator. Unfortunately, they go too high and find themselves in low earth orbit. Luckily, the elevator is equipped to handle space travel and they are able to propel the elevator to a recently-launched space hotel. The hotel, though, is not quite staffed yet--also approaching the hotel is a spaceship with the staff and two US astronauts, who don't know what to do about the elevator. They radio back to earth and the president (who in the audio sounds a lot like Nixon...or at least, like Nixon impersonations that I have heard) gets involved, assuming that the elevator is a plot by the Soviets or the Chinese to take out the US space hotel, a marvel of US engineering capability. The spaceship is directed to take out the elevator, but before they get the chance, aliens end up attaching themselves to the elevator and the spaceship. Wonka manages to distract the aliens from the spaceship and get the aliens to follow the elevator as it re-enters earth's atmosphere, and thus the aliens are defeated.
Then the story switches gears a bit and Wonka reveals that he has anti-aging pills: these pills will take 20 years per pill off a person's age, reverting them to younger times. Obviously, Charlie's grandparents are keenly interested in this, and end up taking the pills--they don't heed Wonka's warnings about how the pills work and the care that must be used in taking them. Unfortunately, Charlie's grandmother takes too many and takes off 80 years when she is only 78, which Wonka says means that she has gone to minus land. He and Charlie take the glass elevator to minus land (deep within the earth, it seems) and spray her with aging spray, so instead of being very young, she ends up very very old. After they figure out how old Charlie's grandmother is now, they are able to use anti-aging pills to revert her to her normal age. They are also able to re-age his other grandparents to their proper ages. The story ends with an invitation to the White House because of their heroics in saving the US spaceship from the aliens.
As I said, this story was completely random. It seemed more like two disparate stories, neither of which made as much sense as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. As in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, people (this time, Charlie's grandparents) got into "trouble" when they let their desires get in the way of good behavior, when they didn't heed the warnings from Wonka about the anti-aging pills. But the entire space scene didn't fit with that theme, didn't make much sense in the larger story. This may have been a result of when the book was published, in 1972. At that time, the US had just "won" the space race with the Soviets, having put a man on the moon. That said, Roald Dahl also seemed to use this book as a mouthpiece for his feelings on the US (and in particular, Nixon, perhaps?), as he paints the US as paranoid aggressors, and portrays the president as a bit of an idiot and possibly somewhat racist/bigoted.
The narration of this audiobook was done by the same person who narrated Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, though this production didn't include the "special effects" used in the other. Douglas Hodge does a great job, again, though this time the story was much weirder. He seemed to do a "Nixon-esque" voice for the US president, and put accents on the Soviet and Chinese people that the president called. This made some of the "jokes" that the president made while talking on the phone seem like he was really making fun of these people, more so than if it had been done in Hodge's normal narration voice. It was at times a little awkward to listen to, and I was left wondering a bit on why Roald Dahl added these parts to a kid's book.
In the end, this book was entertaining if confusing. While it was enjoyable enough, the story itself didn't feel as complete as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and I'm not sure that I'd have missed out if I hadn't listened to it, or that I'd recommend others "must" listen to it after Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. That said, it was short and had some cute ideas, and the narration was quite good, so it could have been much much worse....more
If you've watched the movie with Johnny Depp, you undoubtedly know the story--Burton's film version of the book was quite true to the book (unlike the Gene Wilder version). Basically, Willy Wonka is a recluse who owns a chocolate factory, and one day decides to open the factory to 5 lucky children who find a golden ticket in their chocolate bars. The five children are: Augustus Gloop, whose distinguishing characteristic seems to be that he is gluttonous Veruca Salt, a spoiled little girl who got her ticket after her father bought half a million chocolate bars and had his staff open them all Violet Beauregard, a record-holding gum-chewer Mike Teevee, a boy who is obsessed with watching television Charlie Bucket, a boy who lives with his family in poverty Throughout the course of the story, the kids (and up to two chaperones) are taken on a guided tour of Wonka's candy factory. Along the way, many of them find themselves having to leave the tour because they have done something that has caused harm to themselves, something that is in line with their nature. For example, gluttonous Augustus Gloop falls into the river of chocolate when he tries to drink directly from it and ends up getting sucked into the chocolate circulation/aeration system. At the end of the story, only Charlie makes it to the end of the tour without succumbing to something in the factory. Charlie is a humble and seemingly vice-free kid, so doesn't fall into any of the "traps" of the chocolate factory. Because he was the last one standing, Charlie inherits the factory, as it is revealed that the entire tour was setup so that Wonka could find an heir.
There does seem to be a bit of the era in which the book was written in the story with the Oompa Loompas. The Oompa Loompas are small (dwarf? pygmy?) men who work in the factory for Willy Wonka, ensuring that the factory runs smoothly. They sing while they work, and work only for cocoa beans. When Wonka tells the story of how he found them, he says that they were a tribe in an isolated area. The story of how he came to bring them to his factory, along with their description, is somewhat reminiscent of slavery or forced labor of beings that are implied to be "inferior" to the rest of the characters. I suppose this feeling (which I'm admittedly not describing well) is a product in part of the politically correct times we live in, and I am left to wonder what the geopolitical climate was like when this book was first published in the mid-1960's.
It's no wonder that many people remember this book fondly from their youth. As with most Dahl books, there is a "lesson" for the reader (presumably a grade-school aged kid) to be good, but the lesson is given in an entertaining fashion. The audiobook, narrated by Douglas Hodge, was spectacular. Hodge has an English accent, and his voice makes me think of a gentle adult mentor, a sort of soothing voice. This version of the audiobook also included "special effects" sounds for certain things, such as wooshing of the elevator. These touches add to the whimsy of the story and were a welcome addition to the audio.
In short, this was an entertaining kid's book that brought me back to when I was younger. If I were a parent now, this is the type of audiobook I'd love to play for my children on a long car trip. Even without kids, it's been a fun trip down memory lane....more
Another crazy ride through the arena of Panem. I only rated it 4 stars, even though I finished the book in 2 days, because I felt like it was fillingAnother crazy ride through the arena of Panem. I only rated it 4 stars, even though I finished the book in 2 days, because I felt like it was filling its role as a middle-book in a trilogy. It was still an excellent read. I think the only thing that brought it down was that, as a middle book, it was slightly less resolved than Hunger Games was, leaving things open for the final tome. I really cannot wait for the final book in the series, and I hope they release it for the Kindle at the same time as the hardcover release....more