The Chocolate Bookshelf: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Roald Dahl)
Lots of the books about chocolate I talk about here can be a bit heavy - they point out (rightly and importantly so) the potential for chocolate, both historically and today, to contribute a number of social ills, ranging from environmental destruction to child slavery. They make a strong argument for craft chocolate (especially if that includes fair or direct trade practices) as an antidote to those ills, as well as a source of better tasting chocolate. I care enough about that way of seeing chocolate that to have built a company around sharing Canadian craft chocolate with people. But sometimes, I want to read something that captures the absolute pleasure of eating delicious chocolate with people who make you smile and the glee of somehow managing to have turned that moment into a job.
For a book capturing that approach to chocolate, Roald Dahl is the only logical place to start. Especially since, rereading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory as an adult, the key impression of I get of Willy Wonka is someone who is really, really excited about what he does. He vibrates with energy, and he's rushing guests around his factory because he's just so thrilled to finally have someone to share it with. Reading Willy Wonka on the page actually reminds me of talking to chocolates and chocolate makers about their work - once you get them going they're just as excited. Although I'm certain they would all be much more concerned if a visit to their factory imperiled so many of their guests.
Dahl is a master of the rhythm of language - my sense is that every sentence sounds exactly like he wanted it to. The words are bounding and joyous, seemingly made for reading out loud. It made me fondly remember teachers reading Dahl aloud in elementary school, and rereading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory brings up warm fuzzy feelings of storytime with my parents as a child. The book felt just as magical going back to it as I remembered it being the first time I discovered it.
Did I learn anything about chocolate rereading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory? Nope (although I did wind up thinking that Wonka’s method of mixing chocolate “by waterfall” claiming it makes it taste better is actually not a bad approximation of a good conching process… ). But it was still an absolutely worthwhile read. You see different things in it as an adult though. I had forgotten about how clearly the Oompa Loompa’s deliver moral messages in their songs - about not being greedy, listening to what people tell you, etc. It isn’t what I remember - I didn’t remember anything about Dahl’s books conveying “morals.” But, the last one sure warmed my heart - an ode to reading in a book about chocolate, which put two of my very favorite things in the same place.