Saturday, January 12, 2013

Charlie And the Great Glass Elevator

by Roald Dahl

The sequel to the famous book about the chocolate factory, this book begins in media res with Charlie Bucket, the eccentric and magical Wonka, and Charlie’s extended family all in the titular glass elevator, hurtling up into space. With a total disregard for how gravity or any other boring reality works, Dahl has the group fly to the newly built Space Hotel, meet up with some belligerent shape-changing aliens (the Vermicious Knids), rescue some astronauts, and return to Earth where, their cosmic adventures already forgotten, Wonka gives the elderly Buckets some pills that turn them twenty years younger per pill. Of course this doesn’t go right, either.

It’s utterly madcap, written as if with a young child’s attention span, logic, and sense of perspective about events. The scenes in which the president discusses the alien attack on the Space Hotel are almost Dr. Strangelove-ish, with President Lancelot Gilligrass convening his cabinet, “a sword-swallower from Afghanistan, who was the President’s best friend,” and the Vice-President, who is Gilligrass’ nanny and actually commands the room. The Chief of the Army keeps wanting to blow everything up and making explosion noises with his mouth, and the President gets distracted from the problem when he thinks of a terrifically ridiculous idea for a fly trap. And that’s just a couple of chapters; the Buckets race from one crazed event to the next. Dahl puts in groan-inducing puns, Carroll-lite doggerel, silly metaphors, neologisms, nonce words, and antiquated but actual words (“he’ll lixiviate the lot of us!”). It’s all thoroughly silly, and it’s hardly as brilliant as Carroll’s calmer surrealism, but it’s light-hearted and memorable.

four stars

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