CHARLIE IN THE WHITEHOUSE1 March 2015
Ever since learning Roald Dahl had published a rare, second sequel to his classic Charlie And The Chocolate Factory in 1980, I’ve been eagerly anticipating reading it. It’s a difficult book to find: the only copy I’ve ever seen was a tattered paperback hidden in the Giblin Eunson library, its existence unacknowledged by the library catalogue.
The novel’s action picks up from where its maligned predecessor Charlie And The Great Glass Elevator left off, as Willy Wonka and his associates accept President Lancelot R. Gilligrass’s invitation to attend a White House function. Dahl uses this celebration to satirise American culture, through Charlie’s disgust at senators deferring to an obese millionaire and Grandpa Joe’s innuendo-laden conversation with starlet Helen High Water. Meanwhile, Wonka insinuates himself into the President’s inner circle by exposing his advisors’ hypocrisy with simple questions and parlour tricks.
Charlie returns to England to run the chocolate factory with the help of his bickering grandparents. After the Oompa Loompas unionise, Grandpa Joe suggests that offering factory tours will allow them to recruit new workers while generating extra revenue. Relying on Wonka’s factory manual, described by Dahl as ‘thicker than a phonebook and written in very messy handwriting’, the Buckets explore a chocolate factory more terrible and wonderful than their wildest dreams
In forty pages Dahl details a veritable smorgasbord of grotesque wonders as Wonka begins the Wonkafication of America. He builds unmeltable chocolate houses for the homeless, transforms soldiers into bouncing blueberry killers and develops a serum that when injected into the eyes of prisoners turns them into delicious fudge. His most alarming act is the invention of the W-Bomb, a purple bon-bon that can only be detonated by the President and Secretary of Defence.
Chapter Eight begins when a Vernicious Knid, one of the shape-shifting aliens Wonka thought defeated at the end of Glass Elevator, is woken by a bald woman wearing gloves. Within weeks, a Knid army terrorises all nations, and only a united effort by the world’s militaries can slow the terrible alien invasion. Intelligent foxes sabotage enemy supply lines, telekinetic savants cooperate with dyslexic vicars to herd civilians underground, and unfriendly giants wrestle with inflated Knids under an exploding peach. Dahl packs too much action into these ambitiously violent scenes, but Quentin Blake’s illustrations of the narrative rank amongst his best.
After America is covered in the rotting corpses of seven slain giants, President Gilligrass begs Wonka for permission to use the W-Bomb. Wonka consents, after using Wonkavision to tell Charlie to bring as many Oompa Loompas as possible to the caves beneath the factory. He then borrows a jet to scatter chocolate bars all over America, distributing one Golden Ticket in each thousandth bar. Evacuating with the Golden Ticket holders in an enlarged Great Glass Elevator, Wonka witnesses two distant men struggling over the bomb before shielding his eyes from a violet flash.
In the epilogue, Charlie’s descendant, Cacao Bucket, becomes the first person to leave the factory in over a century. Cacao enters a world where all natural forms of life have been replaced with chocolate copies. Think the ‘Pure Imagination’ scene from the Chocolate Factory movie, but expanded to cover an entire planet. The biggest surprise is the silently screaming survivors of the W-bomb, their bodies melded together and made immortal by a thin coating of Wonka caramel. Quentin Blake’s illustration of this scene is an absolute masterpiece. The book ends with Cacao looking up at the night sky and recognising one star to be the legendary Great Glass Elevator.
Most critics who reviewed the novel were unnerved by White House’s apocalyptic tone, although some saw it as a return to the anti-nuclear themes of Dahl’s 1948 debut Sometime Never: A Fable for Supermen. It also bears comparison to Dodie Smith’s The Starlight Barking, another esoteric sequel to a children’s classic and whose bizarre ending alienated most readers. Charlie In The White House may not be suitable for all readers of Roald Dahl, but fans of his adult writing – particularly those who enjoy a certain desperate humour – will find it a delicious treat.
Disclaimer: Charlie in the Whitehouse is an imagined text! Sorry if we got your hopes up – we’re sad too.