Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, or Memory Plays Tricks

Fils aîné has been reluctant to tackle chapter books, but after Roald Dahl day at his school, mari got to read him Fantastic Mr Fox and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. That was a success, so next he wanted Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, and it was my turn to read it to him.

Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator

Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator by Roald Dahl, Illus. Faith Jacques (Puffin, 1984)

Reading together, a chapter or two an evening was lovely, and I know Dahl and Blake go together like a horse and carriage, but to me Faith Jacques’ illustrations have the emotional pull of childhood memories. I just wish the book had been better. Mari had been dubious about it, remembering it as not as good as the Chocolate Factory, but we launched into it anyway. I was surprised both by how many details I remembered and how many I’d forgotten. I remembered the vermicious knids, but had forgotten how gruesomely they devour various innocent bystanders (it is Roald Dahl, after all). I vaguely remembered that the President of the United States came into it, but had forgotten all the rather embarrassing national stereotypes of other nations – the Premier of Soviet Russia, the Prime Minister of China, a sword-swallower from Afghanistan and so on.  So I found myself having to censor rather a lot of it. Fortunately fils aîné wasn’t paying too much attention to the pages so we didn’t have any “you missed a bit, Mummy” moments.

I was also surprised by how American it all is – “Great Glass Elevator” has a much better ring to it than “Great Glass Lift” so that’s never concerned me, but it’s all about how wonderful it would be to be invited to the White House, necessitating a lot of political explanations. And when Grandma Georgina gets an overdose of Vita-Wonk, they work out her age with reference to crossing on the Mayflower. Being brought back to her proper age again, she does refer to Nelson and the Battle of Trafalgar, but all the other references are to US history, Gettysburg and Lincoln.  In fact, I discovered from the ever-reliable Wikipedia, the US edition was published first (as indeed with Chocolate Factory), by Alfred A. Knopf Inc. in 1972, the Allen & Unwin edition following a year later. It also suggests that the Nelson reference is an alteration for the British edition, replacing:

We’ve beaten them! Yorktown’s Surrendered! We’ve kicked them out, those dirty British!

That explains a lot,  but as I said it was a surprise as I’d always thought of Dahl as thoroughly British. It seems that he was intending to write a third book, to be called “Charlie in the White House” and the ending certainly suggests that:

“Well, Charlie,” said Grandpa Joe. “It’s certainly been a busy day.”
“It’s not over yet,” Charlie said, laughing. “It hasn’t even begun.” (p. 135)

Still, the boy enjoyed it, which is the main thing. Now, what shall we read next?

About forwardtranslations

I'm a freelance literary translator from German and French to English. The title of my blog comes from Mary Schmich's description of reading: it struck home with me, and seems especially apt for translated fiction. Here are some of my musings on what I'm reading, re-reading, reading to my children, and translating.
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4 Responses to Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, or Memory Plays Tricks

  1. Lucym808 says:

    I felt exactly like you when I read it to mine! The illustrations are also childhood memories, and I also found the book a big let-down. There’s so many Americanisms in Roald Dahl, which is curious as you think of him as so quintessentially British.

  2. Judith Sawers says:

    I remember studying this one in home-school with Sander – did some kind of monumental flow-chart of the plot outline… Quite fun, but I agree with a lot of your remarks. Always safer with Dick King-Smith.

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