One Labor Day and one server blip later… here we go.
Here we are at the sequels to Charlie And The Chocolate Factory. Yes, sequels– this is two stories in one. Much like how its predecessor breaks neatly into two halves, the run-up to the chocolate factory and the visit to the factory itself, Charlie And The Great Glass Elevator can be divided into two separate stories: “Going Up,” and “Going Down.” Unlike the last book, though, the stories don’t really lead into each other: it’s more like a trilogy in which the second two books were abbreviated and packed into one. I’ll show you what I mean.
Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator begins mere moments after the last book ended. Charlie, the boy who suddenly got everything he’d ever wanted, and his family have all gotten into the Great Glass Elevator that just crashed through their roof, and are on their way to see the Chocolate Factory, which (as everyone knows) now belongs to Charlie. The family includes Mr. and Mrs. Bucket, who are largely ignored, and three bedridden grandparents, including the taciturn Grandpa George; his grouchy wife, Grandma Georgina; the panicky Grandma Josephine. Of course there’s also Grandpa Joe, who has become much friskier than his 96.5 years since his first visit to the Chocolate Factory. And let’s not forget Mr. Willy Wonka, enfant terrible of the chocolate world and certified nutcase.
So they overshoot the Factory and end up in outer space. OOPS!
This is an important step in that it gets the three old people out of bed. They’ve been too weak to walk for twenty years, but they don’t seem to have a problem with puffing themselves around in the Elevator via jet propulsion. Of course, all they really want is to get back down to Earth, but Mr. Wonka sees something far more exciting…
Inside the Great Glass Elevator, there was also a good deal of excitement. Charlie and Mr. Wonka and all the others could see clearly the huge silvery shape of Space Hotel “U.S.A.” about a mile ahead of them. And behind them was the smaller (but still pretty enormous) Commuter Capsule. [...] And of course everybody, even Grandma Josephine, knew very well what was going on. [...] The whole world knew about these things. Newspapers and television had been shouting about almost nothing else for the past six months. Operation Space Hotel was the event of the century.
Wait. in the last book the newspapers and television were shouting about nothing but the public opening of the Wonka chocolate factory for months and months… and here’s an event with fifty times the historical value happening on the exact same day?! Mr. Dahl, I suspect you didn’t actually write out a timeline before starting your series.
If there’s one thing the visit to the chocolate factory has taught us about Mr. Wonka, it’s that he’s a born mischief maker. Having blundered into the biggest event of the space age, he decides to get into some BIG mischief and dock the Elevator to the Space Hotel so he and the Bucket family can get something to eat in the hotel kitchen. This is where the United States Government gets involved.
In his study in the White House sat Lancelot R. Gilligrass, President of the United States of America, the most powerful man on earth. In this moment of crisis, all his most important advisers had been summoned urgently to his presence, and there they all were now, following closely on the giant television screen every move made by this dangerous-looking glass capsule and its eight desperate-looking astronauts. [...] Standing nearest of all to the President was the Vice-President, a huge lady of eighty-nine with a whiskery chin. She had been the President’s nanny when he was a baby and her name was Miss Tibbs. Miss Tibbs was the power behind the throne. She stood no nonsense from anyone. Some people said she was as strict with the President now as when he was a little boy.
Dahl’s caricature of the U.S. government is absolutely the high point of this entire book. President Gilligrass is a flailing moron with very little real power but a lot of bluster, and Miss Tibbs is hilarious every time she cows a member of his Cabinet into submission. If a film were made of this book, they could be made into a parody of Bush and Cheney with almost no rewriting.
His advisers waited eagerly for what was coming. They knew that the great man was about to give the world yet another of his brilliant inventions. The last had been the Gilligrass Left-Handed Corkscrew, which had been hailed by left-handers across the nation as one of the greatest blessings of the century.
“There you are!” said the President, holding up the paper. “This is the Gilligrass Patent Fly-Trap!” They all crowded around to look.
“The fly climbs up the ladder on the left,” said the President. “He walks along the plank. He stops. He sniffs. He smells something good. He peers over the edge and sees the sugar lump. ‘Ah-ha!’ he cries. ‘Sugar!’ He is just about to climb down the string to reach it when he sees the basin of water below. ‘Ho-ho!’ he says. ‘It’s a trap! They want me to fall in!’ So he walks on, thinking what a clever fly he is. But as you see, I have left out one of the rungs in the ladder he goes down by, so he falls and breaks his neck.”
Mr. Gilligrass, sir, they’re called FLIES. Think about that.
The Space Hotel has all the accouterments of an Earth hotel, including an onboard gravity generator, leading us to wonder why they didn’t just build it on Earth and save themselves the trouble. Isn’t floating around weightless half the appeal of going into space? Anyway, the Buckets and Mr. Wonka are all set to hit the kitchen when the voice of President Gilligrass comes over the loudspeakers, ordering them to identify themselves or be destroyed. By this point, the President has decided that these are rogue Hiltons who want to blow up their highest-profile competition. Yes, this was in fact written in the seventies. Amazing how everything old becomes new again.
Mr. Wonka is not afraid. His overactive mischief gland kicks in and he makes this grand soliloquy:
ANAPOLALA ZOONK ZOONK ZOONK!
I’d like to attend a Toastmasters meeting where someone presents that speech.
So the carpet in the Oval Office is soaking wet. The President is terrified that he may have offended the aliens, the cabinet is arguing how whether we should blow them up with nukes or butter them up with Mars bars (get it?), and Mr. Wonka is straining with the pressure not to crack up and blow the whole charade. Ha ha ha, aliens on the Space Hotel! That’s hilarious, right, Charlie? Charlie…?
Their names have been dropped in some of the movies that have come since, but here is our first look at Vermicious Knids, one of Dahl’s best monster creations. They’re a malevolent race of carnivorous Silly Putties, amorphous egg-shaped eating machines that flock from planet to planet gobbling up intelligent life. Mr. Wonka says they can bite your head off from fifty feet away, despite their lack of teeth. That is why he manages to jam the bed full of old Buckets and the rest of them into the Great Glass Elevator and take off before the Knids are finished morphing into the only English word they know. (hint, it’s Oscar The Grouch’s favorite word too)
The employees of the Space Hotel, on the other hand…
“Astronaut Shuckworth here, Mr. President, back aboard the Commuter Capsule– thank heavens!”
“What happened, Shuckworth? Who’s with you?”
“We’re most of us here, Mr. President, I’m glad to say. Shanks and Showler are with me, and a whole bunch of other folks. I guess we lost maybe a couple of dozen people altogether, pastry chefs, hall porters, that sort of thing. It sure was a scramble getting out of that place alive!”
“What do you mean you lost two dozen people?” shouted the President. “How did you lose them?”
“Gobbled up!” replied Shuckworth. “One gulp and that was it! I saw a big six-foot-tall assistant manager being swallowed up just like you’d swallow a lump of ice cream, Mr. President! No chewing– nothing. Just down the hatch!”
Mr. Wonka may be a psychopath, as his treatment of the four rotten children in the previous book proves, but he has great respect for the sanctity of innocents, and so he and Charlie vow to fight the Knids using their only weakness. Can you guess what that weakness is? Here’s a hint, the Knids can fly anywhere in space they want, and yet they’ve never come down to eat up the Earthlings. What possible element could Earth have that would keep monsters like that away? And NO, before you ask, it’s not Dane Cook.
Without giving anything away, the Knids are defeated, the Commuter Capsule full of hotel employees guided to a safe splashdown, and Willy Wonka guides his elevator to a screaming crash in the Chocolate Factory… and then we begin part two next time.
I made it pretty clear (clear as glass, har) in the Charlie & The Chocolate Factory posts that I was well and truly baffled that its sequel has never been committed to film. Perhaps there was a time when it would have been too extravagant for most movie budgets to do justice to, but it seems like we’re ready now, aren’t we? Maybe a more relevant issue is that because the two stories are so separate, it would feel more like an anthology than a sequel. Me, I’d choose the Vermicious Knids story and just flesh it out a little more to fill a whole movie. There’s a lot of fun to be had in just the first half of this book.