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Tuesday, September 4, 2012

How Roald Dahl Ruined My Life by Writing Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Making Me Think There’s a Golden Ticket to be had, and that Nice Kids Not Only Have a Chance of Getting It, but Can Also Look Forward to a Ride in a Glass Elevator, a Lifetime Supply of Chocolate and Seeing Their More Repulsive Counterparts Pegged Off One-By-One as Punishment for Various Obnoxious Behaviors Nice Kids Would Never Engage In

     This is what we on the ABNA discussion threads refer to as a Smullen, which is a really long headline constructed for the very purpose of inciting deep thought and/or riots. Sometimes these titles have intentional typographical errors, as well. Mine doesn’t because A.) I am a proofreader trained to rebel against typos, although Lord knows I’ve made my fair share over the years. B.) I am attempting to launch a semi-literary blog and don’t want to look like an idiot. (But I must remind you, I’ve disclaimed all the information contained here—read the archives, people!—which is a little trick left over from my years in advertising.) Now that I have your attention, let me elaborate on how Roald Dahl ruined my life. First off, he set the standard pretty high. How in the world am I to compete with an author who’s run the gauntlet? I mean, everything from witches, magic, mysterious chocolatiers, bullying schoolmistresses, used-car salesmen, space travel…seriously, what is left? And he’s a generation-buster. My daughters are, as we speak, cooking through all his books. Curse you, Roald. (Please envision me shaking my fist.)
     Second, his villain always gets an unpleasant comeuppance, which has fostered the fantasy that villains always get what’s coming to them. Um, no. This disconnect is downright scarring, because I’m still waiting for various villains to get theirs. This situation is complicated further by my inability to tell the villains from normal, non-villainous people. (In Roald Dahl’s universe, they are always puffed-up buffoonish types. In real life—not so much.)

Villains rarely stand out in a crowd.
photo: Marvin Gentry/Reuters
     Third, he has a really cool name, which led me to believe in my youth that people who did not have cool names (which I don’t) had no business writing books. (And no, I hadn’t heard of pen names back when my worldview was forming, but I guess the use of one now would remedy this gripe. So ignore the last two sentences, please. I'm too lazy to hit delete.) 
     The main reason my life was ruined straight out of the gate, thanks to Roald, and perhaps to Mrs. Freund (who--if you must know--taught me how to read) is that as long as Roald was on the job, there was no incentive to think up stories. His were sublime. Why bother, especially when so many were made into movies.
Don't be alarmed! I like to read hanging upside-down, like a bat.
Lucky for me, along came Suzanne Collins. Be warned, I just finished Mockingjay, but what follows here holds more sour grapes than spoilers. Still, if you feel passionately about the series, turn back now.

     It’s not that I didn’t like The Hunger Games. I loved it; I stayed up all night, reading. My enthusiasm waned a bit for Catching Fire, perhaps because too much time spanned in between. Our library had a waiting list, you see, and I couldn’t in good faith pluck the book from the waiting jaws of the local tweens and teens, all of whom were eager to devour it. (They needed it far more than I did.)

      I thought things were back on track with Mockingjay. I stayed up late again, convincing myself it was because I cared so much about Katniss and her family and friends. I don’t know what made me finally realize that I was persevering because I just wanted to get it over with. In some weird way, I had become Katniss, marching stoically to my fate, choking down the disbelief of having to go through it all again. I was a hair’s breadth away from begging someone to kill me—quickly—not with stones, as in the morbid precursor to The Hunger Games. (Don’t even try to dispute the parallels between this series and The Lottery by Shirley Jackson, but do remind me to devote the next blog to how Shirley Jackson ruined my life by forging That Career while having kids and writing The Lottery in ONE DRAFT and by wearing Those Glasses.)
This blog needs some pretty about now. Isn't this pretty?
Of course I didn’t really contemplate suicide, silly blog-buds. Unlike Katniss, I was subjected not to a barbaric reality show requiring a fight to the death, but to joyless writing, which is almost worse. I waited all night for good to win out over evil, and what did I get? A draw. (Katniss waxed...for this, thought I.)

     Why did I see it as a draw? Someone tell me, please? Is it because I’m bitter and jealous, coveting Suzanne Collins’ success? Is it because I’m not the target audience? (No, it can’t be that one; The Hunger Games is a crossover!) Is it because I can’t deal with reality? (Although, I don’t think the trilogy is building its stellar reputation based on its realism.) Here’s the thing, no matter what anyone says, I want to believe that if the world comes close to annihilation, there will still be moments of humanity. Symbolic scenes that manage to break through the insanity of the times. Interactions between people that reassure me we’re all deeply connected and that we haven’t sacrificed everything as we meet our doom. I want to keep believing that a nice kid like Charlie Bucket could win out over Varuca without throwing a single punch or slipping a date-rape drug in her fizzy drink. That stubborn hopefulness is my most definitive quality.

     It pains me that kids someday will look back on this trilogy as a story that has shaped their childhoods, and certainly their psyches. Here's what I found lacking in the wee hours of the night: Redemption. Hope. A dawn hinting at a day that might burst in one's mouth like a handful of fresh berries. In the finale, I looked for a trace of the joy or the love that Katniss had on her worst day in the Seam and found...nothing. Her life was ruined—just like mine is, thanks to Roald Dahl. 
     On the bright side, a generation defined by such a story will definitely know the grim score as they’re turned out into the arena, whereas my buddy Roald sent me aloft wearing rose-colored glasses (at least they weren't Shirley Jackson's!) I'm surprised I haven't been ninja'ed to death yet.
Truth be told, these taste better without the golden ticket. So much less grainy.
Everyone knows that in real life Varuca Salt would’ve been the victor in the bid for the chocolate factory. Her father would’ve pulled out his checkbook and ended things within the first five minutes of the contest. And when the business showed signs of going under, Willie Wonka would’ve issued little pink slips to all of the oompa loompas. Then an executive from Hershey would’ve swooped in and bought him out, awarding him a nice severance package. He would’ve exited by way of a golden parachute, not a glass elevator, and poor Charlie would’ve wandered home only to see a foreclosure notification on the window of the shack he’d lived in his entire life. That’s the way the cookie really crumbles, folks.

    The Hunger Games was a departure from the rainbows and unicorns. I get that. What I’m saying is: go back! Rainbows are real. Unicorns are lovely. I don’t want the tattered remnants of a girl’s soul on my conscience. I want to be here, ranting and railing against Roald Dahl for getting my hopes up only to have real life bat them right back down. Shouldn’t every generation have that to look forward to, in addition to a ride in a glass elevator and the possibility of a lifetime’s supply of yummy bonbons? That's what gets us through our nasty, miserable lives. Maybe I should be thanking Roald Dahl for lying to me.

     ATTN: Future Suzanne Collinses (no relation to Tom Collinses) of the World, please don’t stick another Katniss in the games on my account. I want to go on believing that windmills might be giants and that my child's ADHD could signify she is a god among kids. That Voldemort will be vanquished before he’s even had the chance to make that first appointment for a nose job consultation. That Good has the smallest chance of prevailing over Evil—and when it does, that the survivors will be happy. Maybe not ever after. Maybe only for a day--and under heavy sedation--but I need to know the struggle was worth it. Sure, it's life-and-death, but does it have to be so damaging? Can't we laugh a little? On Roald's watch, we could. These kids agree: 
     Now let’s all head off to use the Insert Hope function in our stories. Go to Microsoft Word, to Insert, and then scroll down. (See it? Right there under clip art, next to ‘Insert Humor’—another thing poor Katniss lost along the way.) If you use Scrivener, well then, you’re plum out of luck.


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    1. Greetings!

      I'm hopping over from GUTGAA and visiting blogs along the way. Nice to meet have a lovely blog! Good luck with GUTGAA!

      Donna L Martin

    2. Thanks for stopping by, Donna. I'm a little behind schedule. Just now getting up my Meet-and-Greet post!!