Roald Dahl's 1972 sequel to his all-time classic Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1964). Part of what prompted the writing may have been the release and success of (the retitled) Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory movie released the year before for which he wrote the script. While the book is uneven and unfocused, it's still entertaining—like the Marx Brothers or the Simpsons, even-less-than-great Dahl is better than most of the stuff around.

So where did we leave off with good old Charlie Bucket who has been given the grand and fabulous chocolate factory of the wonderful and eccentric Mr. Wonka? Why, blasting off in the Great Glass Elevator after pushing his family into it. Away to the factory! You recall who's present, right? Well, neither did I to be honest, but Dahl provides a helpful list to get us up to speed. There's Charlie, Mr. Wonka, Charlie's parents, and both of their parents. On we go.

Even though we have an immediate cast of eight, they are more props and plot necessities than anything else. Even Charlie is undeveloped and doesn't do much. This is a vehicle for what Dahl (and most readers) really enjoy: that wonderful, wonderful Mr. Wonka with his "plum-colored velvet tailcoat and bottle-green trousers."

It is Wonka's fractured and surreal world view and, indeed, world that draws the reader and makes one come back for more. Once one has joined up with the maker of the Everlasting Gobstopper and the Eatable Marshmallow Pillow, the "normal" world ceases to exist and one finds himself or herself immersed in a world filtered through sugar pane and wordplay. A world through which this charming confectioner is your guide, host, and best friend. I suspect the right choice was made when the movie changed the book's title: this is the Willy Wonka show. Down to the last Oompa Loompa.

With only the barest plot (getting from the "sky," where they were left at the end of the first novel, to the factory), Dahl hangs a few mini-adventures. First, they visit outer space—you see, if they wish to punch a hole in the roof to enter the factory, they need to be going fast, fast, fast (and to do that, they must get oh so very high). Unfortunately, they go too high and go into orbit. They encounter astronauts (and staff) on their way to the first outer space hotel (built by the United States, of course).

Now, this strange looking glass box with eight people floating around in it alarms the President (whose vice president is his childhood nanny, whose best friend is an Afghan sword swallower, and who has a penchant for rather bad knock-knock jokes). It's very clear to him that these astronauts in disguise. After denial by the Russians and the Chinese, contact is made. Wonka's song full of gobbledygook convinces them that the visitors to the hotel are Martians or Venusians. And the Elevator is a bomb. (The over eager Chief of the Army who keeps asking to commence bombing is finally fired and told to stand in the corner.)

On the space hotel (supposedly empty) they encounter the Vermicious Knids (K-nids)—egg-shaped (narrow end down) slimy creatures whose only features are eyes. Very dangerous, these beings are nothing but one big muscle enabling them to twist and turn into shapes (they show off by writing words—well, word, they only know how to spell "scram").

The Knids attack but the Great Glass Elevator is Knid-proof. The others are not so lucky, losing two dozen people ("Gobbled up!") and having their ship damaged. Few children's books are willing to boast that sort of body count, but Dahl is special. With ingenuity and help manning the many buttons, Wonka is able to escape and save the other ship as well (Knids burn up on reentry, which is why you've never heard of them—shooting star? No, Shooting Knid).

Back at the factory, Wonka informs the guests (three of whom are still in bed) they will be helping run the fantastic factory with Charlie. Being rather old ("Jeepers, they're older than Moses," in the words of one astronaut), they refuse. One hasn't even been out of bed in twenty years. So Mr. Wonka hatches a plan—Wonka-Vite, an amazing, astounding confection invention! It will take off twenty years off your life! Of course, one should be warned: if you are told a pill will take twenty years off your life, you really shouldn't take too many pills. Especially more than you are old.

One does, of course (two become infants), going to Minusland (where one goes when one's age is "minus") and eliciting a delightfully wicked cautionary song by the Oompa Loompas about a girl with eats all the pills in her grandmother's medicine cabinet, not realizing what they were laxatives, including one super laxative (only taken twice a year):

The floorboards shake and from the wall
Some bits of paint and plaster fall.
Explosions, whistles, awful bangs
Were followed by the loudest clangs
(A man next door was heard to say,
'A thunderstorm is on the way.')
But on and on the rumbling goes.
A window cracks a lamp bulb blows.
Young Goldie clutched herself and cried,
'There's something wrong with my inside!'

(Poor Goldie never did quite get over her ordeal, having to spend seven hours a day in The Ladies Room.) Not the only song, but the best.

The whimsical Wonka has a solution (he always has). You see, he has another fantastic pharmaceutical: Vita-Wonk. This delightful drug does the opposite of Wonka-Vite. So they go deep under the factory where Oompa Loompas mine for rock candy and strike chocolate ("A whacking great gusher!") to Minusland where they brave the possibility of Gnoolies—which you can't see but if they bite you, you die. Well, not quite: "first you get subtracted....A little later you are divided...but very slowly. It takes a long's long division and it's very painful. After that you become one of them."

After some age readjustment (first too old, then calculations to get everyone back to their original age) they receive a letter. It's from the President. Radar stations tracked the Elevator (which has been out of the picture for almost half the book at this point) to the factory and everyone is invited for a celebration in honor of rescuing the astronauts and hotel staff. The excitement is enough to get the old people out of bed (especially when Wonka promises to take them shopping so they have more than nightshirts to wear to the White House).

As they dance away to the waiting helicopter, Charlie's Grandpa Joe (who had accompanied him to the factory in the first book) remarks that "It's certainly been a busy day." Charlie replies that "It's not over yet.... It hasn't even begun."

Yeah, leaving it open for another sequel. Thankfully, Dahl (who died in 1990) never acted on that possibility. It's probably for the best, besides being near impossible to top the original, it's not a good idea to keep dipping one's finger into that same big vat of chocolate—even if it's the marvelous chocolate of the wonderful Mr. Wonka.

(Sources: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, a childhood that will never end)

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