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Fool's Gold

Fool's Gold - Jennifer Skully This book was written by Roald Dahl. Wait a sec... isn't he the same guy who wrote James and the Giant Peach? Yeah he is. And that's all you need to know, to figure out his angle. He's another one of those guys who likes to write about kids in fucked up food situations. Just a year after James..., Dahl couldn't be satisfied with just one boy and one peach; he had to write this little gem, about a whole group of kids having crazy things happen to them with food, like the one kid who gets sucked up into a chocolate syrup pump, and then the little girl who gets turned into a blueberry. I read this book before I saw the movie, and I was pretty sure that one of the kids was going to get eaten, since a lot of the classics like Hanzel and Gretyl have child cannibalism. (Is a witch eating a kid considered cannibalism, or is a witch sufficiently other-than-human for it just to be run of the mill predation?)Jack and the Beanstalk doesn't actually show cannibalism, but the giant (that means a giant human, right?) is such a connoisseur of human flesh that he can discern the blood of an Englishman from other nationalities. (does he go by family heritage, or citizenship? I wonder.) Even the kids' stories which don't have cannibalism still usually have somebody or something eating a child, like the Wolf in Little Red Riding Hood, or the whale in Pinocchio. (Does that count? I think Pinocchio was still a puppet when he got eaten.) And even if the kids don't get eaten, there's usually at least some sort of completely surreal food antics going on (baking 24 blackbirds into a pie? Somebody call the ASPCA!; gingerbread men who come alive and go running through town; and don't even get started on The Nutcracker unless you have a day to spend.) To my amazement, there was no cannibalism in this book. It turned out to be a sort of cautionary tale about safety in the workplace, and how NOT to go about executive recruiting. When I was little, my Dad worked at a factory which made industrial presses, and I remember two occasions when he came home and told us about somebody who was either killed or severely injured by a workplace accident. That was usually followed by a lecture about how the individuals in question hadn't been following some precaution or another, and how "the rules are there for a reason". (Yeah, like the rules that I have to pay a sizable fraction of my income to a bunch of old robberbaron families who own the "Federal" Reserve?) I was never allowed to actually go inside where Dad worked; it was too dangerous; so when this story started out with a contest whose prize was a tour of a chocolate factory, I thought they were all completely insane. Of course, a chocolate factory might be safer than a machine shop, but considering how this book plays out, I'd have to say it probably isn't. Pretty soon into the narration, Dahl starts laying down the old class warfare themes: Charlie's family is poverty-stricken to the point that his grandfather has to go hungry, just to provide Charlie with enough to eat. But it's a weird sort of poverty, where nobody is suggesting that Charlie or any of his apparently-retired grandparents get a job. Later, when Charlie tours Wonka's factory and sees the Oompa Loompas, he demonstrates no particular compassion or identification for his bretheren in the exploited underclasses. Willie Wonka claims that he rescued them from a monster-plagued homeland, and they all work in the factory of their own volition, but the whole thing seems a bit dubious, and nobody probes too deeply into it. I was disappointed in Charlie for failing to do anything about the Oompa Loompa situation. They're small, and orange and foreign, and Willie Wonka seems to be taking advantage of them; the whole set-up smacks of racism and neo-colonialism in the worst way. It's hard to take Charlie's complicity as anything other than tacit endorsement of their exploitation. Whenever anything bad happens to the kids on the factory tour, the Oompa Loompas make up a song about how the kid totally deserved everything he got, and probably worse. On one hand, these songs seem judgmental and cold-hearted, but I can imagine how the misfortunes of these human children might be a salve to temporarily satisfy the seething Oompa Loompa rage boiling just below the surface. My big question for this entire book is: do the Oompa Loompas know that one of the kids on the tour is going to end up as their new boss? It is an incredibly insulting scenerio Wonka has constructed here. You've got the Oompa Loompas running the place with such skill that Wonka candies are considered the world's finest. At the top of the organization sits Willie Wonka, contemplating his mortality. He sees that he can't run the place forever, and he needs to start grooming an heir. Does he even consider recruiting from within, bringing one of those hard-working, experienced Ooompa Loompas up from the ranks into the executive suite? No... they are categorically precluded from any HOPE of career growth. Instead, (and here's the real knife in the back) Wonka decides to give the senior executive position to a RANDOMLY SELECTED KID! The story seems to end on a happy note, with Charlie literally breaking through the glass ceiling (what glass ceiling? he's a friggin' white male in the early 1960's!) and flying away in a magic elevator, bubbling with excitement that he's just become - at age 12- CEO of a transnational corporation. But honestly, Charlie's long-term prospects don't look good; this ending has workers' rebellion written all over it, and while I am absolutely opposed to planned economies and monolithic authoritarian states, I can understand how the Oompa Loompas' rage and humiliation could easily result in a Russian revolution-type uprising, where they seize the means of production for themselves and put Wonka (and maybe Charlie too) on trial for his crimes against their people.