Defending the Controversial New Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Cover

23:18Ciaran McCormick

An furore has been raised by the new cover of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The beloved children's book about a young boy whose Golden Ticket takes him to the magic of Willy Wonka's world of chocolate has recently been inducted into the Penguin Modern Classics imprint. However, the cover photo has been widely criticised. People took to Penguin's Facebook page to complain that it bears no relevance to the book and presents an unacceptably sexualised image of a young girl.



There are many problems with the cover, but I would challenge the idea that it deserves a place in the Guardian's worst five book covers list. Indeed, the controversy has ultimately fulfilled the purposes of Penguin. It has created a bundle of publicity for the new version and provoked a debate about the book that will drive sales.

This was the quote from Penguin on their Facebook page that kicked off the debate:

This new image for CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY looks at the children at the centre of the story, and highlights the way Roald Dahl’s writing manages to embrace both the light and the dark aspects of life, ready for Charlie’s debut amongst the adult titles in the Penguin Modern Classics series.

A close reading of the book lends some credibility to the interpretations of the cover. The book's fundamental themes and messages do not centre on a magical chocolate factory or a rags to riches factory. Instead, the key theme is that children are exploited by adults. Willy Wonka wishes to find a successor and so uses his Golden Tickets to introduce several to his factory, most of which he treats with complete contempt. His ambition to mould Charlie Bucket into a younger version of himself to continue his legacy is self-important and exploitative.

The other children each embody a negative characteristic, such as Veruca being over-spoiled by her parents, Augustus over-fed to obesity and Mike over-indulged in television by his parents. One of the reasons why Charlie is such a relatable protagonist is his delightful relationship with his family and his positivity in spite of severe poverty. These are dark, deep themes and if it is to be inducted into a range of Modern Classics, then they need to be given service rather than dismissed.

Unfortunately, much of the backlash has been emotionally rather than rationally driven. I grew up associating Dahl with the charming scratchy masterpieces that were Quentin Blake illustrations. This new cover has challenged the comfortable place that this unique author had in their childhoods. It captures the dark tone that Dahl often conjured. Anyone that has read the sequel, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator will understand just how dark and absurd Wonka's world can be.


There are legitimate questions to be raised by those that complain that it is an oversexualised image. However, whilst it is a creepy image of a doll-like girl, it reflects the questions asked by Dahl in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory . That is the point of having a character like Veruca Salt, whose father's factory was devoted solely to tearing apart chocolate bars to find Golden Tickets. The audacious and unsettling cover reflects the way that children are fetishised and exploited by adults. It is important to have conversations and criticisms of how women are represented and exploited in the media. Penguin may have ruined a few posts but I now realise that their cover has made me look deeper into the books than I ever have before.

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