Tim Burton’s film adaptation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory concludes by suggesting that Willy Wonka was the true winner in the rags-to-riches tale because he was given the gift of a family. The film’s narrator tells the audience that Willy Wonka had gained a family and that this life-fulfilling pleasure exceeded even the riches and sweetness of owning a chocolate factory.1 Yet in Dahl’s texts the sweetness of family is confused, abstract and often discarded as cultural myth. In George’s Marvellous Medicine the aim of the book is to ‘improve’ (poison) Granny; in Matilda the heroine is pitched head-to-head with her parents in an ongoing battle that ends with them living in different countries; and in James and the Giant Peach James’s repugnant aunts are squashed to death as the peach rolls over them in James’s bid for freedom. If all Dahl’s texts dealt with family in this manner, then this chapter would be relatively straightforward, but the delight of Dahl is that his work refuses such easy categorisation. The family in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory conforms to the Victorian ‘poor but happy’ cliché; Mr Fox in Fantastic Mr Fox is a replica of the archetypal Victorian patriarch; and Danny’s father in Danny, the Champion of the World is nurturing, loving and creative.
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