Monday, March 6, 2017

The Chocolate Covered Descent into Hell

I like to waste my time reading articles from sites like Cracked, or The Chive that have headlines like "Top Ten Useless Things from Stupid Crap That You Argue About in Bars with Casual Friends". I like these posts mostly because I like neat convenient lists of things, and also because a lot of that nonsense is stuff that I already think about, and it's nice to see other people's perspectives and then wonder how they can be so wrong about everything.

Recently, I read Fan Theories that will Make These Movies even Freakier on The Chive. The link is on the banner below. The premise of the post was the fan communities for these various films had these radical ideas about what the movies were really about that made them better/scarier/weirder? The poster was absolutely right about most of them being freaky. The Kevin McCallister is Jigsaw theory is my favorite.

But Home Alone/Saw mashups is not what I'm writing about today. Explore that mindfuck on your own time. I really want to get at this Roald Dahl/Dante collaboration. It is on the list above, but it doesn't really fit into the Fan Theory part of the post, as it may be intentional.

I did a few searches for anything on the internet to corroborate this idea, but there isn't anything from official Roald Dahl sources, and nothing on fan sites or articles about the fan theory really delves into the source material on more than superficial levels. I also couldn't find anything linking the original book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to the Divine Comedy. It is all about the film. So... here is a look at the comparisons of the Divine Comedy by Dante, and the actual Charlie and the Chocolate Factory written by Roald Dahl.

mmm stuck in all that frozen chocolate!
The Divine Comedy, if you didn't know, follows the 14th century (AD) Italian author Dante, and his spectral buddy Virgil (the actual 1st century BC Roman poet who wrote the Aeneid) as he climbs down into Hell, and then back up through Purgatory and into Heaven. The work is in three parts, the Inferno, which people are most familiar, the Purgatorio, and the Paradiso. For this discussion, Inferno is really the only important thing. Here are the basic important stuff we need to glean from the Inferno:
  • Dante outlines Hell in a way and with such detail as no one else before had done, and influenced the way people thought about Hell ever since. The sign outside the door that says "Abandon Hope all Ye Who Enter Here" is Dante.
  • Hell is designed in tiers, or levels that descend deeper and deeper. Dante specified 9 Circles of Hell divided into 3 distinct parts that coincided with certain types of sins. The first few levels of Lust, Gluttony, and Greed are considered the levels of incontinence, sins of the flesh. These levels culminate in the City of Dis, the city of anger. The 6th Circle, for Heresy, begins the circles of Violence. Level 7 is divided into 3 rings for Violence. Violence toward Others, Violence to Yourself, and Violence to God/Nature are separated out. Finally the 8th and 9th circles are all about Fraud and Treachery. At the very bottom of Hell, in the deepest part of the 9th circle is Satan, Lucifer the Light Bringer, the greatest traitor of all.
  • Dante doesn't go through hell alone. He is guided by Virgil, a classic writer who has been dead for 1400 years.
  • Souls in each circle of Hell are beset upon by various demons meant to pay them back for their specific sins. For example, Gluttons are attacked by Cerberus, Harpies and Centaurs go after the Violent, horned demons persecute the Frauds.
and over there are the flaming caskets for the unruly kids...
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was written by Roald Dahl and published by Alfred Knopf Inc in 1964. It was followed up by a film in 1971 starring the late great Gene Wilder (pictured above), directed by Mel Stuart. Basically, the plot involves a boy, Charlie, who wins a chance to tour a famous chocolate factory with four other lucky winners and their parents. The factory is owned by infamous recluse Willie Wonka who guides the tour with the hope of finding an heir to his business in the process. One by one, each candidate falls prey to their idiosyncrasies and gets kicked off the tour, leaving Charlie as the last survivor. Sounds promising so far. Here are some important things about this book:
  • The factory is divided into rooms. Each room has a different theme, and a different tourist does something stupid in each room and gets kicked out.
  • The factory is run by oompa loompas, little orange men from another "country". They also have to clean up after each tourist screws up, and are involved in escorting them out of the factory in one piece.
  • Each contestant/tourist/winner has a foible, a personality flaw that then leads to that character's downfall. For example, Veruca Salt is a self entitled brat, and her greed leads her to attempt to take one of the highly trained counting squirrels in the Nut Room. She ends up throw down the garbage chute.
  • There are 5 children who go through the tour, with their 5 chaperone parents. They seem to correspond to a few of the 7 Deadly Sins. These characters are:
    1. Charlie Bucket. Charlie is obviously Dante in this scenario. He is praised at the end for refusing to indulge in vice.
    2. Augustus Gloop, the fat kid. Gluttony, naturally
    3. Violet Beauregard. Pride.
    4. Veruca Salt. Greed. She's essentially a high-class, snobby garbage person.
    5. Mike Teavee. Sloth. His obsession with television keeps him from doing anything else.
Aside from the obvious themes of Cause and Effect, Sin and Consequence, and paying for your poor behavior, there is a case to be made that Roald Dahl set out to create a Dante's Inferno fable for children from the beginning. There are different rooms, like the different circles, where a different child ends up failing. There are inhuman oompa loompas that live there and "aid" the tormented, much like the demons. Wonka acts like Virgil, leading the group through. Charlie, like Dante, observing everything without fully participating in the madness.

Despite all of this I wasn't completely convinced of this theory. There being no direct correlation to Dahl characters and Dante's 9 circles being a huge hole. There are only 5 child tourists after all. If Wonka is Virgil, and Charlie is Dante, that means the other 4 kids have to be metaphors for sinners in 9 different circles? The characters don't really match up to sins from Dante anyway. Where is the angry kid? the lustful one? the scheming fraudster? It doesn't add up. 

However, I then read about extra characters and chapters left out of the original publication. There were a few things left out and rewritten by Dahl as suggested by the publishing company. There apparently were plans for 10 Golden Tickets for 10 contestants/tourists originally, which would correspond to the 9 Circles of Hell, plus one ticket for Dante/Charlie.

There are also a few missing chapters published from earlier drafts. Spotty Powder, The Vanilla Fudge Room, and Warming Candy Room, all feature extra characters. These chapters did not go through extra edits, and some of the character elements pop up in other characters.
  • Miranda Piker is a strict no-nonsense, "humorless" school girl, daughter of a Headmaster. She goes on an angry, violent tirade to try and sabotage Spotty Powder, a sugary substance that briefly makes the eater break out in hives, so they can fake being sick and skip school. She would undoubtedly be the sin of Anger, and probably fill the Circle of Anger, and/or the Circle of Violence.  
  • The Warming Candy Room is about 3 characters Clarence Clump, Bertie Upside, and Terence Roper who eat an excessive amount of warming candies, which heat people up from the inside, so they can be out in cold weather and still be nice and warm. Eating too many of course, ends in them having to end the tour in a cold room. This may have been an early attempt to fit the Sin of Lust into a kids' book without having to talk about sex. Getting "worked up and over-heated", and then having to spend time "cooling off" sound like dirty metaphors to me.
These are only the missing chapters and early drafts that have been found to survive, but they certainly give an insight into how the process changed. Who knows what other plans Dahl had in mind.
Lastly there is a character mentioned briefly in the book. Arthur Slugworth is a past adversary to Willie Wonka. He is another rival candy maker. Slugworth is responsible for Wonka's public disappearance due to corporate espionage that allowed Slugworth to steal and copy Wonka's ideas. If Dahl had originally started out to do a direct homage to Dante, then Slugworth would be the ultimate villain. The bottom of Hell is reserved for Fraud and Treachery, and Slugworth certainly fits that bill. Slugworth, though, becomes a passing thought, a distant memory to fill in the plot hole of why this factory had been shuttered for so long, enshrined in secrecy.

Ultimately, though, I think upon further investigation, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory can not be linked directly to Dante's Inferno. There is too much missing, and too much would need to be stretched to fit. However, I do think that perhaps Dahl had meant to write his book this way, but through rewrites and issues with the publisher, settled for a fable of children meeting consequences for behaving poorly instead of a masterful homage to a great literary work. 

Also to help destroy this otherwise awesome theory that I wish were true: apparently Dahl had originally planned for 3 books about Charlie and Willie Wonka. 3 books to coincide with the 3 parts of the Divine Comedy, right? But the Great Glass Elevator, which follows the Chocolate Factory story has nothing to do with an ascent through Purgatory. It has to do with space and nasty aliens, and the White House, and all sorts of weirdness. So, nevermind. 

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