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Ever since its publication in 1964, Roald Dahl’s beloved children’s classic Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has been re-released with new artwork in an attempt to draw in young readers who may never have experienced the wonders of Dahl’s imagination before. While the artwork for the original North American release was created by Joseph Schindelman (who recently described the story as ‘a little unusual’ in an interview with the New Yorker), subsequent editions have featured designs from an array of talented artists that included the late Faith Jaques and former collaborator Quentin Blake, who captured the eccentricity of the elusive Willie Wonka in Puffin’s 1995 reissue.
Initially written under the title Charlie’s Chocolate Boy, the story told of of a poor young child who lives with his bedridden grandparents and penniless mother and father. Fascinated by the mysterious chocolate factory that is run by the notorious Willie Wonka, Charlie manages to win one of five golden tickets that allow a child and a family member to visit his magical factory to witness the creation of his acclaimed range of sweets and chocolates. Adapted into the big screen musical Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory in 1971, with comedian Gene Wilder in the title role, the book has since become a successful West End musical and Tim Burton blockbuster, with Johnny Depp as a Michael Jackson-esque Wonka.
But Penguin books has recently encountered controversy over their decision to re-release the book with new artwork that has been criticised as ‘creepy’ and ‘sexualised.’ The artwork for the fiftieth anniversary edition, which resembles a cross between Jane Fonda’s iconic portrayal of Barbarella, Sue Lyon’s teenage temptress Lolita and Catherine Deneuve’s sexually frustrated housewife in Luis Buñuel’s Belle de Jour, has come under fire from a variety of tabloid papers and artists. In their article ‘The Five Worst Book Covers Ever,’ the Guardian’s Sian Cain stated that ‘Penguin’s new cover reimagines Dahl’s classic as 1960s Wyndhamesque horror, robotic alien children stranded in a stark asylum.’
Writing on her Twitter page author Joanne Harris, whose 1999 novel Chocolat was adapted into a movie starring Johnny Depp, condemned the artwork as being ‘inappropriate because it doesn’t reflect the content.’ In an earlier tweet she had stated ‘Seriously, Penguin Books. Why not just get Rolf Harris to design the next one?’ Continuing the debate with her followers she asked, ‘I’m not sure why adults need a different cover anyway, but who was it who decided that ‘adult’ meant ‘inappropriately sexualised?” Elsewhere she commented, ‘Plus, there’s the striking resemblance between the girl and Jon Benet Ramsey. Lolita; yes. Valley of the Dolls; yes. But Charlie?’ But perhaps she summed up the debate perfectly by comparing the artwork to ‘pasting a pic of a stranger’s face onto a family photo.’Penguin first revealed the artwork for the new edition on 6 August, in which they claimed that, ‘this design is in recognition of the book’s extraordinary cultural impact and is one of the few children’s books to be featured in the Penguin Modern Classics list. 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.’
‘There Is a New Cover For Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and the Internet Hates It,’ declared BuzzFeed, an article which Penguin posted on their Facebook page, clearly revelling in the drama this new edition has caused. ‘Will you be buying a copy?’ Penguin later asked, to which one follower replied, ‘Regardless of whether you think the cover has a sexualised child on it, there is nothing about it that would intrigue a child or even an adult to read the story. Can you imagine a man trying to read this in public? I[t] may as well be a cover for Valley of the Dolls or Lolita. The cover should be a tempting hint to the story inside. Were I to buy another copy, I would buy a used one without that cover.’