Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Judging a Book by Its Cover: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Charlie and the Chocolate FactoryIn this installment of Judging a Book by Its Cover, Tia Mansouri deviates slightly from the format of her original column on Joan Vinge's Snow QueenInstead of analyzing the cover of a book before she reads it, she takes a closer look at a new cover of a very familiar, well-loved book--Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  Released today, the Penguin Deluxe edition of the novel features cover art by Ivan Brunetti and an introduction by Lev Grossman.

"I insist upon my rooms being beautiful! I can't abide ugliness in factories!" - Willy Wonka

When I heard of Penguin's re-release of several children's classics, I was surprised to find Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was selected to be re-done. As a kid, I found Quentin Blake's illustrations to be practically inseparable from Dahl's words. But illustration is about seeing words through the viewpoint of another's eyes, and despite how well known Blake's art is, Dahl's book has had enough visual incarnations not to let any one depiction be the definitive standard. The more I look at Brunetti's cover, the more I like it for being unlike Blake's style and entirely suited for Dahl's story. What Brunetti reminds us with his cover is that the point of what we visualize doesn't need to be the characters themselves, but how each of them interacts with the wonder and whimsy of Mr. Wonka's factory itself.

The clean lines and geometric nature of the cover are a departure from the messier pen strokes that I would expect from depictions of Willy Wonka and his factory. At the same time the style is effective, because the individual rooms have a simple and clinical beauty in the book that doesn't get realized in Blake's drawings. Reading, one gets the distinct sense that the factory is an impossibly large maze, and that you wouldn't be able to make your way around without Willy Wonka or a Great Glass Elevator at your disposal. Brunetti has created a cover which also becomes a map for the reader. The long, pink hallways mentioned in the text were a detail that I had forgotten about; Brunetti used them cleverly to delineate his rooms. The contrast of red and yellow used in the top typeface and the boat at the bottom against the other colors of the cover also shaped the composition neatly.

It is because of Brunetti's use of fine lines that he was able to keep this piece so clear and managed to depict all the major elements of the story: the factory rooms, the five children and their parents (don't miss shrunken Mike Teavee), the candy and nuts scattered about the rooms, and the dots and dashes that create the rest of the factory's structure. There are subtle elements that provide treats for those already familiar with the story such as the odor waves emerging from the garbage chute, the "No Swimming" sign next to the chocolate river, and Willy Wonka's little goatee (and possible unibrow). One detail that I particularly liked was that despite characters being rendered pocket-sized enough to all fit onto the cover, each child retains a different size relative to the others, from Augustus' immense girth to Violet's blueberry-colored balloon body to little malnourished Charlie. Another detail I had forgotten was the description of Willy Wonka's helpers, the Oompa-Loompas. They are still small, still prone to bursts of song, but neither strangely colored nor vaguely ethnic men as in the films (or in Dahl's original version). Observing the Oompa-Loompas smiling amidst the perils of the naughty children on the cover, we are reminded of how they are quite giggly in the book as they impart their poetic wisdom.

Brunetti's cover echoes the book's combination of the chaotic and spectacular in a way similar to Wonka's lunatic mix of concern and nonchalance over the seemingly dire fates of each of the other naughty children, who in the end come out better and possibly more humbled than they entered, but each with a truck full of Wonka candies for their troubles. The choice blend of space, character, and mischievousness in Brunetti's cover is fun and sweet without being saccharine, much like the book itself.