The publisher's note on the jacket of George's Marvellous Medicine says that 'Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was voted No 1 (above Winnie the Pooh, Lord of the Rings and Alice in Wonderland) in a Sunday Times survey to find the best ten children's books.' Even if the word 'best' is translated into reasonable terms ('currently most popular'?), the claim remains impressive, and implies classic status. Sales figures tend to confirm it: they had reached the half-million mark before the book went into paperback. But sales figures alone can be misleading. As the hapless recipients of gifts, children, even more than adults, tend to give house-room to books they don't actually read, juvenile equivalents to The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady. My own research, however, admittedly based on a grotesquely small proportion of the pre-teen reading public, suggests that Charlie and the Chocolate factory, James and the Giant Peach and Danny, Champion of the World are far from being mere bookshelf-ballast. More or less normal children revealed, under intensive cross-examination, that they not only enjoyed these stories but remembered their respective plots, and numerous particular episodes, images and jokes, with considerable clarity.
LRB 1 October 1981 | PDF Download