Charlie and the Factory of Scary Pictures and Bad Choices

They say that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. This nightmare-inducting thing is the ultimate validation of that statement.

 Charlie-Chocolate-Factory-Penguin-Classics-Cover

 I’m sorry I made you look at that.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, perhaps Roald Dahl’s most well-known book, turns fifty this year. And Penguin (the publishing company that owns the rights to the book) decided to commemorate that anniversary by giving it a new cover. (Fun fact: most authors have absolutely no say in the cover of their published book).

When I first saw this thing, I thought it was a joke. I thought that some idiot learned how to use Photoshop (badly) and wanted to ruin some childhoods. But then Penguin came out and defended their choice, saying that this picture represents the light and dark themes of Dahl’s work.

I’m sure that most of you have read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. And if you somehow haven’t done that, you’ve seen one of the two movies that it inspired. So you guys follow me when I agree that there are some dark themes in this book. Income gap. Childhood obesity, hyper-activity, and greed. Possible slave labor. Corruption. And there are light themes that contrast these: possibility, candy, consequences, candy, reward for good behavior, candy…

Mmm. Candy.

Not to discredit the depth of Dahl’s work, but the reason most of us read this book as children had nothing to do with developed literary themes. It was because we loved the Gene Wilder (or Johnny Depp, if you’re one of those people) movie. It was because our third-grade teacher read it—or another of Dahl’s wonderful books—to us aloud. It was because the book was about candy. And I bet it was partly because most of the original covers were a little more enticing.

 Charlie-and-the-Chocolate-Factory-by-Roald-DahlXXX ZX35280 A FEA VA

If a little girl walks into the library and sees that other thing—the very face of death—staring back at her, she’s never going to pick that book up. And this beloved story will die.

The cover of a book is, more often than you think, the deciding factor on whether the text gets read or not. And the cover can define the experience of reading. I try to read a book or two a week from the library. And if I like the book enough to buy it, I will refuse to buy a copy that has a different cover than the one I first read (I’m anal about it. Even if it’s an ugly cover, I have to own the same one that I got from the library).

So writers, who usually have no experience in marketing or consumer buying habits, let (“let”) a publisher design the cover. And occasionally, this shiz happens. The worst part of this is that the people have complained about this eyesore, but Penguin refuses to back down. So far.

Don’t judge a book by its cover. Especially if the cover looks like a badly-cropped stock photo that wants to eat your soul.

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