On its 50th anniversary, one of Roald Dahl's most well known books – Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – is being reissued as a Penguin Modern Classic. Its cover, which places some of Dahl's darker themes in front of a new audience, has already caused something of a stir online...
Published next month, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory will become one of a handful of children's books on the Modern Classics list. Its long life as a children's favourite has seen covers ranging from depictions of Willy Wonka and his factory to Charlie Bucket and his golden ticket, with many incarnations penned by Dahl's long-term collaborator, Quentin Blake.
The approach for the new edition could not be more different.
The image used is in fact a cropped version of a picture taken by the photographers Sofia Sanchez and Mauro Mongiello, which originally appeared in a 2008 issue of Numéro magazine as part of a retro-styled fashion story called Mommie Dearest (shown below).
Image via Noir Façade
Initial reaction, on Twitter at least, hasn't been that favourable with many commenters believing the image of a young girl readied as if for a beauty pageant to be too unsettling, and more in keeping with stereotypical cover ideas for Nabokov's Lolita.
Indeed, debate regarding the sexualisation of children may seem out of place on the front of a children's book, and without the wider context of the original fashion spread – which would certainly suggest the hand of the parent is at work in the process – the image is understandably more provocative.
That said, I think it works. While the candy-colours hint at the sickly-sweetness of Willy Wonka's confection, of more significance is the unnerving quality of the image which touches on one of the main undercurrents in the book: the relationship between children and their parents, and what can happen when fame and fortune enter into their lives. (Visually, if it alludes to any of the book's characters, it's likely to be Veruca Salt, the spoilt English darling who gets anything she wants. Here, her ‘mother' has been cropped just out of shot).
Yet perhaps what has added to the upset stems from the way readers associate certain books with certain covers. Any deviation from the norm – in the form of a new cover – is an affront to their own experience of the book.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a book that many will have read in childhood, but not gone back to. In producing another visual take on the story (and one of the themes within it), a further aim of the new cover is to attract those who might now consider reading the book again. After all, themes that were once undetectable many years ago, might now come rearing back into focus. The title's position as part of the Modern Classics series invites such a reassessment by adult readers, so it is important that the cover addresses this new perspective.
According to a page on the Penguin blog, the Modern Classics cover "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."
It does that well, perhaps disturbingly well. Speculation, of course, but I think Dahl may well have been in favour.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is published as a Penguin Modern Classic on September 4 (£7.99). More at penguinclassics.co.uk.