Charlie and the Chocolate Factory cover condemned as 'creepy', 'grotesque' and 'inappropriately sexualised'
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the Roald Dahl children’s classic, is at the centre of a storm after Penguin put out a new edition aimed at adults and featuring a “creepy” cover that critics claim has echoes of Lolita.
The Penguin Modern Classics edition is being released to mark the 50th anniversary of the book’s release. It features a cover photograph of a young girl in make-up and marabou feathers, perched on her mother’s knee with the blank-eyed expression of a doll.
According to the publisher, the unsettling image reflects the way Dahl’s writing “manages to embrace both the light and the dark aspects of life”.
But the cover art appalled many fans of the book.
Joanne Harris, novelist and author of the best-selling Chocolat, tweeted: “Seriously, Penguin Books. Why not just get Rolf Harris to design the next one? “I’m not sure why adults need a different cover anyway, but who was it who decided that ‘adult’ meant ‘inappropriately sexualised’?”
Giles Paley-Phillips, the award-winning children’s author, said: “I’m not liking the new cover for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, looks more Lolita!”
The book was first published in 1964 and tells the story of Charlie Bucket, an impoverished young boy who finds a golden ticket granting him entry to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. While Charlie is a thoughtful and sweet-natured little boy, the other golden ticket holders are monstrous creations whose every whim is indulged by their useless parents.
Penguin said the girl in the cover photograph is not intended to be either Violet Beauregarde or Veruca Salt, the spoilt young girls who feature in Dahl’s tale, but a representation of the “twisted" parent-child relationships depicted throughout the book.
The cover photograph was taken from a French magazine fashion shoot by the photographers Sofia Sanchez and Mauro Mongiello, entitled Mommie Dearest. Penguin unveiled the cover – which has been approved by the Roald Dahl Literary Estate - on its Facebook page after first posting the image with no title and asking people to guess which novel it accompanied.
But when it was revealed to be Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the backlash was immediate.
“This is a beautiful book and the cover does absolutely no justice to it. Pretentious and trashy,” was a typical comment.
Others called it “creepy”, “grotesque”, “misjudged on every level” and “distasteful and disrespectful to a gifted author and his work.”
One Dahl fan summed up the reaction: “Is there time for a reprint? You’re destroying my childhood.” Many said they would refuse to buy the edition, claiming the image was reminiscent of US child beauty pageants and was more suited to Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita or to Jacqueline Susann’s Valley of the Dolls.
They shared fond memories of earlier editions which featured Sir Quentin Blake's classic illustrations.
Penguin said: “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.”
The edition will be available from September 4. Penguin will simultaneously bring out a “golden edition” aimed at young readers, via its Puffin children’s imprint, which includes full-colour illustrations by Sir Quentin.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is one of only a handful of children's books deemed worth of inclusion in the Modern Classics canon. Henry Williamson's Tarka the Otter is another, although that cover is uncontroversial.
Last year Penguin was criticised for publishing the autobiography of Morrissey, former lead singer with The Smiths, in their Penguin Classics canon alongside the likes of Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and Henry James.