Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by the British author Roald Dahl, is considered one of the children’s classic literature book. It was published by the first time in 1964 in the United States, and even there are several films versions based in the book. However, it is still a matter to determine the genre it belongs to. So, while for some people it has clear feature to classify as a fairy tale, for others it is not.
On one hand, if we analyze the book trying to find out if it can a fairy tale, what we find is that indeed some characteristics of the book fit in the fairy tales functions described by Zipes (Zipes, Jack. The Changing Function of the Fairy Tale) as we describe afterwards.
For instance, one of these functions is: “Departure or banishment of the protagonist, who is either given a task or assumes a task related (…). The protagonist is assigned a task, and the task is a sign. That is, his or her character will be marked by the task that is his or her sign.” We can see this function when Charlie is introduce in Mr Wonka’s world, through his task is to have a good behavior in order to be the winner, and that a task is a sign because is the reason to win and this is how he will become the owner of the factory.
Another function is described as: “Encounter with: a) villain; b) mysterious individual or creature, who gives the protagonist gifts; c) three different animals or creatures who are helped by the protagonist and promise to repay him or her; d) encounter with three different animals or creatures who offer gifts to help.” In Charlie and the Chocolate Factory case this is exactly what happens; Charlie have a meeting with Mr Wonka, a mysterious individual in this case, who promise to repay Charlie giving to him the Chocolate factory.
“The endowed protagonist is tested and moves on to battle and conquer the villain or inimical forces.” is another fairy tale function we can see also through Charlie character, because when he is in Mr Wonka’s factory is tested to see if he is a spoilt child but he beat until the end the forces to do what the others spoilt children do.
Furthermore, the end of Charlie’s story is that he eventually wins the prize and he will have Mr Wonka Chocolate factory. That one, is one of the most clear feature of fairy tales describes by Zipes that we can pick up from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: “The success of the protagonist generally leads to: a) marriage; b)the acquisition of money (…)”.
Moreover, we can also find in the book more general characteristics of fairy tales as that fairy tales rarely end unhappily (Charlie win the prize, he will be rich because he will own the factory and he will never ever be hungry again), there exists an utopia (fantastic world inside the chocolate factory), there is always a simpleton (Charlie is quite simpleton for example when he doubt whether picking up the coin in the road or not, when he finds the golden ticket, etc.), there are a lot of fantastic things or animals (the Oompaloompas, magic drinks and food, chocolate landscapes, etc.), fairy tales also often include transportation to a second world (the fantastic world in the chocolate factory), and finally we can even dare to say that the plot of the book is, as in a fairy tale, that the protagonist leaves home, meets a helper and returns home having gained some form of wealth.
On the other hand, although we have found this fairy tales features in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, we cannot consider the novel as a fairy tale because we can also gasp heaps of discrepancies to prove that it is not.
One of the most important arguments to say it is not a fairy tale is that there is another kind of books which is the fantasy book. Fantasy covers all the characteristics we have identified in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory as peculiar of fairy tales, but also includes some other feature that prove that that book we are analyzing is not a fairy tale, but a fantasy book.
Therefore, although most fantasy novels have many similarities to fairy tales, there is a principal difference which is the way fairy tales and fantasy construct their spatiotemporal relations. Thus, although fairy tales often include transportation to second worlds by means of a magical agent, they take place in one imaginary world, which does not have any connection with reality; this is why its initial formulas are always as “once upon a time, not your time, not my time…”, “in a certain kingdom…”, and the same for closure formulas as “…lived happily ever after”, etc. We need to highlight right now that as we say above this is one of the most important feature to differentiate fairy tales and fantasy, and we can not find these kinds of formulas in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, so it is a clue to rule out that it is a fairy tale.
Instead of that, the relation between real and magic time in fantasy is exactly the opposite of the case of fairy tales. What happens in fantasy is that from a realistic setting, the characters are transported into some magical realm, but they are back in the real world again at the end. And in this case we can indeed corroborate that is what happens in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (the story begins at Charlie’s home in our real world, and then he goes to the magic world inside the chocolate factory, and finally he come back to his house).
In conclusion, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a children novel that has some functions characteristic of fairy tales. But the truth is that even it has some functions of that kind it doesn’t mean it definitely it belongs to that genre. The genre to which belongs to is fantasy, a genre that includes these fairy tales functions we found in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but also other ones, which are the important one to differentiate fantasy and fairy tale.