Although the saying “Don’t judge a book by its cover” is supposed to be metaphorical, the controversy surrounding the new Penguin Modern Classics edition of Roald Dahl’s ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ suggests that many readers care about actual book covers quite a lot. Variously described as postmodern, sexualised, creepy and downright terrifying, the new edition of Dahl’s best-loved book released next month ahead of its 50th anniversary has provoked some very strong reactions from readers and critics this week.
Many have commented that the cropped image of a photograph taken by Sofia Sanchez and Mauro Mongiello which depicts a young girl with a doll-like expression wearing make-up wouldn’t look out of place on a cover of ‘Lolita‘ by Vladimir Nabokov. Penguin defended the cover this week stating that the image isn’t intended to represent either Violet Beauregarde or Veruca Salt, the main female characters in the story. Instead the 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”.
Indeed, many of Dahl’s books contain dark themes which Mark Sinclair writing for Creative Review magazine believes are reflected in the new design: “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.” Author Philip Ardagh, on the other hand, simply said: “I think it’s bollocks”.
Penguin have said they wanted to make a deliberate move away from Quentin Blake’s iconic illustrations widely associated with the popular children’s book and I think they have certainly achieved this. Apart from the connection with dark themes, the image seems to have been designed to be intentionally provocative and doesn’t appear to be directly relevant to the story itself in any way. Plain designs aside, it’s difficult to think of other covers which give no real clues about the content, genre or style of the book in the same way that this one does.
‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ is one of a very small number of children’s books which are being reprinted as Penguin Modern Classics. However, while the Harry Potter books have more obvious crossover appeal between adults and children, ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ is widely viewed as a book solely for children. It is a story which is fondly remembered by adults but probably not one that is revisited until they read it with their own children – in which case, it probably won’t be this particular edition which they choose to buy.
It will be very interesting to see how many copies of the Penguin Modern Classics edition are actually sold once it is published next month and also how prominently it is displayed by the bookshops which choose to sell it. Although it has generated a lot of discussion this week, I think it may become something of a collector’s item – a copy which will be purchased for its memorable cover but less likely to actually be read.
What do you think of the new cover of ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’? Do you judge books by their covers? What is your favourite book cover of all time?