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Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator    by Roald Dahl & Eric Idle order for
Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator
by Roald Dahl
Order:  USA  Can
HarperCollins, 2004 (1972)
Hardcover, Paperback, Audio
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

My teen sons and I love listening to Roald Dahl's nimble prose on car trips. Earlier this summer, The BFG held our attention, and recently we listened to an unabridged version of Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator (the same Charlie of Chocolate Factory fame). My sons liked Charlie best; I have a soft spot for the BFG's tangled outpourings.

This one begins with young Charlie Bucket, Willy Wonka, Charlie's parents and all four grandparents heading upwards in the Elevator. Aside from Grandpa Joe, all the old folk are ensconced in bed together - Grandmas Josephine and Georgina, and Grandpa George. The narrator, Eric Idle, does a fantastic job of playing all these parts (sounding young or old on cue), complete with regional accents. The story opens on the Elevator, with everyone inside, rising above the Earth. Mr. Wonka's intent (to get it to just the right height and speed before descending again) requires meticulous control, which unfortunately is interrupted by Josephine. The Elevator is hurtled into space, where everyone must learn to cope with zero gravity.

They find themselves near the very first accomodation in space - 'Space Hotel U.S.A.' naturally - which is not yet open and being approached by a shuttle full of staff (cooks and doormen, bellboys and maids etc.). Mr. Wonka and Charlie decide to get there first, which results in the U.S. president and his advisors concluding that they are terrorists intent on blowing up the station. The collection of advisors is hilarious, including as it does an Afghan sword swallower and the president's nanny (who must be the only Vice President ever to exert such power over her boss!) Willy Wonka saves the day by masquerading as an alien ... but then the real thing ('Vermicious Knids' feared throughout the universe) ooze out of the hotel elevators in the shape of large, red-eyed eggs.

This necessitates a quick retreat, the nasty Knids (who come from a galaxy far, far away and can morph into any shape) in full pursuit. Quick thinking and heroic action by Grandpa Joe, Mr. Wonka, and Charlie saves the hotel staff (well, most of them) and the Glass Elevator finally reaches its intended destination, the Chocolate Factory. There, Willy Wonka, in an attempt to get the three seniors out of bed, offers them age-subtracting 'Wonkavite'. But an overdose of greed results in one ending up in 'Minusland'. Mr. Wonka and Charlie take the Elevator under the earth, where they dare the terrifying 'Gnoolies' on a rescue mission. And the application of 'Vitawonk', assisted by Charlie's knowledge of history and arithmetic, fixes everything. (The 'Wonkavite'/'Vitawonk' pills reminded me of a similar sequence in Alice in Wonderland.)

Do the three old ones ever get out of bed? A consequence of the group's exploits against the Vermicious Knids does provide a powerful incentive, but you'd better listen yourself to find out what happens. Roald Dahl, interpreted by Eric Idle, has a wily way with words and ideas that keeps all ages entranced. I know that we'll listen to Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator again, and am off now in search of more Dahl audio adventures for summer travel.

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