The Phibes Philes: Wonka In Space – The Forgotten “Charlie And The Chocolate Factory” Sequel

The Phibes Philes: Wonka In Space – The Forgotten “Charlie And The Chocolate Factory” Sequel

“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” is inarguably among the most popular books in all of children’s literature, delighting generations of adults and kids alike. It inspired three films, two (soon-to-be three) television shows, a Broadway musical, and an album by Primus. Roald Dahl’s 1964 fantasy introduced the world to the noble Charlie Bucket, the mischievous Oompa-Loompas, and that crafty creator of crazy confections, Mr. Willy Wonka. These characters are so beloved that a movie chronicling the origins of Wonka just made about half a billion dollars at the box office. Wonka was also the mascot of a real-life candy company for many years, and Charlie appeared on a Royal Mail first-class stamp in the UK. Wonka, Charlie, and the rest of Dahl’s cast are as celebrated as the denizens of Oz and Wonderland at this point. But despite all this acclaim and longevity, there is one aspect of the classic tale that remains largely ignored: its sequel.

Believe It or not, Roald Dahl wrote an actual, honest-to-goodness sequel that begins immediately after the first one ends, making it the “Halloween II” of fantasy literature. The title of this sequel is “Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator,” which is meant to evoke the original. However, “Great Glass Elevator ” is no mere rehash. In fact, it is considerably stranger than its predecessor. Since the predecessor in question involves a magic chocolate factory that turns gum-chewers into blueberries, that is no small feat. And unlike “Spotty Powder,” an excised chapter of “Chocolate Factory”/short story that implies that Wonka is a cannibal (Yes, this is real), “Great Glass Elevator” is 100% canonical. All the bizarre and curious things that happen to Charlie and Mr. Wonka are the gospel truth.

Charlie, the rest of the Bucket clan, and Mr. Willy Wonka board the fabulous Great Glass Elevator to return to what is now Charlie’s chocolate factory. However, when Wonka attempts to bring the Elevator high enough to punch (another) hole into the roof of the chocolate factory, our heroes accidentally find themselves in orbit. Now at the start of a new adventure, they dock the first space hotel, cleverly called the “Space Hotel U.S.A.” This causes a panic back on Earth. U.S. President Lancelot R. Gilligrass and an assortment of oddball characters (including his nanny/Vice President and a sword swallower from Afghanistan who happens to be his best friend) accuse the inhabitants of the Great Glass Elevator of being foreign spies, and they argue about how to handle the situation. However, to scare off the President, the ever-clever Willy Wonka spouts a bunch of gibberish, thus convincing the President and the rest of the planet that everyone within the Great Glass Elevator is a Martian. Wonka and the Buckets are now free from the President’s scrutiny. All is well… until the Vermicious Knids arrive, that is!

What are Vermicious Knids? Well, they’re hideous, egg-like creatures with slimy skin and haunting red eyes. They can assume any shape and love to form the word “SCRAM” with their bodies. Voraciously, these dreadful fiends devour entire species. The Vermicious Knids gobbled up beings on Mars, Venus, the Moon, and many other planets. Earth has been spared only because the Knids burn up in the atmosphere. Have you ever seen a shooting star? That’s actually a flaming Knid crashing to the ground.

Wonka, the leading expert on everything, knows everything necessary to defeat the Vermicious Knids. Like the Adam West Batman’s utility belt, the Great Glass Elevator is prepared for any possible scenario. Is the glass Knid-proof? Of course! Don’t underestimate Willy Wonka! Unfortunately, the capsule meant to transport the crew of the Space Hotel U.S.A. was not so well-equipped. When the crew arrives, many are eaten by the Knids! Oh, the horror!

I honestly don’t know how much more of this book I should reveal. On one hand, it’s over 40 years old. On the other, it is a genuinely thrilling yet wacky adventure that is relatively unknown. Part of the joy of this story is that you don’t know where it’s going. All that weird stuff about the Space Hotel and the Vermicious Knids? That’s only half of it. If “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” is a fairy tale, “Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator” is a campy sci-fi B-movie in print. Though given its episodic nature, it may be more appropriate to compare it to a television show like “Lost in Space” or “Doctor Who.”

Actually, “Doctor Who” is probably the closest comparison I can think of. “Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator ” is about a garishly-dressed eccentric and his companions traveling through outer space and other dimensions inside a powerful box-shaped vessel seemingly capable of anything. Using his vast knowledge and quirky humor, the eccentric outsmarts aliens and other enemies. It’s a fun direction to take these characters in. I only wish we had gotten more of Wonka, the fantastical action hero.

The candy-scented Time Lord and his associates almost had a third adventure. “Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator” ends with appears to be the promise of more excitement. Roald Dahl planned to deliver on that promise with a third book. The title would’ve been “Charlie in the White House.” Sadly, only the first chapter was complete. If the plot involved Willy Wonka becoming the President of the United States, we are all the poorer without it.

Willy Wonka is among my favorite characters of all time. With all the major films featuring Wonka being quite successful in one way or another, it seems likely that we’ll see the chocolatier again in the future. As a longtime fan, I’d love to see Wonka in adventures as wild as “Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator.” Dahl forbade any adaptations of the story due to his dissatisfaction with the 1971 movie. If we can’t have a proper adaptation of “Great Glass Elevator,” the next Wonka should take inspiration from the mad space-traveling version depicted in that book.

“Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator” is absolutely, certifiably bonkers. It’s funny, like a Monty Python skit, as exciting as a Doctor Who outing and weirder than Weird Tales. If Timothée Chalamet’s Wonka was too sweet for you, “Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator” ought to be just sour enough. I recommend the book not just to fans of Wonka but also to folks who just enjoy a bizarre fantasy loaded with monsters, chaos, and surreal comedy. There’s never been a wonkier Wonka.