The Wise Words of Willy Wonka

The Wise Words of Willy Wonka

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Willy Wonka is one of the most iconic and unique characters from children’s literature. He first appeared in Roald Dahl’s 1964 children’s novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, as the eccentric candy factory owner who hides five Golden Tickets inside his chocolate bars in order to find a worthy successor.  In 1971, Willy Wonka made it to the big screen with the musical film adaptation of the book. The movie, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, gave us the dazzling performance of Gene Wilder as Wonka, further cementing the character’s iconic status.

Wilder’s performance was largely true to the book — funny, strange, somewhat sadistic — with an extra dose of melancholy that made the character even more fascinating. It is often regarded as Wilder’s finest and most beloved performance.In both the book and the 1971 film, Wonka comes up with all kinds of weird and wonderful lines. His words are often surreal and frequently amusing, and he has a liking for quoting others, especially in the movie.

Some of his seemingly nonsensical statements are actually drawn from famous works of literature. For example, “Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker” comes from Ogden Nash’s poem “Reflections on Ice-Breaking,” while “The suspense is terrible. I hope it’ll last” is from Oscar Wilde’s play The Importance of Being Earnest. Lines from Shakespeare are also scattered throughout the script. While many of Willy Wonka’s quotes are silly or absurd, there are plenty that reveal the character’s intellect. As strange as he is, Wonka is a wise man, with a proclivity for quoting words of wisdom as he leads the unsuspecting winners through his fantastical factory.

So shines a good deed in a weary world.

In the movie, Charlie Bucket returns a gobstopper and places it on Willy Wonka’s desk. Wonka is heartened by this act of honesty. His response is a rephrasing of a Shakespeare quote from The Merchant of Venice, which was originally, “So shines a good deed in a naughty world.”

There is no life I know to compare with pure imagination. Living there you’ll be free, if you truly wish to be.

These lines come from the song “Pure Imagination,” which Wonka sings when the group first enters the factory. For Wonka, there is beauty everywhere, you simply have to “look around and view it.”

A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men.

This line from the film has its origins in an old — perhaps very old — saying. The exact expression appeared in a review in The New-York Mirror in 1823, the reviewer himself quoting an “old couplet.” It might go as far back as the Roman poet Horace, who wrote, “Mingle a little folly with your wisdom; a little nonsense now and then is pleasant.”

We are the music makers and we are the dreamers of the dreams.

Wonka uses these words in response to Veruca Salt’s impudent question, “Snozzberries? Who ever heard of a snozzberry?” Here, Wonka is quoting the first two lines of the 1873 poem “Ode” by Arthur O’Shaughnessy.

Time is a precious thing. Never waste it.

So says Wonka as he drops an alarm clock into a steaming vat, much to the surprise of Veruca Salt, who exclaims, “He’s absolutely bonkers!”

Where is fancy bred, in the heart or in the head?

Wonka again paraphrases The Merchant of Venice in the movie. Shakespeare originally wrote, “Tell me where is fancy bred, Or in the heart, or in the head?” He is inquiring as to where our desires begin: in the heart or in the mind?

Don’t argue, my dear child, please don’t argue! It’s such a waste of precious time!

In the novel, Wonka tells Mike Teavee not to waste time arguing. It’s a fair point, although Mike’s argument concerning Wonka’s “hair toffee” concept is quite valid.

All I ask is a tall ship and a star to sail her by.

Before setting off on the movie’s psychedelic boat ride, Willy Wonka quotes this beautiful line from the poem “Sea Fever” by the English poet John Masefield.

You should never, never doubt what nobody is sure about.

When Mr. Salt doubts that any of them will get out of the skewed perspective room alive, Wonka replies in typically strange fashion. He’s actually quoting from Hilaire Belloc’s 1897 poem, “The Microbe,” which ends with the lines, “Oh! let us never, never doubt What nobody is sure about!”

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