Book Reviews From the Vault: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Audiobook Narrator Edition – Eric Idle vs. Douglas Hodge

Next week marks what would have been Roald Dahl’s 104th birthday. To celebrate this, I analyzed which actor captured the spirit of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with their audiobook narration better. Will it be Eric Idle or Douglas Hodge? Let’s see how they did!

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl is one of the most beloved children’s novels of all time due to its whimsical nature and memorable characters. It has recently come to my attention that not one, but two actors have recorded the audiobook of this classic story. These actors are Eric Idle and Douglas Hodge, and both have their own connections to the story itself.

Eric Idle is one of the founding members of the comedy troupe Monty Python, and he was considered for the role of Willy Wonka for both the 1971 and 2005 movie versions. He recorded his version of the story in 2003 and later earned a Grammy nomination for his performance.

Douglas Hodge is a Tony-award winning English actor and playwright known for co-writing the play Pacha Mamma’s Blessing. He played Willy Wonka in the 2013 West End musical production of the book prior to its transfer on Broadway. He recorded his version in 2013 as promotion material for the musical.

Whose is better at capturing the spirit of the book? Let’s find out!

1. Charlie Bucket:

Idle voices Charlie with politeness and whispers a lot of his lines. While it doesn’t add a whole lot to Charlie’s personality, Idle gives him humility as a way to stand out from the rest of the chosen children.

Meanwhile, Hodge gives the same amount of humility to the character, but with more urgency and less whispering. This allowed me to not adjust the volume as much whenever Hodge was pretending to be Charlie. Also, the increased urgency permits Hodge to savor everything that Charlie says as if he was constantly eating some of Wonka’s chocolate bars.

First point goes to Hodge!

2. Grandpa Joe:

Idle channels fellow Monty Python member Michael Palin by giving Grandpa Joe a Yorkshire accent. He maintains this accent for Joe for the duration of the book, which helped me to know who was talking and give me a distinct connection to the character.

Unfortunately, Hodge let me down with his performance of Grandpa Joe.  He essentially imagines Joe as an older version of Wonka, which I would not mind as much if it weren’t for the fact that I had a hard time figuring out when Hodge was speaking as Joe. One of the most important aspects of recording audiobooks is to distinguish each and every character, even if it is very slight, and I felt that Hodge fell short with voicing Grandpa Joe.

Idle has now scored a point!

3. Supporting Characters:

Idle gives Augustus Gloop a hollow sound and mumbles the majority of Mike Teavee’s lines; both were done very well. However, Idle stands out with his vocal deliveries of both Violet Beauregard and Verruca Salt. Violet is portrayed as a fast-talking gum chewer, who could care less of what other people thought when she stuck her gum behind her ear. Idle rapidly fires through her initial Golden-Ticket-finding speech with great articulation. Meanwhile, he provides Verruca a contrasting, nasty, self-indulgent American accent. This particular switching of accents was very interesting to me since in the films, she is depicted as being British, while as Violet and Mike were the American children. Nonetheless, he enunciates Verruca extremely well and consistently. On the other hand, I cringed when he chanted as the Oompa Loompas simply because he cannot rap. It almost seemed like he was still trying to feel the rhythm when he needed to record right at that moment, and it did not feel consistent as a result.

Like Idle, Hodge gives Augustus Gloop a hollow sound, but he tries to do a German accent, which was pretty good. Hodge also voices Violet Beauregard and Verruca Salt as one would expect while watching the 1971 movie (or at least as close to it as possible), and it was pretty convincing. He stands out in particular with his vocal performances of Mr. Salt – Verruca’s father – and Mike Teavee. Mr. Salt is the one with the Yorkshire accent, while the other members of the Salt family do not speak with that dialect (or at least I did not hear it as much as I did with the father). Regardless, this shows a lowly nature of the Salts despite their high status. With Mike, Hodge voices him like a slurring rock star. I thought that this was an interesting take, but the problem with this was Mike sounds a lot older than the rest of the kids, even though it is implied that all of the chosen children are around the same age. It was a good idea, but it needed tweaking in the overall execution. I still cringed during his chanting as the Oompa Loompas, but not quite as much as I did when Idle performed it. Hodge demonstrated a better flow than Idle did, which made it more tolerable.

Having evaluated these supporting characters, Idle gets another point.

4. Character Consistency:

Idle is known for doing a variety of silly voices throughout his career, so it was interesting to hear how he manages to voice one character and then quickly switch to another. It was mostly consistent. There were 1-2 times; however, in which I heard him slip into his English accent while voicing an American character. Along with this, there was also one place in the story, in which he accidentally voices an English character with an American dialect.

Hodge was also fairly consistent. There were times that he too, slipped into his English accent while voicing the American and German characters.

At this point, I will give both Idle and Hodge half a point each because maintaining dialects for every character is hard!

So far, here are the scores:

Idle: 2.5

Hodge: 1.5

5. Pacing:

One book reviewer thought that Idle was too nimble in his narration. Listening to it, I can understand why that person felt that way, but it didn’t really bother me. Idle always had a tendency for over acting, and much like kids’ movies, there is more leeway for such a thing in children’s audiobooks. It kept me on my toes in a good way.

Hodge can also be agile with his vocal delivery, but he transitioned better when he switched from one character to another.

Again, half a point is rewarded to both!

6. Volume:

The only real complaint I have with Idle’s performance is that he can be too abrupt with his volume. At one moment, he could be whispering, and then in the next, he was practically shouting at the top of his lungs. I had to adjust the volume multiple times because of this.

On the other hand, I didn’t have to tweak the volume as much when Hodge was narrating. He would take his time from being quiet to being loud, and still retain that vocal balance to refrain the listener from adjusting the volume constantly.

So, the point goes to Hodge!

7. Willy Wonka:

Idle vocally embodies Wonka with what readers would expect – an eccentric and highly imaginative fellow who would prefer to be around children than grownups despite some of their flaws. I am perfectly fine with this since Idle has a natural affinity for Wonka’s mannerisms.

Hodge voices Wonka in a similar fashion, but despite his efforts of creating his own spin, I gravitated towards Idle’s performance more.

Last point goes to Idle!

Now! Here are the final scores:

Idle: 4

Hodge: 3

It was a close race, but both narrators did a great job with the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory audiobook. I can imagine how difficult it is recording an audiobook, and I applaud anybody who does it for a living. In this instance, both Idle and Hodge did a good job with the source material that they were given, but ultimately, it was Idle’s vocal delivery as well as the subtler differences in some of his accents that made him stand out more than Hodge.

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Published by emilyblakowski

I work at two public libraries in southeast Michigan, and I facilitate a book club for one of them. I also hold a Bachelor's degree in History and Theatre from Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, MI; a Master's degree in Library and Information Science from Wayne State University in Detroit, MI; and a Graduate Certificate in Archival Administration also from Wayne. In my downtime, I love hanging out with friends, listening to music (like classic rock and K-pop), and watching shows like "Monty Python's Flying Circus"!

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