David Langwallner: I’ve Got A Perfect Puzzle For You


From top: Gene Wilder (centre) as Willy Wonka in Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory (1971). Charlie Bucket and his grandfather are on the left; David Langwallner

Roald Dahl created ambiguous books for children with dark metaphorical messages. The most famous are about Mr. Willie Wonka. Mr. Wonka owns a chocolate factory and closed it because of espionage and betrayal. Now, in seclusion, he creates the Wonka chocolate bars in a factory where a race of Oompah Loompas or dwarfs work for him. The little people. The excluded migrants of the world. The excluded soon to be all of the world. The dispossessed.

Mr. Wonka thus invites a competition as he is getting old and he needs someone to run the chocolate factory. Precious golden tickets are distributed worldwide. So, there is a test and the children invited – for he only trusts uncorrupted children as he is a child adult himself or a magician or sorcerer –  to run the business.  But children are also corrupted, and the children are all tested, and all fail. Fallen angels in a world of illusions. Charlie Bucket, the last recipient of the golden ticket, fails by cheating with the enlistment of his grandfather. But is redeemable.

Mr. Wonka is an odd person. Ken Dodd meets Jonathan Sumption. A fictional warlock perfectly portrayed by Gene Wilder, an American, capturing dotty land and decency, the past and metaphor. And remember it is the past. What was then a fairy tale morality play is now something perhaps unachievable. But let us try and fail again.

Bucket, Wonka accepts, Is the ideal man child to run the chocolate factory as he is a working-class child from a poor background, but his poverty, at one level, dictates an element of unintentional or rather forced dishonesty which he recants from and via his grandfather accuses the venerable but horrible beast Mr Wonka of hypocrisy and monstrous cruelty. For Mr Wonka is a genius but also an eccentric idealistic monster.

And so, shines a good deed in this dark world, Wonka incants when Charlie recants (but admonishes Wonka for his cruelty). A dark world. Thus, in a grim fairy tale, the destitute Charlie inherits the chocolate factory. in a world of grand illusions, La Grande illusion.

Now it is easy to venerate children but also easier to understand what they are like when they become adults. Through a glass darkly, an unsparing gaze.

Augustus Gloop is a bit like a merger of Michael McDowell and Helmut Kohl, disposed easily into the swamp of ridicule by gluttony and greedy stupidity. Mike TV has the attention span of a gnat and the consequent over confidence of a limited knowledge base, like a lot of our corporate entrepreneurs such as Smurfit.

Violet? Well she just likes the adulation and attention too much, a selfish nerdish queen like the Amy Coney Barretts of our universe. Fast talking, sassy and inconsequential, but destined to be powerful. And Verruca Salt? The name deliberates chosen emphasis on over confidence, self-entitlement and bears a curious resemblance to Varadkar, who is, in fact, much more sinister, a crypto fascist spoiled brat.

And so, to Charlie B. Childlike love is important, and he has a good support structure. His heart is in the right place and Mr Willie Wonka knows this. And the test is, oh so, cruel and devilishly inventive and rightly so.

But who is Mr Wonka to judge and what does the chocolate factory do? Well, it provides good chocolate and does not corrupt the innocent. Pleasure in moderate doses. It also employs the Oompa Lumpas evicted or deported from Lumpaland horribly targeted by the Vermicious Knids among others. The Charlie Buckets should be running the universe. But are not. In fact, the inappropriate adults are.

The recently departed Gunter Grass wrote many novels and was a vigorous political polemicist and a German national figure. He is most famous for his novel The Tin Drum (1955).

The premise is that Oscar, a severely mentally handicapped child, bangs a tin drum in Germany at the onset of fascism. He sees everything that is going on. It is the perspective of the outsider, the clown observant, the not to be taken seriously, the boy who cries wolf. His access to the inner sanctum of  society is precisely because he is not to be taken seriously. He cannot be a threat.

Like a lot of autistic people and those suffering from Asperger’s, of which I have had considerable professional experience, he is inclined to tell the truth or call it as he sees it. His mind is unfiltered by bourgeoise hypocrisy. Thus, he has common cause with human rights activists, fearless journalists, and defenders of free speech. When the definitions of madness as a social construct protect the mad and when the lunatics have taken over the asylum then the truth teller becomes the mad one.

What Oscar witnesses in The Tin Drum is the seeds of cruelty, barbarism, a lack of compassion and the demonisation of the other. This is what is happening now.

At a very fundamental level, neo liberalism has destroyed or warped human identity. We are only creatures of our development and upbringing and products caught in time and space of our environment. It is only exceptional people who cut the umbilical cord and escape the prejudices and predilections of their upbringing or at least must modify their prejudices. Few people have time to grow or are given the time. And children are now rewrapped or rewarped.

The neo-liberal mentality focuses exclusively on self and self-actualisation in an atomised Social Darwinist world where people are, in effect, products. The cult of self has led to the triumph of homo economicus and made the concept of community redundant.

This, of course, means that we do not define ourselves any longer in terms of associational ties or mutual obligations of reciprocity and give and take, but of self-defined take and exploit. It is the commodification of existence. And for children, manipulable, and dependent, it is worse.

Our educational systems are, in fact, producing ill formed, philosophically illiterate and, indeed, genuinely often illiterate children who are educated as corporate profit-enhancers. And semi education breeds the self-righteous nature of fascism. Why appeal to true argument when your thought processes stand unexamined and your prejudices unchallenged?

So, Mr Wonka needs the right child adult to run the chocolate factory, but how difficult is that going to be when neo liberalism, relativism, consumerism and semi literacy have done their work on our children.

How many Charlie Buckets are there? More likely the Verrucas/Varadkars will rule. The triumph of the unfit. Good old boys and girls.

And in any event Mr. Wonka does not exist and there are no clear leaders. It is a dark fairy tale.

David Langwallner is a barrister specialising in public law, immigration, housing and criminal defence including miscarriages of justice. He is emeritus director of the Irish innocence project and was Irish lawyer of the year at the 2015 Irish law awards. His column appears here every Tuesday and Friday. Follow David on Twitter @DLangwallner


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26 thoughts on “David Langwallner: I’ve Got A Perfect Puzzle For You

      1. Tony

        Also it’s Oompa Loompas and Loompaland, not Oompa Lumpas and Lumpaland.

        And they weren’t ‘dwarfs’.

  1. Donald McCarthy

    We have evolved too far yet, ironically, not far enough. The curtain luckily is coming down on this accidental experiment in life, brought about by nothing more sinister than the random if improbable fusion of chemical and physical elements. The biotic world was cursed by our arrival with our fancy opposable thumbs, our linguistic dexterity, and above all our capacity for co-ordinated aggression on a huge scale. Our growing, storing and distributing the three starchy grains propelled us towards doom but our discovery of fossil-fuels drove us over the extinction cliff. Nothing to see here. Life was never that great for many so rejoice if you are one of the few.

  2. Pigboy

    ‘suffering’ from aspergers? Unfortunate choice of word. You neurotypicals are all the same.

  3. White Dove

    What’s the reason for the dig at Amy Comey Barrett, David? Just an easy target? She seems a perfectly pleasant and professional person to me. Or perhaps you deem all women lawyers to be needlessly aggressive, prideful and competitive? Do clarify.

      1. Clampers Outside

        ‘original intent’?
        Can you elaborate please David for those like myself who scratched their head on that one, thanks. Enjoyed your piece :)

        1. David Langwallner

          Interpreting the us constitution in accordance with the founding fathers 1776 thus article of mine in Cassandra voices

          1. Bitnboxy

            @White Dove. No, David’s commentary about Coney Barrett was not a cheap shot. She was chosen for one reason and one reason only: to advance a jurisprudence that any right thinking lawyer would consider utterly perverse.

            Given the radicalisation of the GOP and it’s move by quite a number of its adherents in Congress to the fringes of right-wing extremism, these cuddly folks lamented how some “Republican” judges nominated to SCOTUS in recent decades, not only asserted their judicial independence but realised the magnitude of their tenure was not best served by hardline politicking and thus moved toward the centre in their judicial philosophy. To some of these GOP senators, it was an affront that these “Republican” SOCTUS judges became unreliable and unpredictable in their judgments. Shock horror!

            Trump and his cronies saw a safe hardliner in Coney Barrett given her background and deference to the idea that the US Constitution should remain permanently ossifed in time, thus perhaps wiping out the gains, made in particular by women and minorities, off the federal slate. In fact, she could joyously render them at best legally invisible, at worst sanction modern day persecution. And it just so happens that what the Original Founders of 1776 thought about life accords exactly with Coney Barrett’s religious views. Just because she might say it with a smile, doesn’t make it or her any less extreme.

          2. david langwaLLNER

            re bintboxy comment could not agree more

            and remember a false woman appointment on a false liberal agenda appropriation even the more false agenda of the democrats lines her pockets

            obahma and goldman sachs

            but worse the negation of us discourse and debate

            garbage in short

  4. Eoghan

    Seeing “crypto nazi” immediately brought back my first encounter with the term when Noam Chomsky really ruffled the feathers on the usually super calm William Buckley Jr back in the day when debates between right and left were gentlemanly affairs.

    Buckley lost it and threatened to punch Chomsky in the god damn face :)

    Highly out of character for the aforementioned sparring contestants, especially when compared to our contemporary crypto nazi infused digital landscape where debate via subtle nuanced rhetoric wouldn’t garner a single click or retweet!!

  5. david langwaLLNER

    it was buckley losing his rag at vidal not chomsky documented in the documentary the best of enemies during the 1968 democratic convention

    buckley did a lot more than lose his rag and he regretted for ever thereafter resorting to hompphobia

    1. Eoghan

      Yes indeed, a sloppy error on my account!

      Buckley rarely lost his cool, as it was his cool condescension that riled his opponents on so many occasions especially on his home turf of Firing Line.

      He single handedly got Regan elected using his policies and intellect having failed miserably when running for election himself only the once, possibly in NY!?

      He definitely regretted the homophobia and it was definitely out of character for him, but it materialised from his not being familiar with being caught on the ropes in a debate scenario.

      Gore was the ultimate rhetorician & raconteur.

  6. Ronan

    Like much discussion on ideology, in my experience, this leans heavily on the concept of consciously followed isms, rather than emergent behaviours in human society which end up being categorised after the fact

    There’s a reason we rely on economists to help us understand human reactions to avoidable and unavoidable crises and social situations, and use tools like game theory to predict behaviour. it’s not because some people explicitly lead or follow specific agendas, rather they align themselves with behaviour which rewards their value system – a value system that can change over time.

    I have non-identical twins and its fascinating to watch them develop differently and apply different priorities in their short lives, despite being products of the exact same environment since their conception. They are being nurtured in the same way, yet they are learning to communicate with and frankly manipulate people in different ways. One grabs a toy out of the others hands if bored. The other cries if bored.

    The article wants me to teach Charlie Bucket’s humility to my children, and we will teach them to care and respect others, but they have already been born into a fairly privileged environment. It’s extremely unlikely due to our professions, and our ability to afford life and other insurance products that protect us against shock, that our children will know want or hunger. The tragedies in their life will be personal and familial, not economic or social, and in all likelihood the best case scenario for the author’s ideals is that they become some sort of champagne socialist – middle class with a conscience like their parents -> More status quo progressive tax system than let’s get Swedish.

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