Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier

I hesitated before I checked out the audiobook of The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier. I had passed it over numerous times when looking for a book to listen to in the car. I was unsure whether I wanted to enter the brutal world of Trinity School again. I had been disturbed by the book back in the 1970s. Would it seem as horrible now?

Thirty years have not lessened the horror of The Chocolate War. It is as creepy as ever. The battle between Brother Leon and Archie Costello of The Vigils, involving side battles with freshman Jerry Renault and a subtle power struggle within The Vigils, is still compelling reading. The difficulty of a second reading is knowing that the end will be ugly, just as the opening line of the book tells readers that it will be.

Looking at a synopsis in Masterplots II after I finished the audiobook, I noticed that essayist said The Chocolate War was fast-paced. I disagree. Cormier lets the reader linger in every tense moments, never rushing anything. He lets scenes mature before advancing. The reader is never let off with diluted drama.

I enjoyed listening to the book read by George Guidall, 6 1/2 hours. Another version is available read by Frank Muller in only 5 hours and 38 minutes, with an introduction by the author included. I do not know if a quicker reader could be as dramatic.

I wonder what impact the book had, if any, on schools. I notice that they still send their students out selling calendars, coupon books, wrapping paper, fruit, and chocolates. I sense that students in my area have the choice to participate or not, but I remember feeling pressure to sell when I was a student. So, did the book help? A search of the ERIC database returns lesson plans for teaching the novel in literature classes, but I see no reports on the conduct of school fund raising mentioning the title.

I just noticed that Cormier also wrote Beyond the Chocolate War. Dare I enter that world again?

Cormier, Robert. The Chocolate War. Recorded Books, 1993. ISBN 1402522940

1 comment:

C. B. James said...

It's interesting that you ask if the book affected fundraising at schools.

I teach in a public middle school and am a big fan of the book. It does continue to affect schools but not schoolfundraising. I've never really seen it as a book about fundraising, not really.

We sell magazine subscriptions. The money raised pays for spirit day activities and prizes. These are not paid for by the state so no magazine sales equals no lunchtime game programs, no students of the month, no end of the year picnic, etc.

I'd be thrilled if the state picked up the bill and we could stop selling magazines. I'd also be thrilled if every student but one sold a subscription. We could really have a blue ribbon quality luchtime game program then.

The Chocolate War is still one of the most frequently banned books year after year. It's still got that power. I've not read the sequel but have only heard bad things about it.

Thanks for your excellent blog.