>> Sunday, September 19, 2010
TITLE: James and the Giant Peach
AUTHOR: Roald Dahl
SETTING: 1960s England
TYPE: Children's book
REASON FOR READING: Roald Dahl was one of my favourite authors growing up, and a few weeks ago I bought a boxed set of his books out of nostalgia. Roald Dahl day last September 13th (thanks to the Book Smugglers for reminding me!) was the perfect excuse to pick one up.
When poor James Henry Trotter loses his parents in a horrible rhinoceros accident, he is forced to live with his two wicked aunts, Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker. After three years he becomes "the saddest and loneliest boy you could find." Then one day, a wizened old man in a dark-green suit gives James a bag of magic crystals that promise to reverse his misery forever. When James accidentally spills the crystals on his aunts' withered peach tree, he sets the adventure in motion. From the old tree a single peach grows, and grows, and grows some more, until finally James climbs inside the giant fruit and rolls away from his despicable aunts to a whole new life. James befriends an assortment of hilarious characters, including Grasshopper, Earthworm, Miss Spider, and Centipede--each with his or her own song to sing.I went for my old fave, James and the Giant Peach. This is one of those special books which I actually remember reading for the first time, even though I must have been under 10. I remember sitting in the car on the way home from some sort of children's theatre thing, and feeling happy because I could finally, finally get my book out (even then I carried books on me... I wonder where, since obviously I didn't have a handbag!)
Basic plot: the orphaned James is living with his two evil aunts, who treat him like a slave, when a strange man shows up and gives him some magic crystals, à la Jack and the Beanstalk. Magic things will happen to whomever or whatever comes into contact with the crystals, the man tells James. Poor James, however, drops the crystals under his aunts' shriveled peach tree and they disappear from sight. But magic doesn't completely avoid James, and suddenly he is embarked in an adventure inside a giant peach, accompanied by the creatures who were scrabbling around under the tree when the crystals were dropped.
I had a blast reading this. James' adventures are equal parts scary and exciting, and I adored his companions, from the Centipede (so proud about being a pest) to the Earthworm ("the problem... the problem is there is no problem!"), not forgetting the motherly Ladybird, the kindly Miss Spider, the Old-Green Grasshopper with his beautiful music, the shy Glowworm and the industrious Silkworm. They each are extremely well drawn and have very distinct and entertaining personalities, perfectly reflected in the delightful illustrations by Quentin Blake that came in my edition of the book.
The bit that surprised me was how almost blasé the attitude is towards death. James' parents are eaten by a rhinoceros, people are flattened by the giant rolling peach, and Miss Spider's relatives have a habit of coming to sticky ends. Clearly Dahl saw no point in coddling children and pretending bad things don't happen, probably quite a healthy outlook.
MY GRADE: A B+.