Dahl brings us one James Henry Trotter; a boy who had lived the wondrousness that is being a part of a loved family before his parents unfortunate demise. I’m reasonably certain that if this tale were told today James would have been involved in a rather large lawsuit against the zoo that should have housed the rhinoceros that ate his parents far better. One can hardly imagine the sensation of such a tragedy in one’s life as parents safely shopping in London only to wind up eaten. Unfortunately for James his life only gets worse when he winds up stuck living with his two aunts: Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker. They abuse him verbally, physically, then treat him as slave labor to boot.
Is it any wonder this poor woebegone boy would willingly take crocodile tongues from a stranger with the intent of drinking them? He needed a pick me up and, rest assured, I would not have even supposed to have intervened in the exchange at this point. It is with great sadness that I must then inform you he dropped those magic crystals and subsequently did not get his happy ending as promised him by his friendly crocodile tongue pusher. However, something brilliant does happen! Those tongues affected the nearby tree and formed a giant peach. Not only does this peach become his own car, then boat, then plane, but it comes furnished with some of the most important amenities one needs in life: friends.
Reading this work as an adult and not having my childhood reaction to fall back upon (never read this before) was somewhat difficult. I have a great fondness for Dahl because of Witches and Matilda and so expected to feel similarly about this work. I don’t, but this in no way the fault of the author. While I have read some YA recently (at least some that would be construed as such) this is not that; it’s solidly a book for children. This makes a tremendous difference on the expectation and the delivery.
Magic occurs to empower our young hero, his villains are vanquished, and a journey that proves the intelligence of the child over and over again winds up being a success on many levels. While apparently people thought this book should be banned due to encouraging disobedience and drugs it seems as though they missed the mark. This is a story that has been told and retold many times over the span of time; the movement from tragic figure to a hero. We all need stories that demonstrate this possibility even if it is through supernatural means. Optimism, at its root, is the belief that things can be better for ourselves, our world, and nowhere is this more important to coach than in children. It is hope that drives us, moves us forward in a way that enables goodness in life.
While this will never have the same fondness for me the other Dahl works I mentioned do, this is certainly one to read, not only to your children, but for yourself. [I’m thinking this is akin to Harry Potter. Aunt Spiker even looks like Voldemort! Well, without all the snaky stuff.]