Review: James and the Giant Peach

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.]

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5 responses to “Review: James and the Giant Peach

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  • Hart

    You know… I HAVE read this… I periodically get reading versus seeing mixed up and I thought this was one I’d only seen. Dahl has a way of trying to put his SCARY stuff in a way that is strangely exaggerated so no one could confuse it with reality, but it can still be seen as awful, and I admire that ability–the books don’t cause nightmares but still have the twists.

    I think you’re right that this book requires a first exposure at a certain age, because I can see it’s magic but ALSO couldn’t quite experience it (unlike BFG–my favorite Dahl–which I read first to my daughter and love–probably for all the wonky language stuff). I also agree with you that wopuld-be-banners are missing the point.

  • Laura Marcella

    James and the Giant Peach is my #1 favorite Roald Dahl book! I love all of Dahl’s books, but James is definitely my fave. 🙂

  • litlove

    Have you seen the film version of this? My son ADORED it when he was little, well, we all did. I haven’t read the book, either, but feel I know it quite well from the faithful adaptation. I agree that there’s nothing like knowing a book from childhood to really feel tenderness for it.

  • Mae

    I read this for the first time a couple of years ago, ,I think, and I still don’t quite understand why it was banned.

    I agree though that it doesn’t have the same resonance as with Matilda or the Witches – or perhaps it’s because I first read it as an adult.

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