Friday, September 10, 2010

James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl

Summary (courtesy of GoodReads): 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.

And here's what I thought: 
  The cover of my book says Dahl is "The World's Most Scrumdiddlyumptious Storyteller."   As evidenced by my recent reviews, I certainly agree.   This story comes complete with a young hero, and a bevy of beasties.... er... insects.   In a similar vein to some of his other stories, Dahl gives us an honest, good-hearted main character, James, who is a little like Danny (from Danny, The Champion of the World), and Charlie (from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory).  He's a smart little boy, kind, and creative, and used to having to fend for himself.  His parents have died, and he's in the care of two horrible aunts.  The aunts are yet another dastardly creation, as well --- Aunt Sponge is monstrously fat, and Aunt Spiker is monstrously thin -- and both are cruel, selfish, and nasty.  And, of course, thoroughly awful to Charlie.

However, James' life quickly changes with the arrival of the magic green crystals, and the peach grows to an enormous size.  Trying to escape from his aunts (and, actually, really just trying to get a little something to eat), James tunnels his way into the peach, right to the very stone of it -- and discovers creatures within.   Now, keep in mind that in real life, his assortment of huge bugs would be absolutely horrifying.  However, in this story, although they are large, there's nothing to fear.  In fact, they all have interesting personalities, and become fast friends with James as they set off on an adventure via the peach.  Grasshopper's like a wise grandfather, while the Earthworm is a bit of a worrywort.  Miss Spider and Miss Ladybug are both quite sweet, as is the Glow-Worm.  And then... there's the centipede.   Let me say, that in real life, I find centipedes absolutely awful.  In fact, the sight of them makes me want to throw up (this is why I don't do certain kinds of yardwork, as encounters with things such as centipedes and earwigs sends me off to the side, retching).   However, in this story, the centipede was one character that I really liked as a child.  I'm not sure why, because he's really obnoxious.  On second thought, that's probably why I liked him.  He's completely happy with what he is, and insists on being the center of attention.  Example:  when they are all introducing themselves, the Earthworm is explaining how it glides along, and Centipede says:

"You call that walking!" cried Centipede. "You're a slitherer, that's all you are!  You just slither along!"
  "I glide," said the Earthworm primly.
"You are a slimy beast," answered the Centipede.
  "I am not a slimy beast," the Earthworm said.  "I am a useful and much loved creature.  Ask any gardener you like.  And as for you..."
"I am a pest!" the Centipede announced, grinning broadly and looking round the room for approval.                 p. 29

See what I mean?  And he's constantly singing obnoxious songs, as well (which are really quite funny).   If you're familiar with Beatrix Potter at all, you could see him as the Squirrel Nutkin of this book.  

The overall story is very charming, as there are some scary moments with their travels (both in the water and in the clouds).  I always found the ending a bit too wrapped up, for my taste, however.  It all seemed like things were tied up very neatly and quickly, and as a child, I always thought there had to be more to what really happened to all of them.   However, the whole book is worth it, just for the Centipede (and he's not even the main character!).   Also, the original illustrations, by Nancy Ekholm Burkert, are also quite good, and really make the story come alive!


Bookish in a Box said...

Hehe, this is one of my favorites from Roald Dahl. Great review!

Jenny said...

This was one of my favorites when I was little, but I hardly remember any of it now! I need to re-read this one of these days!

BookQuoter said...

This is the only one on my list, so far. Thanks to you, I will be reading more.

Whitney said...

Scrumdiddlyumptious, what a marvelous word! As hard as it is to pick a favorite Dahl book, I adored James growing up (sorry Charlie). Maybe it's the over sized bantering bugs :)

Teacher/Learner said...

An all-time favourite! Thanks for the nostalgic revisiting of this book. I agree, Dahl is definitely scrumdiddlyumptious :oD

Tony A said...

I've always been obsessed with this book - the man who gives James the crystals reappears at the end of the book (pencil sketch version) in the second to the last picture. I think I'm the only one who's noticed because I can't find a mention of it anywhere. Always gives me the creeps - and I'm 41 now :-)

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