Books Dahl and Magical Reading Themes

Book Talk Tuesday: Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach

Iphigene here.

I remember hearing about this Disney Movie back when I was a student and I was never interested in it. Who wanted to watch a movie about a boy and a peach? I was too much of a teenager to consider even watching such an ‘immature’ film. Now older and a bit wiser, having read a great number of Dahl recently, I found I enjoyed this particular story the most. Yes, the BFG was a wonderful book, so was Matilda, the Witches, and even Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. However, for some unknown reason this little story of a boy and a few insects traveling across the ocean inside a peach were more real and alive than any Dahl story I’ve read. I know this is highly subjective, but that is how I felt. We also thought that this story would be a good addition to Lemme Library’s Book Talk Tuesday database.

Like most of Roald Dahl’s story, James lost his parents and found himself amongst cruel relatives, namely Aunt Sponger and Aunt Spiker, whose cruelty can only be captured by quoting from the book directly:

“They were selfish and lazy and cruel, and right from the beginning they started beating poor James for almost no reason at all. They never called him by his real name, but always referred to him as “you disgusting little beast”or “You filthy nuisance…” and they never gave him any toys to play with or any picture books to look at.”

If child services were ever part of the story, they should be up that hill, taking James Trotter away from such relatives.  Nevertheless, much to James’ dismay, there was no such thing. Before the peach, everything in James life was dark and gloomy, lacking any sign of life.

Then the peach came and like all things in life, it came as a happy accident. At that moment when James entered the peach’s core, I was filled with excitement and anticipation. From the time, he met his insect companion—the caterpillar, the ladybug, the spider, the centipede, the glow worm and the silkworm—James was filled with life. The atmosphere gave a sense of color into what was earlier a grey dreary hilltop house. Moreover, I would not deny that there was a bit of pleasure when the peach rolled over Aunt Sponge and Aunt Striker, for in a world where social services don’t exist – getting squished under a peach is an apt substitute.

And as the peach rolls away in freedom, I too shall roll away from telling the story and move towards my impressions of the book.

Rolling Off the Hill…

…to the unknown. The peach wasn’t equipped with any steering wheel. There was no telling where it was heading, only that it rolled. This was a stark contrast to what James’ life would be had he stayed on the hill. Here, Dahl captured a free life in all its glory—the uncertainty of life’s destination and yet the wonder that the journey offers. As the peach rolled off, there was nothing certain. Everyone in the peach only knew they were finally out of the miserable hill.

To meet life’s challenge

While free from the cruel hill, the peach’s passengers weren’t free from life’s difficulty. There was no easy way out. It took all their trust, intelligence, ingenuity and talents to survive sharks and cloud men. Yet somehow despite these difficulties the reader gets a sense of James’ determination. There was so much life and courage coming out from the protagonist that one knew how each dangerous adventure was worth leaving a ‘safe’ cold cruel hilltop home.

The Magical Dahl

What I loved about this book was its believability. Not a moment did I question the existence of the giant peach and the giant insects. This particular Dahl story made you believe in its plausibility. I wouldn’t even call it a suspension of judgment. It simply was so real, so convicted that as an adult reader I was taken in. And I think, that’s when you know a book was magical, when it made you believe.

A bit of Trivia

Quentin Blake’s Illustration

My copy of James and the Giant Peach was illustrated by Lane Smith. It’s the same character sketches that were used in the animated movie. Most would think that the original illustration of James and the Giant Peach was by Quentin Blake, however, Alfred Knopf’s first publication of this book featured illustrations by Nancy Ekholm Burkert.

Nancy Burket’s Illustration

11 comments on “Book Talk Tuesday: Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach

  1. I love this book! I read it again recently and was just as captivated! The characters just come alive. I haven’t seen the movie, but it’s on my list. Roald Dahl has quite a voice! 🙂

    ~Jess
    http://thesecretdmsfilesoffairdaymorrow.blogspot.com

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    • I haven’t seen the movie either. This was just a wonderful book, made me forget my age and how fictional all of it is.
      Thanks for the visit Jess.

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  2. Oh! How I love this book! I laughed at your comment about “child services would be up that hill” — isn’t that the truth, but that’s what makes us root for James that much more, don’t you think? Great review.

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    • Hi Jeanne,
      I think one of my constant thoughts every time I read Dahl is ‘where is child services.’ But, it is indeed that reality that makes us cheer on. Glad you enjoyed the review. Thanks for the visit.

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  3. You are absolutely right about believability. Now that I think about it, the idea of a giant insects inside a giant peach as a vessel of some sort is kind of ludicrous. But with Dahl’s story telling, you get sucked in and everything that you read from him seems real.

    I love the movie adaptation but I haven’t had the chance to read the book. I have been hoping to chance upon them in bargain bins but after sorting through the piles of books, I usually just end up with dust covered fingertips and zero Dahl books. book. I’ll try my luck next week. Maybe I’ll score the Nancy Burket illustrated one. It looks amazing. 😛

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    • Hi Tin,
      I think what makes any book of fiction, especially a fantastical children’s book effective is its believability. You shouldn’t be thinking “this is fantasy, i need to suspend judgement.”
      And in my opinion, this book compared to other of Dahl’s works does it so seamlessly.

      I haven’t seen the movie. I plan to. Its good to hear its as wonderful as the book. I wish you luck on your search. I got my copy from Booksale at 70php. It was an absolutely lucky find.

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  4. Pingback: Carnival of Children’s Literature and Round up for October |

  5. This was one of my son’s favorite books when he was in grammar school 🙂

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