So my plan to read a Roald Dahl book a week – as so many of my plans – failed at the first hurdle. Having raced through, and loved, Danny the Champion of the World, I looked at the slimness of the next volume in the boxset – James and the Giant Peach – and thought to myself, this will be a breeze. I remember not really liking James and the Giant Peach as a kid, and it turns out I haven’t changed that much as an adult, as I kept picking up this book and putting it down again only a couple of pages afterwards, and it sat looking at me accusingly from my bedside table for weeks. Try as I might, I just couldn’t love this book.
JGP (not to be confused with JGL) is about a young boy James (obviously) who is sent to live with his two aunts – Aunt Spiker and Aunt Sponge – when his parents are killed in a tragic rhino-related incident. Magic happens*, and James Henry Trotter (to give him his full name) ends up living inside a giant peach with (wo)man-sized creatures – including a centipede, spider, glow-worm and earthworm. Adventures ensue.
I’m not sure why I’m so down on this book. Perhaps it’s aimed at too young an audience for an adult to get much out of it – perhaps it’s the over-fantastical premise, or maybe that there’s less of a moral story running throughout the book (except perhaps “don’t mistreat children in your care, otherwise you might get squashed by an oversized piece of fruit”) – either way, my conclusion was that I wouldn’t relish it if this was the book any future child chose for me to read and reread night after night. (Also – think of all the different insect voices I’d have to come up with! As anyone who’s heard my “Scottish” can attest, I am not good at accents)
I did, however, learn a new word – vermicious.
Also – did you know that grasshoppers make their music not by rubbing their legs together, but by rubbing their leg against their wing – like playing a violin! Don’t say you never learn anything from this blog.
One interesting thing I discovered as I read the Wikipedia entry (never say I don’t do research) was that because of the story’s “occasional macabre and potentially frightening content”, it has become a regular target of the censors and is No. 56 on the American Library Association’s top 100 list of most frequently challenged books. (I actually couldn’t find proof of this on their website, but if you fancy a bit of a giggle or a few WTF moments, I recommend you visit the ALA website here – apparently someone tried to ban To Kill a Mockingbird because it contained racism. Mmmkay.)
As in Danny the Champion of the World, Roald Dahl seems to have referenced a future book at a couple of points in the story. At the beginning, when the peach (Spoiler!) rolls off the tree, it rolls right on through a “famous chocolate factory” – Willy Wonka’s? James and the Giant Peach was published in 1961, with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory following three years later. Also, Whangdoodles, Snozzwangers, Hornswogglers– mentioned in this book – all, according to Will Wonka (always a reliable source), apparently live in Loompaland (home to the Oompa-Loompas of course, do keep up). (Note – I just noticed before publishing this post that I wrote Will Wonka rather than Willy Wonka, but I want to leave it as I imagine Will being the sophisticated alter-ego of Willy)
Which brings me nicely to the next book on the list – Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Very much looking forward to this one!
I’ll end with a random Roald fact – did you know he wrote the script to You Only Live Twice? What a life story this man has.
Today’s quote is from the book – I think it’s not a bad attitude to have, and fits with my idea that you should never stop learning about the world.