The Daily Monocle

Critical book reviews from a literary skeptic.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Drive-By Review: James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl

Posted by J. P. Wickwire

What is a drive-by review, you may ask? Usually, it's a quick review of a children's book and/or short classic that I missed reading when I was younger. It might also be a book that I didn't have time to analyze, so I just jotted down some thoughts. Hope you enjoy them!


Poor James Trotter. He was such a happy little boy, until a rogue rhinoceros escaped from the zoo trampled his parents. Now he's living with his two evil aunts—Sponge and Spiker—forced day in and day out to do their chores and dirty work, with the threat of a beating always hanging over his head. Finally, after three years of this horrible existence, some magic and an accident lead to the growing of an enormous peach, and a company of magical creatures inside. With their help, James escapes the clutches of his devious aunts and embarks upon the adventures of a lifetime.

Roald Dahl has long been one of my favorite authors. He, like many of his contemporaries, believed in pure children's fiction. Fiction where villains are genuinely evil, and bad things actually happen.

By today's conventions, James and the Giant Peach could be considered too scary—to macabre—for younger readers. However, I think that children often crave something a little darker than the fairies-and-talking-animals fare. I have one sister who has only ever enjoyed one book. What was it? Neil Gaiman's "Coraline"—a book which, arguably, could be called James and the Giant Peach's contemporary.

But where Gaiman's work is dark and foreboding, Dahl keeps things deceptively innocent. He writes with a sense of whimsy and abandon that I've only seen properly executed by children's authors of the past (I'm thinking J. M. Barrie and Frank L. Baum). His child characters really are children, and to watch them tramp through adventure upon adventure is to watch yourself.

Roald Dahl was one of my favorite childhood authors; Matilda and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory remain two of my favorite books even today. And to think, most kids today are reading fluff that they won't remember in 20 years. Books like James and the Giant Peach, however, will linger on well into adulthood.

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Author's Website


melydia said...

I read a lot of Roald Dahl as a kid, and I've found I appreciated it far more then than I do now. However, I reread James and the Giant Peach during graduate school and found it still held up to my adult eyes, a delightful story with just enough gross for children to really take delight. Good review!

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