In his book, author Roald Dahl relates the story of James, a young boy who lived happily in England until his parents went shopping in London.
|A busy street in London|
Now everyone knows that shopping is incredibly dangerous. On this occasion an even more terrible thing happened to his parents than racking up large credit card bills and getting their credit privileges revoked. A rhinoceros escaped the zoo, and on a busy street in London, in full view of other shoppers, the animal ate James's parents. So James was sent off to live with his aunts in their house in the south of England.
|Aunt Spiker & Aunt Sponge,|
Illustration by Quentin Blake
His aunts lived in a little house on top of a hill in the south of England. They made him work all day, beat him for his efforts, and never let him go anywhere. He had no friends. Despite the terrific view, all he could do was stand by the fence and peer out at the surrounding landscape.
|A cottage at Seven Sisters, England.|
James was terribly lonely.
One day, a kindly old man appeared in his garden and offered James a bag filled with strange and magical items. He told James how to use them, and promised that if James obeyed his instructions to the letter, he would have a wonderful adventure.
|Author Terry Pratchett at the World Fantasy Convention in|
Brighton, England, in 2013.
A kindly old man whose strange and magical stories
transported me on many wondrous adventures.
Before James could fulfill the old man's instructions, he tripped over an exposed tree root, and dropped the bag. The contents seeped into the soil before he could gather them back together. Suddenly, a peach appeared on the old tree.
This peach grew as large as his aunts' house. That night, James discovered a hole in its skin. He climbed inside, and and walked down a tunnel. There, deep inside the peach, the young boy who never got to see anyone else saw some interesting people.
|Author Mary Robinette Kowal at the 2013 World Fantasy Convention.|
From the lighting, you can tell she did her reading
inside a giant peach.
He met a musical grasshopper, a kindly spider, a polite ladybug, a mischievous centipede, and a frightened earthworm, among others.
|James meets interesting people.|
Illustration by Quentin Blake
These friendly bugs were as big as him, spoke perfect England, and welcomed him to the heart of the peach. Suddenly, the boy who was always lonely had some new and interesting friends. In the morning, his new friends freed the peach from the old tree. It rolled down the hill, tumbled off the cliff, and plunged into the ocean.
|Seven Sisters, England, 2013|
From there, James and his friends sailed off across the sea. Later, due to James' ingenuity, they even flew into the sky. Suddenly, the boy who never went anywhere was traveling, and seeing sights he could never have imagined.
To mark the 99th anniversary of Roald Dahl's birth, I read James and the Giant Peach for the first time. His delightful prose, Quentin Blake's magical illustrations, and my own journeys through England combined to satisfy my cravings for a sweet and satisfying read. Even if you haven't traveled to England, and even if your edition doesn't include Quentin Blake's masterful illustrations, I feel confident that Roald Dahl's prose alone will conjure up sufficient imagery to help you visualize James, feel for him and his friends, and help you accompany them on their journey aboard the giant peach.
Oh, and just in case you're wondering, my brief summary cannot possibly have spoiled your appetite. I haven't told you half of his story, or touched on more than a tidbit of Roald Dahl's strange, magical, and wondrous delights.