Review: James and the Giant Peach

Ah, Roald Dahl, you delightful ball of contradiction.

James and the Giant Peach holds a special spot in the hearts and memories of some friends – and my sweetie – and I’d never read it. No one ever articulated what they love about the book. I can see why.

Peach is a ramshackle meandering tale of magic entering a young boy’s life in inexplicable ways. Beyond that, it’s winningly free of convention or moralizing in ways that kids’ literature of the time is usually not.

Dahl’s world is full of both wonder and horror that is equally arbitrary and non-sensical. James’s life is turned upside down when a rhinoceros eats his parents (a patent impossibility) and the relatives who foster him are casually cruel in ways that rise to abuse, if not torture. Then a complete deus ex machina appears offering change. That James screws up. And we’re off to the races.

It never gets any more logical in theme or plot, but there’s something to like about the resulting story. The characters are lively in ways that simpler takes are not. The tone keeps the setbacks at arms length while letting the sun dapple the victories. I can see why no one can explain where their affection comes from, but I do feel it.


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