James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl

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Form and Content

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

James Henry Trotter is a four-year-old who lives by the sea with his gentle and loving parents and is free to play in the sand with his many companions. One tragic day, his parents are gobbled up by a rhinoceros that escaped from the London Zoo. James’s home is sold, and he is sent to live with his aunts, Sponge and Spiker, on a remote hilltop, geographically as well as emotionally distant from his idyllic past.

The main story of James and the Giant Peach actually begins three years later with a much-altered James. Instead of a happy-go-lucky toddler, he is now a slave to his selfish and self-centered aunts. James is beaten regularly, deprived of food, isolated from other children, and forced to do all of his aunts’ work.

One beastly hot summer day, James chops wood for the kitchen stove and his aunts lounge in the shade drinking lemonade. The child recalls the days when his parents were alive and his life was full of love and friendship. James is startled by the appearance of a tiny man who hands him a bag of what appear to be sparkling green crystals. Upon closer inspection, James discovers that the minuscule particles are in motion. The elf tells James that they are magic that will transport him away from his dreadful life if he will only follow directions. In his haste to do as the elf has instructed, James trips and spills the crystals at the base of an old peach tree. He tries to recover the lost magic, but the wormlike particles burrow into the earth as quickly as James reaches for them.

Within twenty-four hours, the tree has produced an enormous peach that draws crowds from nearby towns. Reporters document the miraculous occurrence, and the aunts begin charging admission to see the peach. Amid all the hubbub and melee, Spiker and Sponge forget about James, locking him out of the house when they retire for the night. He is drawn to the peach and finds a tunnel in the fruit that leads to a door opening into the peach stone. When he pushes on it, James finds himself in a beautifully furnished room occupied by talking insects that are the size of large dogs: Ladybug, Old-Green-Grasshopper, Miss Spider, Earthworm, Centipede, Glow-worm, and Silkworm.

After each of the magically transformed inhabitants greets James, Centipede completes his job of gnawing through the stem of the peach, and the adventure begins. A series of near disasters follows from the moment that Centipede detaches the peach from its tree. The travelers experience two bumps when the enormous peach flattens Sponge and Spiker, but it gains...

(The entire section is 664 words.)