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begins in sudden, shocking tragedy, as young James Henry Trotter loses his parents to a rampaging rhinoceros.(Strikingly unusual deaths would remain a characteristic of Roald Dahl’s work, perhaps to assure children that this was very unlikely to happen to aunts, whose only saving grace is their capacity to speak in hilarious, egotistical rhymes.And, as in so many good fairy tales, James finds himself travelling to fantastic worlds.
The story begins in the very real city of London and the shores of England, and ends in a very real location: New York City, and more precisely, the Empire State Building and Central Park.
In between, of course, it’s all sheer fantasy: the voyage of a giant peach, carried by seagulls, all the way across the Atlantic Ocean, among the Cloud-Men who make hailstorms and snow and rainbows.
The insects (and spider) the seeds affect turn out to be remarkably like the helpers or companions in so many fairy tales, although Dahl does work to give each insect a distinct personality, shaped by the insect’s name or ecological function.
And, as in “Jack in the Beanstalk,” James finds himself encountering monsters in the clouds.
(I am tempted to protest this rather exaggerated account of the flying abilities of seagulls, but then again this is a book with giant talking insects.) Oh, and in this reading, I just happened to notice that the peach just happens to happens to destroy a chocolate factory as it trundles on its path, spilling out rivers of melted chocolate, to the delight of nearby children—a hint of the next book, perhaps?
Unlike in typical quest stories, James has no particular reason to be in the sky at all—it’s all been just a series of peculiar incidents after peculiar incident.And to really accomplish things—capturing seagulls, for instance—everyone has to participate, in a nice touch of the importance of working together.I suspect, though, that for kids, most of the fun and enjoyment comes from seeing the bad guys thoroughly punished, and a group of adults—insects, to be sure, but adults—turning to a small child for leadership and support.This is when the journey of the creatures and James begins.Throughout the story, James gets the feeling of belonging from the creatures.(Allow me at this point to commend the New York City Police department for acting very calmly, under the circumstances.) But for someone with no real goals, James does triumphantly manage his happy ending.Although, young readers should note that I have been reliably informed by the Office of Mayor Bloomberg that placing enormous peaches, magical or otherwise, on the top of the Empire State Building is Highly Illegal and violators will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, and certainly not allowed to live inside a peach pit given a place of honor in New York City afterwards. Do something else with your magical green crystally things.Come to think of it, James is not honest with the New York City authorities when he gives the biographies of his friends in rhyme.Perhaps he doesn’t deserve his happy ending after all, although I think we can probably forgive him his exaggerations. The insects (and spider) are all well drawn; I’m particularly fond of the Centipede, for all of his fuss about his boots, and his tendency to exaggerate his number of feet.I also like that the most helpful and active of the insects tend to be the women: Miss Spider not only spins comfortable beds, but can also scout out the condition of the peach.Meanwhile, the loudest complainers are the men—the Earthworm and the Centipede, though the Wise Old Grasshopper provides moral support.