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James and the Giant Peach

Children's Literature Graduate Program Hollins University ENG 542: History and Criticism of Children's Literature

Tara Swinford

on 22 July 2010

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Transcript of James and the Giant Peach

James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl As an "Away" book original illustrations by
Nancy Ekholm Burkert First known for
James and the Giant Peach Won a Caldecott for her rendition of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves Born 1916 in Llandaff, South Wales, Britain to Norwegian parents His older sister dies of appendicitis, and father dies shortly thereafter of pneumonia.
Roald was 3, and had 5 siblings. Roald attended Cathedral school, where he misbehaved and was beaten so badly by the headmaster that his mother moved him to a boarding school, where he also got in trouble and was beaten. He said later that "All through my school life I was appalledby the fact that masters and senior boys were allowed literally to wound other boys, sometimes severely. I couldn't get over it. I never have got over it...[it has left] a lasting impression of horror upon me." He chose not to attend college, and instead went to work for Shell Oil. WWII started, and he joined the Royal Air Force, serving as a fighter pilot. His plane crashed, and the resulting back and head injuries plagued him the rest of his life. Medically unable to fly, Dahl was sent to serve at the British Embassy in America. He met and later married actress Patricia Neal. He published a number of short stories in American magazines, mostly about his experiences flying. His first work for children was The Gremlins, a story about evil critters that take apart planes at night. Disney discussed making a movie of this story. They had 3 children. The oldest daughter died of measles encephalitis. The son's stroller was hit by a taxi when he was 4 and the child suffered brain damage. Roald and his wife had 2 more children. Both were healthy, but during the second pregnancy, his wife suffered from strokes and became temporarily paralyzed. Dahl had an affair with Felicity Crosland, which lasted 11 years before his wife found out and they divorced. He married Felicity. Roald Dahl died of leukemia in 1990. Roald Dahl's life
(in a nutshell) Story Synopsis James Henry Trotter's parents get eaten by an escaped rhinoceros from the London Zoo "(in full daylight, mind you, and on a crowded street)" (1) James goes to live with Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker, on the top of a desolate hill, with only an ancient peach tree in the yard. Sponge and Spiker beat him, call him mean names, make him do all of the chores, starve him, etc. They're horrible, irredeemable people.

"Aunt Sponge was enormously fat and very short. She had small piggy eyes, a sunken mouth, and one of those white flabby faces that looked exactly as though it had been boiled. She was like a great white soggy overboiled cabbage. Aunt Spiker, on the other hand, was lean and tall and bony, and she wore steel-rimmed spectacles that fixed on the end of her nose with a clip. She had a screeching voice and long wet narrow lips, and whenever she got angry or excited, little flecks of spit would come shooting out of her mouth as she talked." (6)
When we meet them, they are sitting in lawn chairs, yelling at James to chop wood faster, and singing songs about how beautiful they are.

James cries, because he feels "so hot and awful and lonely…"(9)

Aunts threaten to beat him later when it's cooler, and then tell him to get out of their sight.
James hides in the scrubby garden, where a man is hidden. Man gives him a bag of magic green squiggly crystals that will make "marvelous, fabulous, unbelievable things" happen to James, and he will never be miserable again. "Whoever they meet first, be it bug, insect, animal, or tree, that will be the one who gets the full power of their magic! So hold the bag tight! Don't tear the paper! Off you go!" James spills the green crystals right next to the lone peach tree, they disappear into the ground. The peach tree grows a giant peach. Sponge and Spiker lock James away and charge admission to their yard to see the peach. They send James out later to clean up the mess on the lawn from the crowd. James notices a huge hole in the bottom of the peach. He crawls into the hole, which is a tunnel leading to the stone in the center of the peach, which has a door cut into it. He opens the door, and meets huge insects who ate the green crystals and are now living in the peach. They encourage him to stay with them, so he does. "'You mustn't be frightened,' the Ladybug said kindly. 'We wouldn't dream of hurting you. You are one of us now, didn't you know that? You are one of the crew. We're all in the same boat.'" (35) The Centipede eats through the stem holding the peach to the tree, so that they can escape the hilltop and go someplace nice. The peach rolls down the hill, crushing and killing Sponge and Spiker. The Peach rolls down the hill, through the town, over a cliff and into the ocean. The bugs are afraid of sinking, then of starving. James points out that they're floating along fine and they have a whole giant peach to eat. Sharks surround the peach, and start attacking it. The bugs are afraid, and James comes up with the plan to lure seagulls with the Earthworm, then catch them with silk and web spun by the Silkworm and the Spider, and tie them to the stem. The seagulls will lift the peach out of the water to safety (which they do). Safe from the sharks, the bugs explain to James why they are good for people, and all the nice things they do, except the Centipede, who claims his status of pest with pride. The Centipede is clowning around, and falls off the side of the peach. James grabs a silk cord from the silkworm and jumps over the side to save him (successfully). The travelers see Cloud-Men creating weather in the clouds. The Centipede starts making fun of them, and they get angry and start attacking the peach with the hailstones they were making. The travelers get away just in time to run into a rainbow being made. The Cloud-Men attack again. They have crossed the Atlantic Ocean in the night, and arrive in NYC. They decide to cut some of the seagulls loose so that they can land, and the peach ends up impaled on the Empire State Building. People believe them to be aliens, but James introduces everyone. Cranes bring the peach down, and the mayor decides to hold a ticker-tape parade for the travelers and the peach. By the time the peach gets to the end of the parade, it has been eaten down to the stone. Everyone lives happily and makes a fortune in his/her chosen profession. The peach stone stays in Central Park, and James lives there, plays with as many other children as he wants, is visited by his bug "family," and writes his story. Home Away New Home James at home:
"Until he was four years old, James Henry Trotter had had a happy life. He lived peacefully with his mother and father in a beautiful house beside the sea. There were always plenty of other children for him to play with, and there was a sandy beach for him to run about on, and the ocean to paddle in. It was the perfect life for a small boy." (1) Merriam-Webster definition of home:
the social unit formed by a family living together
a familiar or usual setting; congenial environment
the focus of one's domestic attention
The house James shares with his aunts is not home.
He doesn't have any of his belongings there. "The little boy, carrying nothing but a small suitcase containing a pair of pajamas and a toothbrush, was sent away to live with his two aunts"(1) "His room was as bare as a prison cell" (3)
He does not have an identity within the house. "They never called him by his real name, but always referred to him as 'you disgusting little beast'..."(3)
He has no freedom. "James was never allowed to go down off the top of that hill" (4)
He has no security. "Terrible punishments were promised him, such as being locked up in the cellar with the rats for a week" (4) "'Beat him!' cried Aunt Sponge" (9) "Why don't we just lower the boy down the well in a bucket and leave him there for the night?" (16)
The peach James shares with the bugs is not home.
It's unfamiliar and scary. "James's large frightened eyes traveled slowly around the room." (32) "'Oh, my goodness, the poor thing!' the Ladybug cried.'I do believe he thinks it's him that we are wanting to eat!'" (34)
It's dangerous. They are attacked by sharks: "'Oh, we are finished now!' cried Miss Spider, wringing her feet.'They will eat up the whole peach and then...they'll start on us!'"(66) And then attacked by Cloud-Men: "'Quickly!' cried James.'Down in the tunnel or we'll all be wiped out!'" (104) And when they land, people in NY think they are aliens and approach them with weapons: "All the policemen were holding their guns at the ready, with their fingers on the triggers, and the firemen were clutching their hatchets" (130) The peach stone becomes a home once it has a permanent location, is no longer dangerous, and James can live there and play with other children. "And James Henry Trotter, who once, if you remember, had been the saddest and loneliest little boy that you could find, now had all the friends and playmates in the world." (144) The bugs are friends, not "family" at the end. Nobody lives in the house with James and takes care of him-- he has to take care of himself/ be an adult.

The book fits what Nodelman and Reimer call the home/ away/ new home pattern: "a move away from the familiar experiences of home through new experiences that lead to a new and better understanding of what both home and oneself are and should be." (198) Why do this and other Roald Dahl books get banned if kids love them so much?
(Things parents hate that kids love) Characters who are nasty receive nasty comeuppance, often death.

Bad characters are not just bad, they're "swing -kids-around-by-their-braids awful" (Talbot) Physical ugliness equals moral ugliness. Kids make all the "good" decisions, and the elaborate plans that kids make always work, nomatter how impossible. "waspish tone: slightly sadistic, unsentimental, archly amusing" (Talbot) Dahl's stories are like literary candy: they give the kids what they want.
Plot driven, fast-paced, easy, not weighed down by a message/ moral
lots of illustrations
fantasy of power/ mockery of adults
"Don't merely indulge a child's fantasies, they replenish them" "Children misbehave and take retribution on adults, and there's never, ever a consequence for their actions." (Talbot)

The idea is that defying one adult, no matter how justified, is rebellion against all adults, which is bad for the children. preferred illustrator was Quentin Blake (after their introduction in the 70's) Children's books stemmed from bedtime stories he told the kids. James and the Giant Peach was the first book.
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