I don’t remember ever reading this classic Dahl book before, although I used to watch the film a lot. I thought it would be fun to experience the original story. And it was! A delightful and wickedly funny short read.
The concept of the story is that James Henry Trotter, a lonely 7-year-old boy neglected by his cruel aunts, is given a bag of magic wiggly things (crocodile tongues, apparently) by a strange man. James is actually instructed to mix them up and drink them, but he trips over and they’re absorbed into the roots of a peach tree. An enormous peach then grows and is turned into a tourist attraction by the aunts. However, James discovers a tunnel inside the peach. He crawls inside and finds supersized insects who become his friends. They all set off on an adventure across the ocean.
The writing is a typical Dahl mixture of lively dialogue, silly rhymes and moments of lyrical sadness. There isn’t perhaps as much plot as you’d expect, especially if you’re familiar with the film. I was thinking, where are the skeleton pirates? How come the rhino never makes an appearance? Is that really the end of Aunt Spiker and Aunt Sponge? In the book, there’s no confrontation of James’s past. He simply escapes with his friends, has an interesting journey and makes a new life in another country. I love the characters, especially the insects. They’re all individuals with endearing qualities.
First published in 1961. The edition I read was a Puffin e-book with illustrations by Quentin Blake.