James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
While I now consider myself to be a somewhat intellectual reader, and am generally prone to choose wordy, didactic (à la 19th century) novels over short, simple reads, the one book from my childhood that I remember most capturing my imagination, ironically, had very little, if anything, to do with words.
In 1996, James and the Giant Peach, the film, was released, and as a companion piece, a large picture-book edition of the story was printed, in a significantly watered-down form, from Roald Dahl’s original chapter book. The writing was, as most children’s books are, short, simple and direct — about as direct as one can be when telling the story of a young boy and talking bugs. Yet, what seemed so otherworldy to my young, three-year-old self, were the pictures.
Illustrated by Lane Smith, the queer, quintessentially Dahl-ian cartoonishness of the story’s characters came to vibrant life against the stationary pages of the book. Spiker and Sponge’s faces contorted diabolically around mouthfuls of jagged teeth; the sea churned black like snowy slush and grime below the fuzzy orange flesh of James’ fantastical peach; arctic tundras sparkled like gems rising from the earth. It seemed more like a book of pictures with words, as opposed to a book of words with pictures.
James and the Giant Peach taught me primarily that the act of reading could be an extrasensory experience. Words, like Lane’s images, simulate a degree of heightened reality that, when at its most potent, transcends emotion and intuition, and loosens the division between a reader and his text. Helpless, one falls captive to the alchemical reflections of Henry James, the bold impressionism of Virginia Woolf, the solitary poise of Emily Dickinson. The simple yet deeply affecting images of James and the Giant Peach instilled in me an eagerness to continue digging deep into books, to rifle tirelessly through their pages, and to keep looking for the pictures, kept hidden just beyond an endless sea of words.
Today’s featured book is James and the Giant Peach, by Roald Dahl. An excellent read at any age!