Friday, February 7, 2014

Going by the Book: An Excerpt from "James and the Giant Peach"

This excerpt from James and the Giant Peach begins just after James, berated by his aunts, meets a strange old man. The old man gives him a package of magic, thousands of tiny, wiggly little green glowing things and tells him to drink it, then disappears. James hurries away to follow instructions, but trips and falls, spilling the contents of the bag.

Roald Dahl’s 1961 first edition of James and the Giant Peach.
James felt like crying. He would never get them back now—they were lost, lost, lost forever.

But where had they gone to? And why in the world had they been so eager to push down into the earth like that? What were they after? There was nothing down there. Nothing except the roots of the old peach tree…and a whole lot of earthworms and centipedes and insects living in the soil.

But what was it the old man had said? Whoever they meet first, be it bug, insect, animal, or tree, that will be the one who gets the full power of their magic!

Good heavens, thought James. What is going to happen in that case if they do meet an earthworm? Or a centipede? Or a spider? And what if they do go into the roots of the peach tree?

“Get up at once, you lazy little beast!” a voice was suddenly shouting in James’s ear. James glanced up and saw Aunt Spiker standing over him, grim and tall and bony, glaring at him through her steel-rimmed spectacles. “Get back over there immediately and finish chopping those logs!” she ordered.

Aunt Sponge, fat and pulpy as a jellyfish, came waddling up behind her sister to see what was going on. “Why don’t we just lower the boy down the well in a bucket and leave him there for the night?” she suggested. “That ought to teach him not to laze around like this the whole day long.”

“That’s a very good wheeze, my dear Sponge. But let’s make him finish chopping up the wood first. Be off with you at once, you hideous brat, and do some work!”

Slowly, sadly, poor James got up off the ground and went back to the woodpile. Oh, if only he hadn’t slipped and fallen and dropped that precious bag. All hope of a happier life had gone completely now. Today and tomorrow and the next day and all the other days as well would be nothing but punishment and pain, unhappiness and despair.

He picked up the chopper and was just about to start chopping away again when he heard a shout behind him that made him stop and turn.

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