Best Adventures of 1961 (6)

By: Joshua Glenn
September 10, 2016

One in a series of 10 posts identifying Josh Glenn’s favorite 1961 adventure novels. Happy 55th anniversary!



Roald Dahl’s children’s adventure James and the Giant Peach.

Both crazy book-banners and Roald Dahl fans like to hate on James and the Giant Peach — the former, because the book promotes disobedience and celebrates communalist living; the latter, because as fables go it’s pointless and silly. All of these are reasons to enjoy the book, which I do very much. What child doesn’t love peachpits, insects and annelids, sharks, and fantasies of steamrollering cruel adults before escaping across the ocean to a better life? Forced to live with his aunts Spiker and Sponge, after his parents are killed, young James is treated as a servant until he meets a fairy tale-ish old man who gives him magical crocodile tongues. James spills the tongues near a barren peach tree, which produces an enormous peach — inhabited by a human-sized, talking grasshopper, centipede, earthworm, spider, ladybug, silkworm, and glow-worm. James’s knowledge and ideas are highly prized by this motley crew, whom he helps avoid various terrible fates as they float and fly to… New York. It’s not exactly a picaresque — in fact, it’s more of a mobile Robinsonade, concerned with using ingenuity and the tools at hand in order to survive terrible threats. Like, it kinda reminds me of Roger Zelazny’s 1967 sci-fi novel Damnation Alley!

Fun fact: The first edition featured beautiful illustrations by Nancy Ekholm Burkert. Quentin Blake’s illustrations are also terrific.



Let me know if I’ve missed any 1961 adventures that you particularly admire.

What do you think?

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