James and the Giant Peach

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James and the Giant Peach.
First edition (US)
AuthorRoald Dahl
CountryUnited Kingdom
GenreChildren's novel, Fantasy
PublisherAlfred A. Knopf, Inc.
Publication date
Media typeHardcover
[Fic] 21
LC ClassPZ8.D137 Jam 2002

James and the Giant Peach is a popular children's novel written in 1961 by British author Roald Dahl. The original first edition published by Alfred Knopf featured illustrations by Nancy Ekholm Burkert. There have been reillustrated versions of it over the years, done by Michael Simeon for the first British edition, Emma Chichester Clark, Lane Smith and Quentin Blake. It was adapted into a film of the same name in 1996.

The plot centres on a young English orphan boy who enters a gigantic, magical peach, and has a wild and surreal cross-world adventure with seven magically-altered garden bugs he meets. They set off on a journey to escape from James' two mean and cruel aunts. Roald Dahl was originally going to write about a giant cherry, but changed it to James and the Giant Peach because a peach is "prettier, bigger and squishier than a cherry."[1][2]

Because of the story's occasional macabre and potentially frightening content, it has become a regular target of censors.[3][4] The actors Jeremy Irons, Andrew Sachs, and Julian Rhind-Tutt provide the English language audiobook recordings.[5]


Four-year-old James Henry Trotter lives with his loving parents in a beautiful cottage by the sea in the south of England, until his parents are killed by an escaped rhinoceros during a shopping trip in London.

As a result, James is forced to live with his two cruel aunts, Spiker and Sponge, in a run-down house on a high, desolate hill near the White Cliffs of Dover. For three years, James is treated as a drudge, forced to do hard labour, beaten for no reason, improperly fed, and forced to sleep on bare floorboards in the attic. One summer afternoon, after a particularly upsetting altercation with his aunts, James stumbles across a mysterious stranger, who gives him magic green "crocodile tongues" which, when drunk with water, will bring him happiness and great adventures. On the way to the house, James spills the crocodile tongues onto a barren peach tree, which then produces a single peach that quickly grows to nearly the size of a house. The next day, the aunts sell tickets to neighbours and tourists to see the giant peach while James watches from the window of his room in which he is locked up, to prevent him from getting in the way of his aunts' business.

When night comes, the aunts release James and send him to collect rubbish discarded by the crowd. James goes to take a closer look at the giant peach, but he discovers a tunnel, which leads to a secret room inside the peach's seed, inhabited by a rag-tag band of human-sized, talking invertebrates (an old green grasshopper, a centipede, an earthworm, a spider, a ladybird, a glowworm, and a silkworm), also transformed by the magic of the crocodile tongues given him earlier. These bugs then become James' companions in his adventure, and the companionship is prompted by a common hatred of the aunts. Upon James' arrival, the Centipede bites through the stem of the peach, whereupon it rolls down the hill early next morning, crushing and killing Spiker and Sponge on the way. Everyone inside the peach feels it rolling over the aunts and bursts out cheering. It rolls through villages, houses, and a famous chocolate factory before falling off the cliffs of Dover into the sea. James and the bugs emerge to find themselves floating in the sea but manage to sustain themselves on the delicious flesh of the peach. Hours later, near the Azores, the peach is surrounded by sharks. Using the Earthworm as bait, James and the others of the peach lure five hundred seagulls to the peach from the nearby islands, which they tie to the broken stem as a source of flight.

Now airborne, the peach crosses the ocean. At one incident, the Centipede entertains the others with ribald dirges to Sponge and Spiker, but in his excitement, he falls into the ocean and is rescued by James. That night, thousands of feet in the air, the giant peach floats through mountain-like, moonlit clouds, where the bugs and James discover the ghostly "Cloud-Men", who control the weather. As the Cloud-Men form hailstones to throw down to the world below, the Centipede insults them, and an army of Cloud-Men pelt the giant peach with hail. They escape and then encounter a rainbow which they smash through. One Cloud-Man pours a tin of "rainbow paint" onto the Centipede, briefly turning him into a statue before he is freed by a Cloud-Man who pours water on him. One Cloud-Man almost boards the peach by climbing down the silken strings tied to the stem, which the Centipede severs to release him. Thereafter, James and the bugs approach New York City; whereupon the military, police, fire department, and rescue services are all called, and people flee to air raid shelters and subway stations, mistaking the peach to be a bomb and believing the city is about to be destroyed.

A huge passenger jet flies past the giant peach and severs the silken strings connecting the seagulls to the peach, which is then impaled upon the mast of the Empire State Building. The people on the 86th floor at first believe the inhabitants of the peach to be monsters but when James appears and explained the story the people announced James and his friends as heroes. The remains of the giant peach are brought down to the street, where it is consumed by the town's children, and its seeds are provided to Central Park, where James now lives. His friends establish careers in the human world. In the conclusion, James is said to have written the preceding story.


  • James Henry Trotter – The seven-year-old protagonist of the book, who wants nothing more than to have friends and be happy. Though something of a dreamer, James is clever, kind-hearted, innocent, and ever-resourceful throughout his adventure in the giant peach, and his intuitive plans save his friends' lives on each occasion.
  • The Old Man – A friendly yet mysterious individual, who initiates James' adventure. In the 1980 re-printing of the book, with illustrations by Nancy Ekholm Burkert, he can be seen in the final illustration, amongst the New York City crowd.
  • Aunt Spiker – A dominating, cruel, malicious, and thoroughly repulsive woman; possibly the older of James' aunts. Spiker is described as tall and thin – almost emaciated – with steel glasses, and her speech produces spit whenever she gets angry or excited. James never hears her or her sister Sponge laugh, and they never call him by his name, but always refer to him as insults such as "you nasty little beast" or "you miserable creature". She seems to be the smarter of the aunts. She is destroyed by the giant peach in its escape. It is unknown if she and her sister Sponge are the sisters of James's mother or father, or (since the illustrations depict them as elderly) his great-aunts.
  • Aunt Sponge – Spiker's sister: a greedy, selfish, and morbidly obese woman, and equally as cruel and repulsive as Spiker, but seems to be less smart, she had flabby eyes, she was very fat and very short .She was destroyed concurrently.
  • The Centipede – A male centipede, depicted as a boisterous rascal with a good heart, and perhaps James' closest friend in the peach. He is generally optimistic and even brave, but outspoken and rash. His sources of pride are his "100 legs", even though he has only 42, and his ancestral status of garden pest. He often asks for help with putting on his many boots, or taking them off, or shining them. In the last chapter of the book, it is revealed that he becomes Vice-President-in-Charge-of-Sales of a high-class firm of boot and shoe manufacturers.
  • The Earthworm – A male earthworm who often quarrels with the Centipede, and is frequently the most pessimistic of the protagonists, though on amicable terms with nearly all. In New York City, he becomes the mascot of a skin-cream company.
  • The Old Green Grasshopper – A male grasshopper, who (as the eldest) assumes an almost paternal role to James and the others. He is an accomplished musician; wherefore, he ultimately becomes a member of the New York Symphony Orchestra where his playing is greatly admired.
  • The Ladybird – A kind, motherly female ladybird who takes care of James. In the last chapter of the book, it is revealed that the Ladybird "married the head of the New York City Fire Department and lived happily ever after".
  • Miss Spider – A good-natured female spider who takes care of James. Generally friendly and decent in manner, but described by Dahl as having "a large, black and murderous-looking head, which to a stranger was probably the most terrifying of all". She has particular resentment toward Sponge, who caused the deaths of Miss Spider's father and grandmother. On the journey, Miss Spider makes hammocks for the others to sleep; and in the final chapter, becomes a tightrope manufacturer along with the Silkworm.
  • The Glowworm – A female glowworm, who quietly hangs from the ceiling at the center of the giant peach and provides lighting for the interior. After the adventure, she illuminates the Statue of Liberty's torch.
  • The Silkworm – A female Silkworm, who assists Miss Spider in the production of thread, both before and after the adventure. She is never seen to speak and is also the only one of James' travelling companions not to appear in the film adaptation.

References in the book to other Roald Dahl works[edit]

James and the Giant Peach possibly references Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in the beginning and end of the novel (although its copyright date is three years earlier). When the peach rolls off the tree, it rolls through a "famous chocolate factory": a reference to Willy Wonka's chocolate factory. Towards the end of the book, people in New York City identify the protagonists, incorrectly, as Whangdoodles, Snozzwangers, Hornswogglers, or Vermicious Knids. All of those animals (except the last) are mentioned by Willy Wonka as predators of the Oompa-Loompas; and Vermicious Knids appear in the sequel book, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, when they try to link up with the Space Hotel U.S.A. It also references "the BFG" in the end of the novel: on the last page, James writes a recount of his adventure (the illustration shows him smiling with a book in his hands). This is also how the BFG ended. In both cases, the recounted stories are purported to be the books themselves .

Film adaptations[edit]

A television adaptation of the novel appeared on BBC One on December 28, 1976. Paul Stone directed a script by Trever Preston. The cast included Simon Bell playing James, Bernard Cribbins playing Centipede, and Anna Quayle playing Aunt Spiker.[6]

Though Roald Dahl declined numerous offers during his lifetime to have a film version of James and the Giant Peach produced, his widow, Liccy Dahl, approved an offer to have a film adaptation produced in conjunction with Disney in the mid-1990s.[7] It was directed by Henry Selick and produced by Denise Di Novi and Tim Burton, both of whom previously produced The Nightmare Before Christmas. The movie consists of live action and stop-motion to reduce production finances.[8] It was narrated by Pete Postlethwaite (who also played the wizard). The film was released on 12 April 1996.[9]

There are numerous changes in both the plot of the film and the plot of the book, though the film was generally well received. Liccy Dahl said that, "I think Roald would have been delighted with what they did with James."[7] Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly gave the film a positive review, praising the animated part, but calling the live-action segments "crude."[10] The movie was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Musical or Comedy Score (by Randy Newman). It won Best Animated Feature Film at the Annecy International Animated Film Festival. In August 2016, Sam Mendes was revealed to be in negotiations with Disney to direct another live action adaptation of the novel,[11] with Nick Hornby in talks for the script.[12] In May 2017, however, Mendes was no longer attached to the project due to him entering talks with Disney about directing a live-action film adaptation of Pinocchio.[13]

Musical adaptation[edit]

The book was made into a musical with music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul and book by Timothy Allen McDonald that premiered at Goodspeed Musicals in 2010 and is currently frequently produced in regional and youth theatre.


  • 2011 – ISBN 0-14-310634-1 (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition paperback, 50th anniversary, illustrated by Jordan Crane and Nancy Ekholm Burkert, introduction by Aimee Bender)
  • 2003 – ISBN 0-06-054272-1 (audio CD read by Jeremy Irons)
  • 1996 – ISBN 0679880909 (paperback, illustrated by Lane Smith)
  • 1995 – ISBN 0-14-037156-7 (paperback, illustrated by Quentin Blake)
  • 1994 – ISBN 1-55734-441-8 (paperback)
  • 1990 – ISBN 0-14-034269-9 (paperback, illustrated by Emma Chichester Clark)
  • 1980 – ISBN 0-553-15113-4 (Bantam Skylark paperback)
  • 1961 – ISBN 0-394-81282-4 (hardcover)
  • 1961 – ISBN 978-0-394-91282-0 (library binding, illustrated by Nancy Ekholm Burkert)


  1. ^ Roald Dahl Fact Sheet: Puffin play ground Puffin Books
  2. ^ Clarie Heald (11 June 2005) "Chocolate doors thrown open to Dahl". BBC News
  3. ^ The 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990–2000. American Library Association.
  4. ^ "Why is China banning Winnie the Pooh and other foreign picture books?". Newsweek.
  5. ^ "James and the Giant Peach Audiobook". Publishers Weekly. Retrieved 26 June 2015
  6. ^ "James and the Giant Peach - BBC One London - 28 December 1976". BBC Genome.
  7. ^ a b Roberts, Chloe; Darren Horne. "Roald Dahl: From Page to Screen". close-upfilm.com. Archived from the original on 4 February 2009. Retrieved 9 December 2008.
  8. ^ Evans, Noah Wolfgram. "Layers: A Look at Henry Selick". Retrieved 12 December 2008.
  9. ^ "James And The Giant Peach". bcdb.com, 23 March 2011
  10. ^ Gleiberman, Owen (19 April 1996). "PITS A WONDERFUL LIFE". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 12 December 2008.
  11. ^ "Sam Mendes in Talks to Direct Disney's Live-Action 'James and the Giant Peach'". Variety. 25 August 2016. Retrieved 31 August 2016.
  12. ^ "Sam Mendes, Nick Hornby in talks for live-action 'James and the Giant Peach'". Entertainment Weekly.
  13. ^ "Sam Mendes in Early Talks to Direct 'Pinocchio' Live-Action Movie". Variety. 22 May 2017. Retrieved 22 May 2017. Mendes will no longer direct the “James and the Giant Peach” remake for Disney, which he was attached to less than a year ago.