James and the Giant Peach

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

James and the Giant Peach
First edition (US)
AuthorRoald Dahl
CountryUnited Kingdom
GenreChildren's novel, Fantasy
PublisherAlfred A. Knopf, Inc.
Publication date
17 July 1961
Media typeHardcover
[Fic] 21
LC ClassPZ8.D137 James 2002

James and the Giant Peach is a popular children's novel written in 1961 by British author Roald Dahl. The 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 insect characters' art style being Smith's), and a musical in 2010.

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. 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]

Dahl dedicated the book to his six-year-old daughter, Olivia, who died from complications of measles only a year after the book was published.[5]

Plot summary[edit]

James Henry Trotter is a boy who lives happily with his parents in a house by the sea. Unfortunately, when he is four years old, a rhinoceros with a strange carnivorous appetite escapes from the zoo and eats James' parents, so he ends up with his two cruel aunts, Spiker and Sponge. Instead of caring for him, they treat him badly, feed him improperly, and force him to sleep on bare floorboards.

After James had been living with his aunts for three years, he meets a mysterious man who gives him a bag of magical crystals, instructing James to use them in a potion that would change his life for the better. While returning home, James stumbles and spills the bag on the ground, losing the crystals as they dig themselves underground. A nearby peach tree, in turn, produces a single peach which soon grows to the size of a house. Spiker and Sponge build a fence around it and earn money by selling viewing tickets to tourists; James is locked in the house only able to see the peach through the bars of his bedroom window.

After the tourists have gone, James is assigned to clean the rubbish around the peach and finds a tunnel inside it. He enters it and meets Centipede, Miss Spider, Old Green Grasshopper, Earthworm, Ladybug, Glowworm, and Silkworm who become his friends.

The next day, Centipede cuts the stem of the peach, causing it to roll away and crush James' aunts. It reaches the sea and is surrounded by ravenous sharks. James uses Miss Spider and Silkworm to make threads, while Earthworm is used as bait and draws 502 seagulls[6] to the peach, whereupon the threads are tied on their necks. The peach is lifted off the water. High above the clouds, the peach encounters the Cloud-Men who are portrayed as responsible for weather phenomena like hailstorms and rainbows. Centipede mocks the Cloud-Men, but James is able to avoid an altercation by bringing the peach to a lower altitude. James realizes that the group has reached New York City.

The massive peach lands on the spire of the Empire State Building. It is mistaken as a bomb at first, resulting in the arrival of police and firemen. Calming the crowd, James tells his story and becomes friends with many children in New York, they eat the peach and James and his friends get their own jobs.


  • James Henry Trotter – The seven-year-old protagonist.
  • The Old Man – A friendly yet mysterious man, who initiates James' adventure.
  • Aunt Spiker – A thin, tall, cruel and evil woman; Sponge's sister.
  • Aunt Sponge – A fat, treacherous, greedy and evil woman; Spiker's sister.
  • The Centipede – A male centipede, depicted as a boisterous rascal and proud of his 'hundred legs', even though he only has 42.
  • The Earthworm – A male earthworm who often quarrels with the Centipede.
  • The Old Green Grasshopper – A male grasshopper, who is the eldest and most cultured of the animals.
  • The Ladybug – A kind, motherly female ladybird.
  • Miss Spider – A good-natured female spider who takes care of James.
  • The Glowworm – A female glowworm, who is used as a lighting system for the Peach.
  • The Silkworm – A female silkworm, who assists Miss Spider in the production of thread, both before and after the adventure.


Film adaptions[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.[7]

Though Roald Dahl declined numerous offers during his life to have a film version of James and the Giant Peach produced, his widow, Felicity Dahl, approved an offer to have a film adaptation produced in conjunction with Disney in the mid-1990s.[8] 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.[9] It was narrated by Pete Postlethwaite (who also played the wizard). The film was released on April 12, 1996.[10] Although it was a box office flop, it received positive reviews and eventually became a cult classic.

There are numerous changes in both the plot of the film and the plot of the book, though the film was generally well received. Felicity Dahl said that, "I think Roald would have been delighted with what they did with James."[8] Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly gave the film a positive review, praising the animated part, but calling the live-action segments "crude".[11] 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,[12] with Nick Hornby in talks for the script.[13] In May 2017, however, Mendes was no longer attached to the project due to his entering talks with Disney about directing a live-action film adaptation of Pinocchio.[14] In 2021, it was reported that the project was still in development but not close to beginning production.[15]

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. The musical had its premiere at Goodspeed Musicals on October 21, 2010 and is currently produced in regional and youth theatre.[16][17]

Theatrical adaptation[edit]

Ray DaSilva's Norwich Puppet Theatre put on puppet theatre performances in 1985.[18]

Charity readings[edit]

In May 2020, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Taika Waititi, the Oscar-winning director, worked with the Roald Dahl Story Company to publish audio-visual readings of the book. Waititi was joined by Oscar-winning actresses Meryl Streep, Lupita Nyong'o, and Cate Blanchett; actors Benedict Cumberbatch, Liam and Chris Hemsworth, Ryan Reynolds; the Duchess of Cornwall, and others in ten installments which were then published to the Roald Dahl official YouTube channel.

The event was organised to raise money for the global-non profit Partners In Health, founded by Dahl's daughter Ophelia, which had been fighting COVID-19 in vulnerable areas; with Roald Dahl Story Co. committing to match donations up to $1million.[19]

Waititi had already been working with the company as the writer, director, and executive producer for Netflix's upcoming serialised adaption of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.[20]


  • 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. ^ Kashmira Gander (30 January 2019). "'In 12 Hours She Was Dead': Read Roald Dahl's Heartbreaking Letter to Anti-Vaxxers After His Daughter Died From Measles". Newsweek. Retrieved 5 May 2020.
  6. ^ "How many seagulls would really be needed to carry Dahl's Giant Peach?" The Telegraph. Retrieved 25 November 2019.
  7. ^ "James and the Giant Peach - BBC One London - 28 December 1976". BBC Genome.
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ Evans, Noah Wolfgram. "Layers: A Look at Henry Selick". Retrieved 12 December 2008.
  10. ^ "James And The Giant Peach". bcdb.com, 23 March 2011
  11. ^ Gleiberman, Owen (19 April 1996). "PITS A WONDERFUL LIFE". Entertainment Weekly. Archived from the original on 23 December 2009. Retrieved 12 December 2008.
  12. ^ "Sam Mendes in Talks to Direct Disney's Live-Action 'James and the Giant Peach'". Variety. 25 August 2016. Retrieved 31 August 2016.
  13. ^ "Sam Mendes, Nick Hornby in talks for live-action 'James and the Giant Peach'". Entertainment Weekly.
  14. ^ "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.
  15. ^ Skyler Shuler (29 May 2021). "Upcoming Disney Live-Action Remakes/Adaptations". The DisInsider. Retrieved 29 May 2021.
  16. ^ Jones, Kenneth (21 October 2010). "James and the Giant Peach, the Musical, Blossoms with the Help of Pilobolus, Oct. 21". Playbill. Retrieved 12 September 2016.
  17. ^ Gioia, Michael (22 April 2015). "Watch Skylar Astin and Megan Hilty Record Pasek and Paul's James and the Giant Peach! (Video)". Playbill. Retrieved 12 September 2016.
  18. ^ Chris Abbott (2006). An East Anglian Odyssey. Friends of Wisbech & Fenland Museum.
  19. ^ Alison, Flood (18 May 2020). "Taika Waititi leads all-star charity Roald Dahl readings". The Guardian. Retrieved 4 November 2020.
  20. ^ Spangler, Todd (18 May 2020). "Taika Waititi Helms 'James and the Giant Peach' Charity Reading With Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett". Variety. Retrieved 4 November 2020.

External links[edit]