James and the Giant Peach

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For the 1996 film adaptation, see James and the Giant Peach (film).
James and the Giant Peach
First edition (US)
Author Roald Dahl
Illustrator Nancy Ekholm Burkert (first US edition)
Michael Simeon (first UK edition)
Emma Chichester Clark (1990 UK edition)
Quentin Blake (1995 edition)
Lane Smith (1996 US edition)
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre Children's novel
Publisher Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
Publication date
Media type Hardcover
Pages 160
OCLC 50568125
[Fic] 21
LC Class PZ8.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. However, there have been various 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 six magically-altered garden bugs he meets. 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 the censors and is No. 56 on the American Library Association's top 100 list of most frequently challenged books.[3]


A boy named James Henry Trotter, 4 years old, lives with his loving parents in a pretty and bright cottage by the sea in the south of England. James's world is turned upside down when, while on a shopping trip in London, his mother and father are eaten up by an escaped rhinoceros. As a result, James is forced to live with his two cruel aunts, Spiker and Sponge, who live in a run-down house on a high, desolate hill near the White Cliffs of Dover. For three years, the evil Spiker and Sponge verbally and physically abuse James, not allowing him to venture beyond the hill or play with other children. Around the house James is treated as a drudge, beaten for hardly any reason, improperly fed, and forced to sleep on bare floorboards in the attic.

One summer afternoon, while he is crying in the bushes after being overworked and abused by the two women, James stumbles across a strange old man, who, mysteriously, knows all about James's problems with his aunts and gives him a sack of tiny glowing-green crocodile tongues. The man promises that if James mixes the contents of the sack with a jug of water and ten hairs from his own head, the result will be a magic potion which, when drunk, will bring him happiness and great adventures. On the way back to the house, James trips and spills the sack onto the peach tree outside his home, which had previously never given fruit. The tree becomes enchanted through the tongues, and begins to blossom; indeed a certain peach grows to the size of a large house. The aunts discover this and make money off the giant peach while keeping James locked away. When night comes, the aunts shove James outside to collect rubbish from the crowd, but instead he curiously ventures inside a juicy, fleshy tunnel which leads to the hollow stone in the middle of the cavernous fruit. Entering the stone, James discovers a rag-tag band of human-sized, talking invertebrates (a grasshopper, centipede, earthworm spider, ladybug, silkworm and glow-worm), also transformed by the magic of the green tongues.

James quickly befriends the inhabitants of the peach, who become central to the plot and James' companions in his adventure. They loathe the aunts and their hilltop home as much as James, and they have been waiting for him to join them so they can escape together. The Centipede bites through the stem of the peach with his powerful jaws, releasing it from the tree, and it begins to roll down the hill, squashing Spiker and Sponge flat and subsequently killing them in its progress. Inside the stone the inhabitants cheer as they feel the peach rolling over the aunts. The peach rolls through villages, houses, and a famous chocolate factory before falling off the cliffs and into the sea. The peach floats in the English Channel, but quickly drifts away from civilization and into the expanses of the Atlantic Ocean. Hours later, not far from the Azores, the peach is attacked by a swarm of hundreds of sharks. Using the blind Earthworm as bait, the ever resourceful James and the other inhabitants of the peach lure over five hundred seagulls to the peach from the nearby islands. The seagulls are then tied to the broken stem of the fruit using spiderwebs from the Spider and strings of white silk from the Silkworm. The mass of seagulls lifts the undamaged giant peach into the air and away from the sharks.

As the seagulls try to get away from the giant peach, they merely carry it higher and higher, and the seagulls take the giant peach great distances. The Centipede entertains with ribald dirges to Sponge and Spiker, but in his excitement he falls off the peach into the ocean and has to be rescued by James. That night, thousands of feet in the air, the giant peach floats through mountain-like, moonlit clouds. There the inhabitants of the peach see a group of magical ghost-like figures living within the clouds, "Cloud-Men", who control the weather.

As the Cloud-Men gather up the cloud in their hands to form hailstones and snowballs to throw down to the world below, the loud-mouthed Centipede insults the Cloud-Men for making snowy weather in the summertime. Angered, an army of Cloud-Men appear from the cloud and pelt the giant peach with hail so fiercely and powerfully that the peach is severely damaged, with entire chunks taken out of it, and the giant fruit begins leaking its peach juice. All of this shrinks the peach somewhat, although because it is now lighter the seagulls are able to pull it more quickly through the air. As the seagulls strain to get away from the Cloud-Men, the giant peach smashes through an unfinished rainbow the Cloud-Men were preparing for dawn, infuriating them even further. One Cloud-Man almost gets on the peach by climbing down the silken strings tied to the stem, but James asks the Centipede to bite through some of the strings. When he does a single freed seagull, from which the Cloud-Man is hanging, is able to carry the weightless Cloud-Man away from the peach.

As the sun rises, the inhabitants of the giant peach see the glimmering skyscrapers of New York City peeking above the clouds. The people below see the giant peach suspended in the air by a swarm of hundreds of seagulls and panic, believing it to be a floating, orange-coloured, spherical nuclear bomb. The military, police, fire department, and rescue services are all called out, and people begin running to air raid shelters and subway stations, believing the city is about to be destroyed. A huge passenger jet flies past the giant peach, almost hitting it, and severing the silken strings between the seagulls and the peach. No longer supported by the seagulls, the peach begins to fall to the ground, but it is saved when it is impaled upon the tip of the Empire State Building. The people on the 86th floor observation deck at first believe the inhabitants of the giant peach to be monsters or Martians, but when James appears from within the skewered peach and explains his story, the people hail James and his friends as heroes. They are given a welcome-home parade, and James gets what he has wanted for three long years: millions of potential new playmates. The skewered, battered remains of the giant peach are brought down to the streets by steeplejacks, where its delicious flesh is eaten up by ten thousand children, all now James's friends. Meanwhile, the peach's other former residents all go on to find very interesting futures in the world of humans.

In the last chapter of the book, it is revealed that the giant hollowed-out stone which had once been at the center of the peach is now a mansion located in Central Park. James lives out the rest of his life in the giant peach stone, which becomes an open tourist attraction, and the ever-friendly James has all the friends he has ever wanted.


  • James Henry Trotter – The protagonist of the book, James is a seven-year-old orphaned boy who is forced into the care of his repulsive and abusive aunts, Spiker and Sponge, after his parents are killed by a rhinoceros. He wants nothing more than to have friends and be happy, which his aunts deny him. Also, James has been forced into slavery by Spiker and Sponge, who made James do all the work with no pay. James's wish is eventually granted, however, in the form of the companions he meets in the giant peach. By the end of his adventure, he gets more than he wished for in the form of millions of playmates in New York City. Something of a dreamer, James is, nonetheless, clever and ever-resourceful throughout his adventure in the giant peach, and his intuitive plans save his and his friends' lives on more than one occasion.
  • The Old Man – A friendly yet mysterious wizard who is only seen once, yet is ultimately behind all of magical occurrences in the book, and also starts the adventure when he gives James a bag full of magical gems (crocodile tongue). It is these magical items which enchant the giant peach and its inhabitants, allowing James to begin his surreal journey and escape his evil aunts in the process. The wizard is not seen again after his encounter with James. However in the 1980 re-printing of the book, with illustrations by Nancy Ekholm Burkert, the mysterious old man can be seen in the final illustration hiding amongst the New York City crowd.
  • Aunt Spiker – A dominating, cruel, malicious, and thoroughly repulsive lady, assumably the older of the aunts, who derives a sadistic pleasure in manipulating and enslaving young James, who she and her sister Sponge see as nothing more than a slave. Spiker is described as tall and thin – almost emaciated – with steel glasses. Both she and Sponge are vain, each singing praises of their imagined beauty while they are in fact repulsive, but each attacks the other's repulsiveness. James never hears either Aunt laugh out loud during his three years with them. Spiker meets her end when she is crushed to death as the giant peach rolls over her.
  • Aunt Sponge – A greedy, selfish, and morbidly obese woman, and equally as cruel and repulsive as her older sister Spiker. Sponge is more gluttonous, thinking of eating the peach while Spiker seizes upon the money-making opportunities it will bring. Sponge is more or less dominated by Spiker, but attempts to save her own life instead of Spiker when she sees the giant peach rolling towards her. Nonetheless they trip up over each other and meet the same end.
  • The Centipede – A male centipede, depicted as a boisterous rascal with a good heart, he is perhaps James' closest friend in the peach, taking an almost brotherly role to the boy. He is generally optimistic and even brave yet also loud-mouthed and rash, which gets himself and his companions into some bad situations, but his powerful jaws also save them on a few occasions. It was the Centipede who set the peach in motion by biting through the stem which connected it to the peach tree. The Centipede has an ego for many things including being the only actual pest of the group and his number of legs (he claims to have a hundred, he actually has only forty-two). 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 and after the destruction of the peach, it is revealed that he becomes Vice-President-in-Charge-of-Sales of a high-class firm of boot and shoe manufacturers.
  • The Earthworm – An earthworm who hates the Centipede. Their arguments probably stem from the fact that they are the very opposite in temperament- the Centipede is very optimistic, whereas the Earthworm always expects the worst. The Earthworm is paranoid and has an extreme phobia of birds. He is also blind, and often imagines that things are worse than they really are. The Earthworm does however become an unwitting hero when he begrudgingly saves himself and the other inhabitants of the peach. They use him as bait to lure in over five hundred seagulls, which are then tied to the stem and used to hoist the peach out of the sea and away from sharks. The Earthworm is not without a warm, affectionate side; he is seen to get along well with James.The Earthworm becomes the mascot for a skin-cream firm when they reach New York.
  • The Old Green Grasshopper – A male grasshopper, his personality has aspects of both the Centipede and the Earthworm, although he is generally more sophisticated (and certainly more optimistic than the Earthworm). The Old Green Grasshopper takes something of a fatherly role to James and is depicted as elderly, although he loves life more than the rest of the inhabitants of the peach and is a passionate musician, playing a violin from his own legs and providing music for his companions. In the last chapter of the book and after the destruction of the peach, it is revealed that he becomes a member of the New York Symphony Orchestra where his playing is greatly admired.
  • The Ladybug – A kind, motherly female ladybug who takes care of James as if he were her son. She explains that the more black spots a ladybug has on the red shell, the more respectable and intelligent they are, and having nine spots, she is therefore very respectable and intelligent. In the last chapter of the book and after the destruction of the peach, it is revealed that the Ladybug, who had been haunted all her life by the fear that her house was on fire and her children all gone, married the head of the New York City Fire Department and lived happily ever after with him.
  • Miss Spider – A good-natured female spider who takes care of James, taking an aunt-like role to the boy. Generally friendly and decent in manner, 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 towards Spiker and Sponge – especially Sponge, who is responsible for the cruel deaths of Miss Spider's father and grandmother. Miss Spider makes hammocks using her webs for the others to sleep in. Her webs are very strong and it is her webs, along with silk from the Silkworm, which tie the flock of seagulls to the stem of the giant peach and enable it to be lifted out of the sea and into the air, escaping the sharks.
  • The Glowworm – A female glowworm, she quietly hangs from the ceiling in the hollowed-out stone at the center of the giant peach and provides lighting for the interior of the fruit in the form of a bright green bioluminescence. An incessantly sleepy character, she doesn't speak often and is slow to move. After the adventure, she saves New York from an enormous electric bill by illuminating the Statue of Liberty's torch.
  • The Silkworm – A female Silkworm. Often asleep, a possible reference to hibernation, she helps Miss Spider to make ropes for the seagulls. However, she has no dialogue.
  • Cloud Men – Are minor antagonists, who threw rocks and supplies at the peach after Centipede taunts them.

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 accuse the passengers aboard the peach of being Whangdoodles, Snozzwangers, Hornswogglers or even Vermicious Knids. All of those animals (except the last) are mentioned by Willy Wonka to live in Loompaland, which is also the home of Oompa-Loompas. Vermicious Knids are extraterrestrials, and feature in the sequel book, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator. However, the Vermicious Knids are referenced by Gene Wilder in the movie of the book. 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 version[edit]

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.[4] 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.[5] It was narrated by Pete Postlethwaite (who also played the wizard). The film was released on 12 April 1996.[6]

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."[4] Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly gave the film a positive review, praising the animated part, but calling the live-action segments "crude."[7] 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.



  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. ^ a b Roberts, Chloe; Darren Horne. "Roald Dahl: From Page to Screen". close-upfilm.com. Retrieved 2008-12-09. 
  5. ^ Evans, Noah Wolfgram. "Layers: A Look at Henry Selick". Retrieved 2008-12-12. 
  6. ^ "James And The Giant Peach". bcdb.com, 23 March 2011
  7. ^ Gleiberman, Owen (19 April 1996). "PITS A WONDERFUL LIFE". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 2008-12-12.