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James and the Giant Peach

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James and the Giant Peach
First edition (US)
AuthorRoald Dahl
GenreChildren's novel, Fantasy

Published by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.

Original language English
PublisherAlfred A. Knopf, Inc.
Publication date
17 July 1961
Publication placeUnited Kingdom
Media typeHardcover
[Fic] 21
LC ClassPZ8.D137 James 2002

James and the Giant Peach is a 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 re-illustrated 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 (with Smith being a conceptual designer) which was directed by Henry Selick, 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]

American novelist Bret Easton Ellis has cited James and the Giant Peach as his favourite children's book:

It changed my life. My aunt read it to me, my sisters and my three cousins in two sittings over vacation at a beach house when I was about six. The idea that the world was meaner, crueller, more absurd and fantastical than anything that picture books had previously showed me made a real impact. That was the moment I couldn’t go back [as a reader].[6]

Plot summary[edit]

James Henry Trotter is a boy who lives happily with his parents in a house by the sea in the south of England. Unfortunately, when he is four years old, an oddly carnivorous raging rhinoceros escapes from the London Zoo and eats James' parents whilst they are on a shopping trip in the capital. He ends up living with his two cruel aunts, Spiker and Sponge. Instead of caring for him, they physically and verbally abuse him, isolate him in their ramshackle hilltop house and garden, dole out sadistic punishments for the smallest infractions, force him to sleep on bare floorboards in a prison cell-like room, and force him to do heavy chores most of the time that they can't be bothered to do themselves (they also do not call him by his real name, but insults like "you disgusting little beast" or "you miserable creature").

One day, after James has 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 barren 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 and the crowds 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 hole inside it. He crawls in, through a tunnel, and he finds himself in a room, in the enlarged peach pit. There, he 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 501 seagulls[7] 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, who throw things at the group until they get clear.

Later, James realizes that the group has reached New York City. The wing of a passing plane severs the strings, and the falling peach lands on the spire of the Empire State Building. It is mistaken for 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, now residing in Central Park, in the pit of the peach.


  • James Henry Trotter – The seven-year-old male protagonist.
  • The Old Man – A friendly yet mysterious man, who initiates James' adventure.
  • Aunt Spiker – A thin, tall, cruel and evil woman; Aunt Sponge's sister.
  • Aunt Sponge – A fat, treacherous, greedy and evil woman; Aunt 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.

2023 censorship controversy[edit]

Despite Roald Dahl having enjoined his publishers not to "so much as change a single comma in one of my books", in February 2023 Puffin Books, a division of Penguin Books, announced it would be re-writing portions of many of Dahl's children's novels, changing the language to, in the publisher's words, "ensure that it can continue to be enjoyed by all today."[8] The decision was met with sharp criticism from groups and public figures including authors Salman Rushdie[9][10] and Christopher Paolini,[11] British prime minister Rishi Sunak,[9][10] Queen Camilla,[9][12] Kemi Badenoch,[13] PEN America,[9][10] and Brian Cox.[13] Dahl's publishers in the United States, France, and the Netherlands announced they had declined to incorporate the changes.[9]

In James and the Giant Peach, more than seventy changes were made, such as removing references to Sponge as fat (including writing an entirely new poem), changing queer to strange, removing references to skin colour (such as "his face white with horror", "looking white and thin", and the Earthworm's "lovely pink skin"), and changing Cloud-Men to Cloud-People.[14][15]

Original text 2023 text[15]
There were caves everywhere running into the cloud, and at the entrances to the caves the Cloud-Men's wives were crouching over little stoves with frying-pans in their hands, frying snowballs for their husbands' suppers. There were houses everywhere running into the cloud.


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.[16]

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.[17] It was directed by Henry Selick and produced by Denise Di Novi and Tim Burton, all of whom previously made The Nightmare Before Christmas. The movie consists of live action and stop-motion to reduce production finances.[18] It was narrated by Pete Postlethwaite (who also played the old man). The film was released on April 12, 1996.[19] Although it was a box office failure, it received positive reviews and eventually became a cult classic upon its release on home video.

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."[17] Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly praised the animated part, but calling the live-action segments "crude".[20] It was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Musical or Comedy Score (by Randy Newman).

In August 2016, Sam Mendes was in negotiations with Disney to direct another live action adaptation of the novel,[21] with Nick Hornby in talks for the script.[22] In May 2017, Mendes was no longer attached to the project due to his entering talks with Disney about directing a live-action film adaptation of Pinocchio.[23]

Musical adaptation[edit]

James and the Giant Peach musical playing at the Young People's Theatre in Toronto, 2014

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 21 October 2010, and is currently produced in regional and youth theatre.[24][25]

Stage adaptation[edit]

David Wood's play based on James and the Giant Peach has been performed worldwide. It was first produced in 2001 by the Sherman Theatre, Cardiff and Birmingham Stage Company, who then toured it all over the UK. Other major productions have been mounted by West Yorkshire Playhouse and Polka Theatre, and it is very popular with community and amateur companies in the UK and US. The play is published and licensed by Concord Theatricals.[26]

Theatrical adaptation[edit]

Ray DaSilva's Norwich Puppet Theatre put on puppet theatre performances in 1985.[27]


The book has been recorded a number of times, including:

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.[31]

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.[31] 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.[32]


  • 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)
  • 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 1990–1999. American Library Association.
  4. ^ "Why is China banning Winnie the Pooh and other foreign picture books?" Newsweek.
  5. ^ Gander, Kashmira (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. ^ Cummins, Anthony (15 January 2023). "Bret Easton Ellis: 'James and the Giant Peach changed my life'". The Guardian.
  7. ^ "How many seagulls would really be needed to carry Dahl's Giant Peach?" The Telegraph. Retrieved 25 November 2019.
  8. ^ Sawer, Patrick (25 February 2023). "Roald Dahl warned 'politically correct' publishers – 'change one word and deal with my crocodile'". The Telegraph. Retrieved 21 March 2023.
  9. ^ a b c d e Blair, Elizabeth (24 February 2023). "Roald Dahl's publisher responds to backlash by keeping 'classic' texts in print". NPR. Retrieved 21 March 2023.
  10. ^ a b c Dellatto, Marisa (20 February 2023). "Roald Dahl Books Get New Edits—And Critics Cry Censorship: The Controversy Surrounding 'Charlie And The Chocolate Factory' And More". Forbes. Jersey City, New Jersey, USA. ISSN 0015-6914. Archived from the original on 28 February 2023. Retrieved 27 February 2023.
  11. ^ Murdock, Hannah (21 February 2023). "Authors react to 'absurd' changes to Roald Dahl's children's books to make them less offensive". Deseret News. Retrieved 21 March 2023.
  12. ^ Lawless, Jill (24 February 2023). "Penguin to publish 'classic' Roald Dahl books after backlash". Associated Press. New York City, NY, USA. Archived from the original on 28 February 2023.
  13. ^ a b Honeycombe-Foster, Matt; Blanchard, Jack (21 February 2023). "UK's Badenoch slams 'problematic' rewrites of classic Roald Dahl books". Politico. Arlington County, Virginia, USA: Axel Springer SE. Archived from the original on 28 February 2023. Retrieved 27 February 2023.
  14. ^ Kirka, Danica. "Critics reject changes to Roald Dahl books as censorship". abc NEWS. Retrieved 3 March 2023.
  15. ^ a b Cumming, Ed; Buchanan, Abigail; Holl-Allen, Genevieve; Smith, Benedict (24 February 2023). "The Writing of Roald Dahl". The Telegraph. Retrieved 20 March 2023.
  16. ^ "James and the Giant Peach - BBC One London - 28 December 1976". BBC Genome.
  17. ^ 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.
  18. ^ Evans, Noah Wolfgram. "Layers: A Look at Henry Selick". Retrieved 12 December 2008.
  19. ^ "James And The Giant Peach". bcdb.com, 23 March 2011
  20. ^ Gleiberman, Owen (19 April 1996). "PITS A WONDERFUL LIFE". Entertainment Weekly. Archived from the original on 23 December 2009. Retrieved 12 December 2008.
  21. ^ "Sam Mendes in Talks to Direct Disney's Live-Action 'James and the Giant Peach'". Variety. 25 August 2016. Retrieved 31 August 2016.
  22. ^ "Sam Mendes, Nick Hornby in talks for live-action 'James and the Giant Peach'". Entertainment Weekly.
  23. ^ Justin Kroll (22 May 2017). "Sam Mendes in Early Talks to Direct 'Pinocchio' Live-Action Movie". Variety. 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.
  24. ^ 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.
  25. ^ 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.
  26. ^ "James and the Giant Peach (Wood)". Concord Theatricals.
  27. ^ Chris Abbott (2006). An East Anglian Odyssey. Friends of Wisbech & Fenland Museum.
  28. ^ "Roald Dahl - James And The Giant Peach(Abridged)". Discogs.com.
  29. ^ "James And The Giant Peach by Roald Dahl read by Jeremy Irons". AudioFile.com.
  30. ^ "Roald Dahl read By Julian Rhind-Tutt – James And The Giant Peach". Discogs.com.
  31. ^ a b Alison, Flood (18 May 2020). "Taika Waititi leads all-star charity Roald Dahl readings". The Guardian. Retrieved 4 November 2020.
  32. ^ 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]