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James and the Giant Peach

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 seven 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] The actor Jeremy Irons provides the English language audiobook recording.[4]


  • Plot 1
  • Characters 2
  • References in the book to other Roald Dahl works 3
  • Film version 4
  • Musical adaptation 5
  • Editions 6
  • References 7


Protagonist James Henry Trotter, 4 years old, lives with his loving parents by the sea in the south of England, until his parents are killed by an escaped rhinoceros. As a result, James is forced to live with his two cruel aunts, Spiker and Sponge, near the White Cliffs of Dover. For three years, James is treated as a drudge, beaten for no reason, improperly fed, and forced to sleep on bare floorboards in the attic. One summer afternoon, after some of this mistreatment, James stumbles across a strange old man, who gives him the recipe of a magic potion which, when drunk, will bring him happiness and great adventures. On the way to the house, James spills the principal ingredients onto a barren peach tree, which then produces a single peach as large as a house. The aunts then sell tickets to neighbors for a sight thereof.

When night comes, the aunts send James to collect rubbish discarded by the crowd; but he discovers a secret room inside the peach's seed, inhabited by a rag-tag band of human-sized, talking invertebrates (a grasshopper, centipede, earthworm, spider, ladybird, silkworm, and glow-worm), also transformed by the magic given him earlier. These then become James' companions in his adventure. Upon his arrival, the Centipede bites through the stem of the peach, whereupon it crushes Spiker and Sponge, and rolls through villages, houses, and a famous chocolate factory before falling off the cliffs at Dover into the sea. 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 Atlantic Ocean. At one incident, the Centipede entertains the others with ribald dirges to Sponge and Spiker, but in his excitement 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 protagonists 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. One Cloud-Man also pours a tin of "rainbow paint" onto the Centipede, briefly turning him into a statue before he is freed by a cloudburst. Later, the giant peach smashes through an unfinished rainbow, and 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 the protagonists 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, 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 tip of the Empire State Building. The people on the 86th floor at first believe the inhabitants of the giant peach to be monsters or extraterrestrials; but when James explains his story, the people hail James and his friends as heroes. The remains of the giant peach are brought down to the streets, where it is consumed by the town's children, and its seed is established as a mansion in Central Park, wherein lives James, while his friends establish careers in the human world. In conclusion, James is said to have written the preceding story.


  • James Henry Trotter – The protagonist of the book, who wants nothing more than to have friends and be happy. Though something of a dreamer, James is clever 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. She seems to be the smarter of the aunts. She is destroyed by the giant peach in its escape.
  • 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, and 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 multitude of legs 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 rôle 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.
  • 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.
  • The Peach - While not a sentient character, the peach plays a vital role in helping the characters escape an unpleasant existence.

References in the book to other Roald Dahl works

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 feature in the sequel book, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator. 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

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.[5] 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.[6] It was narrated by Pete Postlethwaite (who also played the wizard). The film was released on 12 April 1996.[7]

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."[5] Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly gave the film a positive review, praising the animated part, but calling the live-action segments "crude."[8] 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.

Musical adaptation

Composing team Benj Pasek and Justin Paul working alongside book writer Timothy Allen McDonald adapted James And The Giant Peach for the stage as a musical. The show began development in 2004.

The musical premiered in October 2010 at Goodspeed Musicals in East Haddam, Connecticut.[9] The musical itself was quite different from its source material, but honored it. Throughout the two-month run, the show was revised. The cast featured young stars Ellis Gage and Justin Lawrence Hall playing James, Steve Rosen as Marvo The Magician, Ruth Gotchall as Aunt Spiker and Denny Dillon as Aunt Sponge. The show also featured Jim Stanek as the Grasshopper, Chelsea Krombach as the Ladybird, Kate Wetherhead as the Spider, Destan Owens as the Earthworm, Nick Gaswirth as the Centipede, also with Nicholas Park, Minami Yusi, Marissa Palley, and Jessica Hershberg in the Ensemble. The dance troupe "Pilobolus" were a large part of the production bringing an innovative theatrical technique of using their bodies to create most of the set, specifically using shadow technique to create a majority of the special effects.

In November 2013, a reworked version of the musical was presented at the Seattle Children's Theatre.[10] After the 2010 production, the show underwent much revision, altering plot aspects and songs to appeal to a younger audience, the most notable of which were the omitting of its former title song, "Perfectly Perfect", and the discontinuation of the use of "Pilobolus". Also, the character of Magwitch, who, at times, was the narrator, is gone, and the introducion of "sophisticated" and "innovative" puppetry to depict some events, "including the show's title character, the Giant Peach."[10] The set was also more elaborate than at Goodspeed.

Justin Paul said of the revised version: " 'It's certainly changed — and hopefully evolved — since we [premiered] the show at Goodspeed,' admitted Paul. 'Obviously, that was the first time we'd ever seen the show in front of an audience, so we learned a lot just from that… Now, we sort of put [a different] lens on it - It needs to be a show that is going to be engaging a young audience — targeted for all ages...'"[11]

Mike Spee played James, Kendra Kassebaum played the Ladybird, and Julie Briskman and Jayne Muirhead played Sponge and Spiker, respectively. [12] The cast also featured Rich Gray as Centipede, Heath Saunders as Earthworm, Greg McCormick Allen as Grasshopper, Diana Huey as Spider, Julie Briskman as Sponge and Jayne Muirhead as Spiker, with Vickielee Wohlbach, Ian Lindsay and Auston James in the Ensemble

The 2013 version acted as a final draft for the version of the show that is currently available for licensing by Music Theatre International.


  • ISBN 0-06-054272-1 (audio CD read by Jeremy Irons, 2003)
  • ISBN 0-14-037156-7 (paperback, 1995)
  • ISBN 1-55734-441-8 (paperback, 1994)
  • ISBN 0-14-034269-9 (paperback, 1990)
  • ISBN 0-394-81282-4 (hardcover, 1961)
  • ISBN 978-0-394-91282-0 (library binding, 1961)


  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. ^ "James and the Giant Peach Audiobook". Publishers Weekly. Retrieved 26 June 2015
  5. ^ a b Roberts, Chloe; Darren Horne. "Roald Dahl: From Page to Screen". Retrieved 9 December 2008. 
  6. ^ Evans, Noah Wolfgram. "Layers: A Look at Henry Selick". Retrieved 12 December 2008. 
  7. ^ "James And The Giant Peach"., 23 March 2011
  8. ^ Gleiberman, Owen (19 April 1996). "PITS A WONDERFUL LIFE". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 12 December 2008. 
  9. ^ Jones, Kenneth. " 'James and the Giant Peach the Musical' Blossoms with the Help of Pilobolus", 21 October 2010
  10. ^ a b Gioia, Michael. " 'James and the Giant Peach' Will Get Seattle Premiere", August 5, 2013
  11. ^ Gioia, Michael. "A Giant Peach Ripens: Benj Pasek, Justin Paul and Timothy Allen McDonald Freshen Up James for Seattle" Playbill, November 29, 2013
  12. ^ "'James and the Giant Peach' Listing", accessed October 19, 2015
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