When poor James Henry Trotter loses his parents in a horrible rhinoceros accident, he is forced to live with his two wicked aunts, Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker. After three years he becomes “the saddest and loneliest boy you could find”. Then one day, a wizened old man in a dark-green suit gives James a bag of magic crystals that promise to reverse his misery forever. When James accidentally spills the crystals on his aunts’ withered peach tree, he sets the adventure in motion. From the old tree a single peach grows, and grows, and grows some more, until finally James climbs inside the giant fruit and rolls away from his despicable aunts to a whole new life. James befriends an assortment of hilarious characters, including Grasshopper, Earthworm, Miss Spider and Centipede–each with his or her own song to sing. Roald Dahl’s rich imagery and amusing characters ensure that parents will not tire of reading this classic aloud, which they will no doubt be called to do over and over again! We’ll just come right out and say it … James and the Giant Peach is one of the finest children’s books ever written.
Plot : James and the Giant Peach Book by Roald Dahl
When he was only four years old, James Henry Trotter, who lived in a pretty and bright cottage by the sea in the south of England, went on a holiday to the capital with his loving parents, but his mother and father were gobbled up by a rampaging rhinoceros that had escaped from London Zoo before it was recaptured. After the death of his parents, James was forced to live with his two horrible aunts, Spiker and Sponge, who lived in a high, desolate hill near the white cliffs of Dover. For three years Spiker and Sponge physically and verbally abused 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 when he is crying in the bushes, James stumbles across a mysterious yet friendly wizard, who understands James’ situation and gives him a sack of tiny glowing-green magic crystals that he promises will bring happiness if dissolved in water and drank. On the way back to the house, James trips up and spills the sack onto the peach tree outside his home, which had previously never given fruit. The tree becomes enchanted through the crystals, 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. At night 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 band of rag-tag anthropomorphic insects, also transformed by the magic.
James quickly befriends the insect inhabitants of the peach, who become central to the plot and James’ companions in his adventure. The insects loathe the aunts and their hilltop home as much as James, and they were 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, flattening Spiker and Sponge to death as it goes. 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 does indeed lift the giant peach into the air and away from the sharks, although the peach is barely damaged in the incident.
As the seagulls strain 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 berates 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 quicker 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, to which the Cloud-Man is hanging from, is enough the carry him away from the peach as Cloud-Men are weightless.
As the sun rises, the inhabitants of the giant peach see glimmering skyscrapers peeking above the clouds, and a sprawling urban city far below them. The inhabitants of Manhattan see the giant peach suspended in the air by a swarm of hundreds of seagull, and panic, believing it to be a floating, orange-coloured, spherical nuclear bomb. The military, police, fire and rescue services are all called out, and people begin running to air raid shelters and the New York Subway, believing the city is a about to be destroyed. A huge passenger airplane flies past the giant peach, almost hitting it, and severing the silken strings between the seagulls and the peach. The seagulls free, the peach begins to fall to the ground, but it is saved when it is impaled upon the spike at the top of the Empire State Building. The people on the 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 insect friends as heroes. They are given a welcoming home parade, and James gets what he wanted for three long years – playmates in the form of millions of potential new childhood friends. 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’ friends. Meanwhile, the peach’s other former residents, the anthropomorphic insects, 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 Henry Trotter 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. Occasionally one of his friends visits: the Old-Green-Grasshopper would pop by and rest in the armchair by the fire with a brandy, or the Ladybug would pop in for a cup of tea and a gossip, or the Centipede to show off a new batch of particularly elegant boots that he had just acquired. Always imaginative and creative, James becomes a successful author, writing his story in James and the Giant Peach – “the book you have just read!”
* James Henry Trotter – The protagonist of the book, 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 playmates, which his aunts deny him, which is worse to James than the abuse they give him. His wish is granted in the form of the magical, anthropomorphic insects he meets in the giant peach, and at 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 life on more than one occasion and those of his anthropomorphic insect friends.
* 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 glowing green alligator tongues. It is these magical items which enchant the giant peach and its insect 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 1996 re-printing of the book, with illustrations by Lane Smith, 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, who derives a sadistic pleasure in manipulating and tormenting young James, who she sees as nothing more than a slave. Spiker is described as tall and thin – almost emaciated – with steel glasses. She meets her end when she is crushed to death as the giant peach rolls over her.
* Aunt Sponge – A lazy, greedy, selfish,and morbidly fat woman, and equally as cruel and repulsive as her sister Spiker. Sponge is more or less dominated by Aunt 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 – An anthropomorphic male centipede, depicted as a boisterous rascal with a good heart, he is perhaps James’ closest friend among the insects, 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, but as his nemesis the Earthworm points out, 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 1996 movie adaptation has a different future for the Centipede; in the film, he runs for mayor of New York City, stating “Brooklyn boy promises the moon, and then some.”
* The Earthworm – An anthropomorphic male earthworm who is more or less enemies with the Centipede, with whom he frequently argues. The Earthworm is depicted as a much less physical character than the Centipede, and with a much more bleak and pessimistic outlook which causes much of the trouble between him and the more jovial Centipede. The Earthworm is paranoid and has an extreme phobia of birds – although being an Earthworm, this phobia is not unfounded. He is also blind (having no eyes, like any earthworm), 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. In the last chapter of the book and after the destruction of the peach, it is revealed that he becomes the face of a major women’s face cream company due to his smooth, pink, featureless skin. After this the Earthworm becomes something of a celebrity and appears on commercials and on television. A newspaper cutting at the end of the 1996 movie adaptation shows the Earthworm in an advert as a smooth spokesman for skin cream, wearing Stevie Wonder-type blind glasses with two attractive women standing by.
* The Old Green Grasshopper – An anthropomorphic 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. A newspaper cutting at the end of the 1996 movie adaptation exclaims “Grasshopper Debuts: Phenomenal four-handed fiddling: 20 minute standing ovation for Brahms violin concerto.”
* The Ladybug – A good-natured, motherly anthropomorphic 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 Fire Department and lived happily ever after with him. In the 1996 movie adaptation, the Labybug becomes a well-recommended maternity nurse, and a newspaper clipping has the headline “Dr Ladybug delivers 1000th baby: Expectant mothers love Ladybug: Baby boom kids in expert hands”, and tells that she is pioneering new techniques.
* Miss Spider – An anthropomorphic female spider not unlike the Ladybug in personality and generally friendly and decent in manner, although she is 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 rest of the insects to sleep in (the Earthworm uses a much longer bed then the rest). 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. In the last chapter of the book and after the destruction of the peach, it is revealed that Miss Spider, along with the Silkworm, learns to make nylon thread instead of silk, and they set up a factory together and make ropes for tightrope walkers. In the 1996 movie adaptation (in which Miss Spider is a more youthful, sultry version of her counterpart in the novel), Miss Spider becomes an exotic dancer and singer at jazz clubs, and even opens her own, the Spider Club, in a lavish opening where she performs.
* The Glowworm – A six-legged, anthropomorphic 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. In the last chapter of the book and after the destruction of the peach, it is revealed that she becomes the light inside the torch on the Statue of Liberty, and thus saved a grateful city from having to pay a huge electricity bill every year. Her ending is exactly the same in the 1996 movie adaptation.
* The Silkworm – An anthropomorphic silkworm who is a shy, introverted creature that sleeps most of the time, but can easily be woken up in order to weave beautiful, very fine yet strong silk patterns. In the original 1960s printings, the Silkworm was male, but in the early 1990s reprints, the Silkworm is female. It is the Silkworm’s threads which help James to save the Centipede when he falls off the peach, thousands of feet in the air, while dancing. The character of the Silkworm is omitted from the 1996 movie adaptation.
References in the book to other Roald Dahl works : James and the Giant Peach Book by Roald Dahl
James and the Giant Peach possibly references Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in the beginning and end of the novel. When the peach rolls off the tree, it rolls through a “famous chocolate factory”, possibly a reference to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory (the illustration even depicts the word “WONKA” on the side of the building). Towards the end of the book, people in New York City accuse the passengers aboard the peach to be 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.
Film version : James and the Giant Peach Book by Roald Dahl
Although Roald Dahl turned down more than one offer to make an animated film of James and the Giant Peach during his lifetime, his widow, Liccy Dahl, consented to let a film adaptation be made in conjunction with Disney in the mid-1990s. It was directed by Henry Selick and produced by Tim Burton, who both also had worked on the movie The Nightmare Before Christmas which was also a Disney project. The movie is a combination of live action and stop-motion due to costs. It was narrated by Pete Postlethwaite (who also played the wizard). The film was released in 1996.
There are numerous changes in the plot of the film from the plot of the book, although the film was generally well received. Liccy Dahl said that, “I think Roald would have been delighted with what they did with James.” Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly gave the film a positive review, praising the animated part, but calling the live-action segments “crude.” The movie was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Music, Best Original Musical or Comedy Score (by Randy Newman). It won Best Animated Feature Film at the Annecy International Animated Film Festival.
ISBN Number : James and the Giant Peach Book by Roald Dahl
* 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 0-394-81282-9 (library binding, 1961)