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James and the Giant Peach
James-and-the-Giant-Peach.jpg
Author Roald Dahl
Original Publication date 1961
Originally Published by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
Original ISBN 0-394-81282-4
Publication Order
Preceded by
The Gremlins
Followed by
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

James and the Giant Peach (1961) is a popular children's novel by English author Roald Dahl.

Because of the story's macabre and occasionally 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.

Synopsis

When James Henry Trotter was four years old, his parents were gobbled up by a rhinoceros not far from their seaside home, and he has since ended up with Spiker Trotter and Sponge Trotter, who treat him like a slave, keep him in the attic and only feed him fish heads. “Now where have I heard that before?” - Hugo Simpson II. One afternoon when he is sobbing, James stumbles across a friendly wizard, who mysteriously understands his plight and gives him some crocodile tongues that he promises will bring happiness. However, on the way back to the house, James spills it onto the ground near the roots of a dead peach tree, which subsequently grows a peach. The peach soon grows to abnormal size.

His evil aunts find the giant peach and decide to invite the media to take photos in return for money. However they keep James locked up until everyone has left and send him out in the dark alone to pick up litter.

James sneaks past the fences guarding the giant peach and examines it, he finds a hole has eaten into it and decides to follow it into the fruit.

Venturing inside the cavernous fruit, he discovers a rag-tag band of anthropomorphic insects who take him on a weird but wonderful journey. In the movie he turns from a real boy into clay animation for some reason.

Along the way they squash the wicked Spiker and Sponge, causing them to end up flattened. Ms Spider reveals this as suitable retribution for them swatting and killing her grandmother. In the movie they’re alive until the very end and drive through the Atlantic Ocean to get to America.

The peach then lands in the sea where it gets attacked by sharks. The insects and James work out a plot to carry the peach out with a flock of seagulls tied to it. Ms Spider and the Silkworm produce the webs needed to catch the seagulls and Mr Worm, the blind worm is used as bait.

After getting the peach airborne the crew celebrate with a feast of peach flesh and peach juice. They then sing about things they like to eat.

That night James has a bad dream about his evil aunts. He goes up to the top of the peach where Mr Grasshopper is playing his violin. They then fly into the world of the Cloudmen, a white furry race who control the weather. Centipede stupidly insults them resulting in them throwing stuff at him and the peach. He eventually gets covered in paint that dries solid. However the rain washes it off again, and Centipede sings a song.

They then get caught on a rainbow and must cut themselves free. The peach plummets and lands on the spire of the Empire State Building. The police and firefighters mistake the giant insects for monsters until James explains that they are friendly and the Mayor allows them and James to live in America happily ever after.

Film

There was also a live action film with Plasticine animated parts half-way through the film. There are some differences to the story:

  • James' parents are not eaten by a rhinoceros that escaped from the zoo. Instead they are eaten by supernatural giant sky rhinoceroses made of storm clouds.
  • James' evil aunts Spiker and Sponge are not killed by the peach. Instead they drive to America after the peach, through the ocean. Eventually, they are tied up by the giant insects and spun into a cocoon before being arrested.
  • The peach is not attacked by ordinary sharks but is instead attacked by a mechanical shark.
  • They go on many adventures during the trip to America — such as rescuing Centipede from the ocean after he falls off the peach and encountering ghost pirates; the peach falls from the sky because it was attacked by the sky rhinoceroses. There are no Cloudmen in the film.

Behind the Scenes

References 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, though the canoncity is unclear.

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) then to infinity and beyond. However, this could well have also been added by the illustrator in reference to the novel.

Towards the end of the book, people in New York City accuse the passengers aboard the peach to be Vermicious Knids, Whangdoodles, Snozzwangers or even Hornswogglers. All of those animals (except the former) 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, given that both ‘Charlie’ books were not written when this novel was published, it is likely these creatures were purely mentioned owing to their nonsensical-sounding names in order to express the New York public’s complete bewilderment at seeing the peach.

References in other works

The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror VII special references the movie, in that Homer and Marge lock up Hugo and later Bart up in the attic and feed him only fish heads.

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