Roald Dahl

James And The Giant Peach

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James And The Giant Peach Summary

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James and the Giant Peach is a 1961 children’s novel by British author Roald Dahl, originally illustrated by Nancy Ekholm Burkert and most famously visualized by Quentin Blake. Focusing on a young abused boy who befriends a colony of eccentric giant bugs who live inside a gigantic peach, and their travels around the world, James and the Giant Peach explores themes of found family, standing up to cruel people, and the frightening but exciting period of childhood. Like many of Dahl’s books, it is filled with surreal visuals and is unflinching in its depictions of childhood peril, but brings its long-suffering child protagonist a hard-earned happy ending. James and the Giant Peach is considered one of Dahl’s most enduring and popular books.

The story begins with James Henry Trotter, the main character, as a four-year-old living happily with his loving parents in a seaside cottage. However, tragedy strikes on a family trip to London when James’ parents are both killed by an escaped rhinoceros. Now an orphan, James is sent off to the White Cliffs of Dover to live in a run-down house with his aunts, Spiker and Sponge. Spiker, the domineering older sister, wastes no time turning James into their household slave, forcing him to wait on her and her equally cruel, slow-witted sister Sponge. They beat James frequently and mistreat him.

One day, while seeking refuge from his aunts, James encounters a mysterious old man who gives him magical green objects that he calls crocodile tongues. He tells James to drink them with water, but James accidentally spills them onto a peach tree on the property that hasn’t been bearing fruit. Soon, the tree begins to sprout a single peach that soon grows massive, almost as large as the house James had been living in. Spiker and Sponge, always looking for opportunity, begin treating the peach as a tourist attraction and selling tickets to see it. They continue to use James as a laborer, and send him to clean up after the tourists, but while exploring the peach, James discovers a mysterious passageway into it.

James discovers a secret room within the peach, and inside it are a group of human-sized garden bugs. They consist of a brash and boastful centipede; a glum and pessimistic earthworm; an elderly grasshopper who loves music and serves as a leader to the group; a kind, motherly ladybug; Miss Spider, a friendly but intimidating-looking spider; a silkworm who serves as Miss Spider’s weaving assistant; and a glowworm who is quiet but serves as the group’s light. They’ve all been transformed in the same way as the peach. They soon become James’ companions in an amazing adventure. The centipede bites through the stem of the peach, setting it loose from the tree. It begins to roll down the tree, crushing Spiker and Sponge along the way and putting an end to James’ abusive aunts. It rolls through the countryside, before eventually falling off the cliffs into the sea.

Drifting along the sea, James and the bugs survive by eating the peach flesh surrounding them. They encounter sharks and barely survive, and use the earthworm as bait to capture a flock of seagulls. Tying them to the stem, they are able to make the peach take flight across the Atlantic Ocean. They have many adventures, such as when the centipede becomes too excited during one of his songs and falls into the ocean. James manages to rescue him. They drift into the clouds and discover that the weather is actually controlled by mysterious cloud-men. These giant, ghost-like men are quick to anger, and they nearly destroy the peach with hail when the centipede insults them. Centipede is briefly turned into a statue when one of the cloud-men covers him in a mysterious rainbow paint, but he is freed by water. The crew of the peach barely escapes, and they drift on across the Atlantic towards New York City.

As the peach approaches New York, a panic ensues as people see the giant peach and assume it’s an attack. The military and police are deployed as the mysterious object approaches. The strings connecting the peach to the seagulls are cut by a low-flying plane, which drops the peach onto the spire of the Empire State Building. The people in the building panic at first, but James explains his story and he and his bizarre companions are soon embraced by the people of the city. The peach is eaten by the city’s children, and the seed is converted into a home for James and his new family. The giant bugs all find their place in New York, with the centipede becoming an executive at a shoe company, the earthworm becoming the mascot of a skin cream company, the grasshopper performing at the New York Symphony Orchestra, the ladybug marrying the Fire chief, Miss Spider becoming a tightrope manufacturer, and the glowworm lighting the Statue of Liberty’s torch. James lives happily ever after, and is revealed to be the author of James and the Giant Peach.

James and the Giant Peach was adapted into a critically acclaimed 1995 stop-motion animation film by Disney by the creative team of The Nightmare Before Christmas. It has also been adapted into a stage musical that has been performed around North America including the Kennedy Center. Roald Dahl, whose works have sold over two hundred and fifty million copies worldwide, wrote 19 novels, 13 collections of short stories, three collections of poetry, and nine works of non-fiction. In addition to two Edgar Awards for Best Short Story, in 1983 he was awarded the World Fantasy Award for Lifetime Achievement.