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James and the Giant Peach
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. There have been 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. They set off on a journey to escape from James' two mean and cruel aunts. 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."
Because of the story's occasional macabre and potentially frightening content, it has become a regular target of the censors. The actors Jeremy Irons, Andrew Sachs, and Julian Rhind-Tutt provide the English language audiobook recordings.
Four-year-old James Henry Trotter lives with his loving parents in a beautiful cottage by the sea in the south of England, until his parents are killed by an escaped rhinoceros during a shopping trip in London.
As a result, James is forced to live with his two cruel aunts, Spiker and Sponge, in a run-down house on a high, desolate hill near the White Cliffs of Dover. For four years, James is treated as a drudge, forced to do hard labor, beaten for hardly any reason, improperly fed, and forced to sleep on bare floorboards in the attic. One summer afternoon, after a particularly upsetting altercation with his aunts, James stumbles across a mysterious stranger, who gives him magic green "crocodile tongues" which, when drunk with water, will bring him happiness and great adventures. On the way to the house, James spills the crocodile tongues onto a barren peach tree, which then produces a single peach that quickly grows to nearly the size of a house. The next day, the aunts sell tickets to neighbors and tourists to see the giant peach while James watches from the window of his room in which he is locked up, to prevent him from getting in the way of his aunts' business.
When night comes, the aunts release James and send him to collect rubbish discarded by the crowd. James goes to take a closer look at the giant peach, but he discovers a tunnel, which leads to a secret room inside the peach's seed, inhabited by a rag-tag band of human-sized, talking invertebrates (an old green grasshopper, centipede, earthworm, spider, ladybug, and a silkworm), also transformed by the magic of the crocodile tongues given him earlier. These bugs then become James' companions in his adventure, and the companionship is prompted by a common hatred of the aunts. Upon James' arrival, the Centipede bites through the stem of the peach, whereupon it rolls down the hill early next morning, crushing and killing Spiker and Sponge on the way. Everyone inside the peach feels it rolling over the aunts and bursts out cheering. It rolls through villages, houses, and a famous chocolate factory before falling off the cliffs of Dover into the sea. James and the bugs emerge to find themselves floating in the sea but manage to sustain themselves on the delicious flesh of the peach. 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, he 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 bugs and James 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. They escape and then encounter a rainbow which they smash through. One Cloud-Man pours a tin of "rainbow paint" onto the Centipede, briefly turning him into a statue before he is freed by a Cloud-Man who pours water on him. 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, James and the bugs 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 appears and 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, where James lives, while his friends establish careers in the human world. In conclusion, James is said to have written the preceding story.
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, when they try to link up with the Space Hotel U.S.A. 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 .
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. 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. It was narrated by Pete Postlethwaite (who also played the wizard). The film was released on 12 April 1996.
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." 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 Original Musical or Comedy Score (by Randy Newman). It won Best Animated Feature Film at the Annecy International Animated Film Festival. In August 2016, Sam Mendes was revealed to be in negotiations with Disney to direct another live action adaptation of the novel. In May 2017, however, Mendes was no longer attached to the project due to him entering talks with Disney about directing a live-action film adaptation of Pinocchio.
The book was made into a musical with music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul and book by Timothy Allen McDonald that premiered at Goodspeed Musicals in 2010 and is currently frequently produced in regional and youth theatre.