Most children’s stories are full of fantasy and the make believe. From tales of a telekinetic six-and-a-half year old to stories about giant flying peaches, it’s accurate to say that the nature of these fantasies links closely with the way a child’s imagination functions (or adults on LSD). Roald Dahl was the master of make believe, however do not let that fool you, as Dahl also wrote one of the most real to life pieces of children’s literature out there: The Twits.
Forget about colourful tales of chocolate factories or friendly giants, this book is reserved for the hard reality that some people in life are just really unpleasant. When it comes to children’s books, the norm is that there will be a protagonist, their friends and an antagonist, however this time we’re stuck with two of the latter within their miserable home. Mr and Mrs Twit are not portrayed to be anything but vile, Dahl going to great lengths to describe to the reader just how awful these characters are. Not only do this horrible couple pester the life out of each other with pranks that would make the Impractical Jokers blush, but this tale also details the cruelty they show towards the only only characters in this book, who just happen to be animals. Even without reading the books you’d probably think that this couple sound revolting already, yet Dahl really drives it home with the how horrible the characters are on the face of it.
The saying ‘don’t judge a book by it’s cover’ is perceived a little differently by Dahl in this instance, as his theory is that a persons horrible personality will show within their appearance. This might seem a little far fetched considering we have convicts being offered modelling contracts these days, however there is a clever undertone to this idea. There is a particular line at the beginning of the book that always paints a great picture of the type of person Dahl is trying to describe. He describes the appearance of Mr Twit by focusing on his unhygienic appearance, with particular effort put into describing his unruly beard. The line that really ties these details together however is within Dahl’s explanation of why Mr Twit looks the way he does. According to Mr Twit, the excessive beard makes him look ‘terrifically wise and grand’, which is a really good example of someone full of arrogance and self importance. Mrs Twit is equally distasteful, with emphasis on how ugly she is, which according to Dahl, is caused by her ‘ugly thoughts’. This brings us back to the idea that it is our nature that makes us ugly, which I suppose is true in the sense that horrible people are rarely perceived as beautiful, even if they are so. As hilarious as the the descriptions of the couple are, such as the details of Mrs Twits wonky glass eye, the beginning of the book is a really clever way to emphasise the fact that no empathy should be held for The Twits. They aren’t misunderstood and at the end of the day they are their own worst enemy, which makes for some hilarious writing when it comes to their every day life living with each other.
The face of this story is based around the creative pranks that The Twits play on each other from day to day. The vulgar nature of these tricks never fail to make me chuckle, even now as a supposed adult. From Mrs Twit putting her glass eye in Mr Twits beer and feeding him worms, to Mr Twit slipping a frog into his wife’s bed, on the outside it might seem like these actions are of a childish nature. As an adult however, I feel like these pranks have more of a vindictive nature than meets the eye. A few of the tricks, such as the rather inventive idea of making Mrs Twits walking stick longer, focus on an element of cruelty. Mr Twit tries to convince his wife that she has a terrible made up disease called the ‘Terrible Shrinks’, which if anything shows that he wants to really bring distress to his other half. Not only that, but he then tries to get rid of his wife by tying balloons to her then celebrates in the garden with a beer, the latter actually sounding quite good. The point is that this couple, despite being married, really hold nothing but hate for each other. Did they ever love one another? We can assume that in order to be married there has to have been some sort of attraction at some point. Perhaps they only hate each other now that they are old and stuck with only their own company. The answer might even lie within them previously being preoccupied with their old job as circus trainers and the cruelty they focused on their animal performers.
The main story of the Twits is based round the terrible two and their desire to train their pet monkeys, The Muggle-Wumps, to stand on their heads for hours. This paired with Mrs Twit’s relentless efforts to make a bird pie out of the Muggle-Wumps friend ‘Roly-Poly Bird’, demonstrates how mean the couple can really be. It also brings into question the idea that The Twits have a long history of animal cruelty, probably doing much worse to other animals during their time in the circus. Now that they are retired however, it seems that they can only aim their wickedness at either themselves or their remaining animals, which in the end holds great consequences for the vile couple. To cut a short story shorter, the monkeys and their bird friend team up and escape by gluing the pair to the ceiling, which causes them to catch Mr Twits made up shrinking disease, which is really satisfying. I love the ideas surrounding The Twits and the fact we only get to see them as sixty year old’s, as it means that the reader can interpret whether or not the couple were always horrible. I am sure that we all know of someone who seems inherently nasty and it’s never quite clear if the person has always been that way.
The fact this tale has such a real theme to it makes it one of Roald Dahl’s most unique pieces of writing. The hilarity and character detail is a joy and the underlying themes really give the reader food for thought, while displaying Dahl’s perception of human nature perfectly. It’s a forewarning for children that being mean has a price and a reminder to adults that if you are nasty, it will really show through your skin and brand you as an old twit.