So after having an internship interview at a trade book publishing company yesterday, I caught the nostalgia bug and my creative juices were flowing so I thought that it would be fitting to revisit my collection of children’s books. As a child I absolutely LOVED Jacqueline Wilson, Enid Blyton, Lemony Snicket and of course, J.K Rowling. But I have to say that the majority of my bookshelf is still dominated by the one and only legend, that is, Roald Dahl. Matlida, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The BFG, James and the Giant Peach, The Witches… the list is immense! However, the book that I remember favouring the most, was The Twits. Funnily enough, this particular story was actually written thirteen years before I was born, and still it managed to be one of my all-time favourites, showing just how timeless Roald Dahl’s writing truly is! So I decided to re-read my childhood favourite, but this time to analyse it with the critical eye of an English BA graduate and see if I still maintained the same intrigue and fascination with the plotline.
To begin with, the first thought that crossed my mind whilst re-reading The Twits, was that the dysfunctional, fictional couple of retired monkey-trainers, very much resemble the couple portrayed in the 2005 film Mr and Mrs Smith, starring Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. They draw similarities in the sense that in the film, the actors portray an oppositional married couple who are secret assassins trying to eliminate one another in covert ways; such as poisoning each other’s food, or attempting to blow each other up using explosives. In a similar way, Dahl presents us with a pair of sixty-something year old’s who also play daily pranks on one another, some very crude, such as when Mrs Twit drops her glass-eye in Mr Twit’s beer and mixes live worms into his spaghetti; or when Mr Twit ties helium balloons to his wife’s arms, in order to make her float away into the sky and finally rid himself of her for good. Therefore I think that it is safe to say that the Twits are the in fact the original Brangelina!
Back to my linguistic critical analysis of the novel! The opening sentence reading ‘what a lot of hairy-faced men there are around nowadays’, is a matter-of-fact simple sentence which immediately draws the reader’s attention due to its humour and randomness. Therefore a young reader is intrigued from the onset; and the use of curt sentences thereafter, successfully keeps the pace of the novel constantly moving. Dahl goes on to establish a sense of comradery between the reader and narrator, by referring to the two as ‘us’, and in opposition to the ‘hairy faces’ or the ‘other’ of the novel. This encourages the reader to trust the narrator as it appears that they are a united front, against the Twits. Furthermore, Dahl’s adoption of a child-like, curious mind-set further encourages the young reader to feel at ease with the narration, as he asks naïve questions about people with beards such as, ‘do they shampoo it? Do they use a hair dryer?’ issues which young children are likely to debate and ponder.
Mr Twit is then introduced into the plotline; he is described as someone who ‘NEVER’ washes his ‘bristly nailbrushy face’. Here it is obvious that Dahl is seeking a shocked and appalled reaction from the young reader, such as ‘eurghhhh’ or ‘yuckkkk’. And it is most likely that he will be successful in this endeavour, because Mr Twit blatantly contradicts what all children are taught from a young age at home, nursery and school… that cleanliness is next to godliness. Such children, who are constantly reprimanded for forgetting to wash their hands after doing their business, will view Mr Twit as a disruption to accepted social etiquette, and so he is instantly seen as the type of character whom they must esteem to be NOTHING like. Indeed, alongside the constant disgustingly humorous remarks by the author, such as the gravy which gets stuck in the hairs of Mr Twit’s beard, Dahl also provides the reader with morally didactic lessons. For instance, he states that ‘if a person has ugly thoughts, it begins to show on the face’ and that ‘a person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly.’ This reminds us that the targeted reader audience is the age range of children who are easily influenced and still learning the ways of the world, making me, as a 21 year old reading this very novel, feel very ancient indeed! It also makes me view Dahl as a wise granddad figure, educating his brood in the ways of being good and kind, which makes me appreciate and value his works even more.
We are then introduced to the ‘ugly’ Mrs Twit, who is immediately described as being ‘no better than her husband’, so it is clear that this novel does not possess a hero of any kind, merely two villains, which is what makes it so different from most children’s fiction stories. Towards the mid-point of the story, Dahl brings in the less significant animal characters of the Roly Poly Bird and the Muggle-Wump family of performing monkeys and the subsequent revenge-driven antics that they exact on the Twits. They deprive Mr Twit of his much-loved Bird Pie by warning all of the birds that they will be eaten if they do not stay away from the garden, which he paints with Hug-Tight Sticky Glue to trap them. Therefore, they are instantly likeable, simply because they adopt the role of teaching the horrendous pair a lesson.
The finale of the book sees the Muggle-Wumps use the same glue to stick the Twits upside down on their heads as payment for their entrapment of their family, and general villainous ways. Eventually, their heads shrink into their upside down bodies and all that is left are ‘two bundles of old clothes, two pairs of shoes and a walking stick’, which is met with a massive ‘HOORAY!’ by ‘everyone’. On reading this ending as a child, I remember celebrating and thinking yes! The Twits got what they deserved! However, on my subsequent reading as a young adult, I appear to have grown into a much more compassionate nature, as I find myself feeling sorry for the dysfunctional couple and lament the fact that their death is celebrated…maybe this is why the novel should only be read by kids, who rejoice over the necessity of just-desserts! There is however a more happy ending with regards to the Muggle-Wumps and their attainment of freedom when they are able to return home to Africa after having been kept prisoners by the Twits. Yet, I found the way in which the Roly Poly Bird offers to fly each of the four monkeys home one by one, to be very slightly unrealistic and I question how many kids nowadays would not question the logistics of such a process… but maybe that’s just me over-analysing again.
Because at the end of the day, although there are a few questionable scenarios in the novel, ultimately it is a work of art simply because it was written by Roald Dahl, so I would still rate this book 10/10 even as a young adult!