Sunday, August 16, 2009

Literature: "The Twits" by Roald Dahl

One of the frequented topics of conversations for Generation Y (and I’m guessing for every other generation, too) is how the face of pop culture is slowly adapting to the times, how it’s not the same as when we were young. This leads to reminiscing about oldmovies such as Fern Gulley, Little Nemo, The Brave Little Toaster and other appropriately obscure childhood cornerstones. And then comes the cultural analysis: “When you start to think about it, everything being made for kids these days, it’s changing, they get it easy, they’re coddled, everything is becoming … POLITICALLY CORRECT.”

The summer between my freshman and sophomore year in college I briefly worked at a children’s library, and I can say this: children’s literature has absolutely taken a turn for the politically correct (at least in the, say, age 4-13-ish range. After that all bets are off). There are very few bad guys, and if there are they are turned into good guys at the end. There aren’t any real antagonists because everything is nice. Why wouldn’t you want to give your child nice thoughts and nice books? It makes sense, but there’s not the slightest hint of an “edge” anymore, or the idea of “crossing the line.”

That’s why I heartily submit for your consideration The Twits by Roald Dahl (if I have to explain to you who he is or why he’s important, than my only guess is that you’re a sandwich shy of a picnic, if you catch my drift). This was my favorite book as a little kid, and it continues to be one of my favorites as an adult. It’s pretty far down the ladder in Roald Dahl books that people know, but it’s one I don’t want to be forgotten by time. Why? Because it’s downright nasty, in both the mean and the gross sense. Roald Dahl is known for his kooky, skewed, sometimes creepy/dark writing, and not pampering readers with sunshine and happiness. The Twits diverges slightly from his other books because there are no characters to root for. There is a family of trained monkeys that come to get revenge on the Twits about halfway through the book, but for all purposes the focus of the book are the Twits and how revolting they are. Mr. Twit has a disgusting beard where morsels of his food get caught, and then he eats them later. Mrs. Twit has a glass eye and carries a cane that she uses to hit animals and small children.

It is one of the funniest books I have ever read.

I brought it into my 2nd grade class during a show-and-tell-esque activity where students read from books they liked. None of my classmates got to hear much of it though, because I was laughing the entire time and I hadn’t even gotten past the first page. The teacher wasn’t too jazzed about it, and I don’t think she let me entertain my fellow students with descriptions about the horrible miscreants that are the Twits for very long.

Here is part of the description from the back cover: “Mr. and Mrs. Twit are the smelliest, nastiest, ugliest twits in the world. They hate everything—except playing mean jokes on each other, (and) catching innocent birds to make Bird Pie.” Without giving anything away, one of Mrs. Twit’s inexplicably cruel jokes is serving worms to her husband and telling him it’s spaghetti.

I read The Twits again recently, and it’s one of those things that can appeal to all ages. It’s delightfully inappropriate and twisted and you can probably read it in about half-an-hour or less. The illustrations by Quentin Blake, who has illustrated most of Roald Dahl’s books, are also notable for fully realizing the Twits’ ugliness. According to the demographic for this book is ages 7-11, and within that age range there are no recent books that can hold a candle to The Twits’s hilarity or mean-spirited humor, all in good fun of course. If you’re interested in other un-PC books for children, I would also recommend The Stupids by James Marshall, which is about a family that does everything in the wrong way, but is essentially about mentally ill/challenged individuals, if you read between the lines.


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