The Twits

11May10

by Roald Dahl
illustrated by Quentin Blake

The Twits is among a series of collaborations between Roald Dahl and illustrator Quentin Blake. It is the story of couple who manage to be even more disgusting on the inside than they are on the outside (which is REALLY disgusting!). Blake’s occassion illustrations add even more life to Dahl’s lively descriptions. Blake uses pen and ink for outlining and water color for shading to create these distinctive, cartoon sketches.

The Twits are constantly playing malicious jokes on one another, and the first portion of the book is dedicated to characterizing these two as they make life as miserable as possible for the other (Mr. Twit putting a toad in her bed, Mrs. Twit putting live worms in his spaghetti, etc).

The second portion of the book extends the Twit’s ugliness to how they treat others, particularly animals. For example, Muggle-Wump and the rest of his monkey family are kept in a cage and forced to remain upside down at all times in preparation for Mr. Twit’s dream of a GREAT UPSIDE-DOWN MONKEY CIRCUS. Desiring to be free and return to their native Africa, the family devises a plan with the help of Roly-Poly bird. They also decide to stop once and for all Mr. Twit’s cruel habit of catching birds with superglue to turn into Bird Pie. In the end, the Twits are the one’s turned upside down and victims of their own HUGTIGHT glue.

In Dahl’s signature style, he describes this couple in a way their behavior warrants: humorously repulsive. Dahl describes Mr. Twit’s beard in great detail:

“If you look closer still (hold your noses, ladies and gentlemen), if you peered deep into the moustachy bristles sticking out over his upper lip, you would probably see much larger objects that had escaped the wipe of his hand, things that had been there for months and months, like a piece of maggotty green cheese or a moldy old cornflake or even the slimy tail of a tinned sardine.”

Better yet, this gruesomely intriguing description is accompanied by one of Blake’s illustrations, diagramming the tinning sardine, stilton cheese, and cornflake located within the hairy mass. Dahl’s lengthy description of Mr. Twit’s beard is impressively contained all within one sentence, joined by commas separating the added thoughts and examples. These types of descriptions are common to Dahl’s craft as a writer, and their appearance in The Twits is without exception.Another element of Dahl’s writing craft that adds a novel element of entertainment is the way he directly addresses the reader (e.g. “And what do you think of that ghastly garden?”, “You will hear about them later”).

The marriage between Dahl’s writing and Blake’s illustrations create a finished product that is well-unified. Dahl anticipates Blake’s illustrations, and Blake is finely attuned to the subtleties of Dahl’s descriptions and styling (“Here is a picture of Mr. and Mrs. Twit’s house and garden. Some house! It looks like a prison. And not a window anywhere.”)

I particularly liked Dahl’s description of why Mrs. Twit’s face was so incredibly offensive: “If a person has ugly thoughts, it begins to show on the face. And when that person has ugly thoughts every day, every week, every year, the face gets uglier and uglier until it gets so ugly you can hardly bear to look at it.” I was reading this book while traveling with one of my best friends, who generally is a very friendly and bubbly person. However, her “resting face” always causes people to ask her what is wrong or bothering her. Although her thoughts better described as worrisome than “ugly”, I found this to be a suitable explanation for her resting face! This photograph was snapped to capture this text-to-life connection. 🙂

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