Literature / Revolting Rhymes

A collection of six traditional fairy tales re-written as comedic poems by Roald Dahl, and first published in 1982. These versions of the tales subvert many of the expected endings, and like most of Dahl's work, they are full of Black Comedy.

The six fairy tales re-written are:

Rhyme Stew was a 1989 Spiritual Successor: Most of its poems are, again, fable and fairy tale retellings ("Dick Whittington and His Cat", "The Emperor's New Clothes", etc.), but it's aimed at a slightly older audience (i.e. teens) and as such is a much bawdier work.

Revolting Rhymes contains examples of:

  • Abhorrent Admirer: The Ugly Sisters are this to the Prince.
  • Abusive Parents: Jack's Jerkass mother spends most of the story telling Jack he's a useless idiot and beats him after he sells the cow for a magic bean. She ends up getting eaten by the giant.
  • Adaptation Dye-Job: The original Quentin Blake illustrations depict Snow White as blonde, which breaks from the traditional "hair as black as ebony". The 2016 BBC adaptation does the same.
  • Adaptation Expansion: In 1995 a TV movie adaptation of this version of Little Red Riding Hood was made, starring Julie Walters as Red Riding Hood and her Grandma, and Danny DeVito as the voice of the Wolf. The narrator was Ian Holm as a Minpin, which is not in the book but it a Shout-Out to one of Roald Dahl's other novels The Minpins. Some scenes were added of Red Riding Hood inheriting money from her grandmother and the character of the Grandma herself was expanded to be a rough, drunken old hag. While in the book the wolf eats her in "one big bite", here there is a scene of him trying to eat her and getting beaten up and even at some points chased by her, although he manages to eat her by the end of the scene. There are also some creepy dream-like scenes with anthropomorphised animals that have nothing to do with the main plot. Danny DeVito loved playing the part of the Wolf and would later go on to adapt one of Roald Dahl's other novels Matilda into a feature length film.
    • A second adaptation was done by the BBC in 2016, which combines Snow White's story with Red Riding Hood's, creating a sub-plot of them being childhood friends and possible lovers, and having Riding Hood use the second of the wolf-skin coats as a gift for Snow White, while the third Little Pig is a greedy banker who invests most of the money in his bank in the failed houses of the other two pigs. And the story is being told by the wolves' uncle to the intended baby-sitter of Red's children, who steals her identity and goes to meet the children in her place.
    • In the second episode, Cinderella and Jack and the Beanstalk are likewise combined, with Jack selling his cow to Cinderella's Fairy Godmother, and Cinderella and Jack ending up together with Jack as Cinderella's 'simple jam-maker by trade'. And in the framing narrative, the wolf grows attached to Red's children as he tells the stories, and in the end can't bring himself to cook and eat them. He does, however, remain in the house until Red returns in order to stare her down, showing her how easily he could have done so, before departing for the forest.
  • Adaptational Heroism: With the BBC adaptation, it creates the idea that the reason for Riding Hood killing the third pig is due to him embezzling the entirety of her finances, meaning she didn't trust him to even pay her for saving him; and her whole reason for turning into a wolf-killer being since her girlfriend was kidnapped in front of her. She also "donates" money reclaimed from the third pig to the seven 'dwarves' and Snow White in order to place a bet on the winning horse.
  • Ambiguously Gay: The BBC adaptation doesn't make it explicitly clear whether Red Riding Hood and Snow White are a same-sex couple or just extremely close friends.
  • Asshole Victim: Jack's mother and Goldilocks. Also the third little pig in the 2016 adaptation.
  • The Big Bad Wolf: We get two of them! One in Little Red Riding Hood, one in The Three Little Pigs. Little Red Riding Hood kills both of them and takes their skins for coats. There are three in the 2016 BBC adaptation. The third one is the uncle of the other two wolves, and is the Narrator for all the stories.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Red Riding Hood as she kills the third little pig for seemingly no other reason than she fancied owning a pigskin travelling case. It might be more accurate to say she's a bitch in wolf's clothing (and a pigskin travelling case) as by she end she wears two wolfskin coats.
    • Subverted with prejudice with the BBC Adaptation, which has the third pig be portrayed as so irredeemably greedy, you don't even care what happens to him.
  • Bowdlerise: Reprints and the BBC adaptation replace "slut" with "mutt".
    • In an In-Universe example, the BBC adaptation implies Cinderella was really killed by the prince and the wolf just made up the happy ending to appease the kids.
  • Delinquent: Goldilocks is depicted as a foul-mouthed Spoiled Brat who breaks into the bears' house, eats all their porridge, feels no remorse for breaking the Baby Bear's chair, and messes up the bears' bedsheets with all the muck underneath her shoes.
  • Fairy Godmother: Notable in that she's played fairly straight compared to many of the characters.
  • Fractured Fairytale: All six of them.
    • Cinderella: The Prince is a psycho who loves chopping off heads, so after he kills her step-sisters Cinderella wishes to avoid marrying him and instead winds up marrying a nice greengrocer instead.
    • Jack and the Beanstalk: Jack never takes anything from the giant, only golden leaves from the top of the beanstalk. His foolish, greedy, dirty mother goes to rob the giant and gets eaten. Jack takes a bath so the giant can't "smell the blood of an Englishman" and harvests more leaves, living happily ever after.
    • Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: The dwarves are all gambling addicts and they end up using the magic mirror to be able to win every bet they make in the future.
    • Goldilocks: Goldilocks is a dirty, vile little brat who ends up being eaten by the bears.
    • Little Red Riding Hood: The titular girl is a fur-loving badass who shoots the wolf dead and skins him to make a coat.
    • The Three Little Pigs: When the wolf threatens to blow up the third pig's house, he calls Red Riding Hood to kill the wolf. She does, and then she murders the third pig to turn his skin into a carry-case.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: Somehow, the Prince calling Cinderella a "dirty slut" escaped the radarnote . There are many more examples, such as this one from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs talking about the king advertising for a new wife:
    The king said with a shifty smile
    I'd like to give each one a trial.
  • Grimmification: The opening lines of Cinderella are quoted on the trope page.
  • Karma Houdini:
    • The narrator sees Goldilocks as this in the traditional version of the tale, so he subverts it by having the bears eat Goldilocks. Within these versions of the tales, the Prince in Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood in The Three Little Pigs also qualify. Snow White's stepmother doesn't get any comeuppance that we can see, save that she's lost her magic mirror.
    • For those who see Jack in Jack and the Beanstalk as this in other versions of the tale, it's subverted here because Jack doesn't steal anything from the giant. All he uses to become rich are the solid gold leaves which grow on top of the beanstalk, which he has a claim to anyway as he bought the magic bean that the beanstalk grew from.
  • Les Yay: Snow White and 'Red' Riding Hood in the BBC Adaptation, Riding Hood's iconic, for this universe, pistol being dropped by the Huntsman.
  • Lighter and Softer: The BBC adaptation cuts away at a lot of the more gruesome parts, and the step-sisters' decapitation is depicted as non-fatal.
  • Little Red Fighting Hood: She's a sharpshooter.
    The small girl smiles. One eyelid flickers.
    She whips a pistol from her knickers.
    She aims it at the creature's head
    And bang bang bang she shoots him dead.
  • Mr. Vice Guy: Seven Mr Vice Guys, to be precise:
    The Seven Dwarves, though very nice
    Were gripped with one quite shocking vice:
    They squandered all of their resources
    At the racetrack, backing horses.
    And when they hadn't backed a winner
    None of them got any dinner.
  • Mugged for Disguise: The ending of the Red Riding Hood/Snow White story has the wolf tying up and gagging the babysitter and stealing her identity.
  • Prince Charmless: Cinderella is shocked to discover what the Prince is really like.
    Poor Cindy's heart was torn to shreds.
    My prince! she thought. He chops off heads!
  • Spared by the Adaptation: It's very rare you'll see a version where the Giant in Jack and the Beanstalk or the Wicked Queen in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs survive, but they both do in these versions. In the 2016 BBC adaptation compared to the original book, it's easy to miss, but a newspaper article reveals that Goldilocks was tried, convicted and given a prison sentence for her crimes against the Bears, whereas in the poem she is eaten by the Bears. Arguably the Ugly Sisters in the 2016 BBC adaptation too, in that they don't technically die, though they do still lose their heads.
  • Spoof Aesop:
    • In Jack and the Beanstalk, Jack bathes so the giant is unable to smell him when he climbs the beanstalk to pick all the solid gold leaves on the top. Jack resolves to have a bath every day from then on.
    • The lesson we learn from "Snow White and the Seven Dwarves" is that gambling's not a sin, provided that you always win.
  • Too Dumb to Live:
    • The first little pig is described as this for being foolish enough to build his house out of straw.
    • Cinderella's second Ugly Sister, after she still wants to try on the shoe after seeing what happened to the first Ugly Sister.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy:
    • One of the Ugly Sisters seems Genre Savvy at first, by swapping Cinderella's glass slipper with her own shoe. However, as she's in a Fractured Fairy Tale, this doesn't end well for her. The slipper fits, but rather than face the prospect of marrying her, the Prince chops off her head there and then.
    • The Big Bad Wolf in Little Red Riding Hood again seems genre savvy at first. He doesn't even meet Red Riding Hood before he goes to Grandma's house, but knows she'll turn up eventually. The story then follows traditionally with the Wolf dressing up as Grandma and Red Riding Hood saying, "What great big eyes you have Grandma?" and the Wolf replying, "All the better to see you with." But then Red Riding Hood says, "But Grandma, what a lovely great big furry coat you have on." The Wolf replies, "That's wrong! Have you forgot to tell me what BIG TEETH I've got?". He says he'll eat her anyway, but it turns out she's a good shot with a gun.