Literature / The Twits

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What I am trying to tell you is that Mr. Twit was a foul and smelly old man.
Mrs. Twit was no better.
The narrator

One of Roald Dahl's many morbidly comic children's books, The Twits is a novella about Mr. and Mrs. Twit, an inexplicably married couple who despise one another, smell, and are generally horrible people who are cruel to animals.

The first couple of chapters describe the couple and their lack of hygiene with a delighted glee; then there are several chapters of them playing increasingly mean tricks on one another, including Mr. Twit convincing his wife that she has a disease called "The Shrinks". Finally, the focus shifts to some of the animals they have been tormenting — and how they get their revenge on the horrible couple once and for all.


This book contains examples of:

  • Accidental Truth: Mr. Twit thought he made up the Shrinks, but it turns out to be a real disease.
  • The Alcoholic: In two separate scenes, Mr. Twit drinks mugs of beer.
  • And There Was Much Rejoicing: At the end, when the Twits disappear, all of the neighbors celebrate.
  • Angrish: Mrs. Twit is understandably upset with her husband after he's tried to send her into the stratosphere, and on her way down she lets him know it with a string of this.
    Mrs. Twit: I'll swish you to a swazzle! I'll swash you to a swizzle! I'll gnash you to a gnozzle! I'll gnosh you to a gnazzle!
  • Badass Beard: Averted by Mr. Twit. He only thinks it makes him look wise and manly, especially since it's prone to keeping bits of food in it to be eaten later.
  • Balloonacy: Ostensibly to cure her of the shrinks, Mr. Twit ties 60 helium balloons to his tethered wife (which he claims will stretch her back to size). Initially he intends to just leave her in that state for a few days, but inspired by a comment of hers he cuts the tethering strings, sending her aloft. Unfortunately for him, she figures out how to get back down to Earth.
  • Beard of Evil: The book starts with an in-depth description of how foul Mr. Twit's beard is.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: Inverted. Goodness equals beauty. The narration states that people who are ugly can still have beauty shine through if they have pleasant thoughts and demeanor, accompanied by a drawing of such a person.
    "You can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely."
  • Black Comedy: Lots of this throughout, particularly in the opening stretch.
  • Brick Joke: See Chekhov's Gag below.
  • Captain Obvious: "To one side there was The Big Dead Tree. It never had any leaves on it because it was dead."
  • Chekhov's Gag: Turns out the Shrinks is a real disease you can get from being upside-down for too long.
  • Child Hater: As if Mrs. Twit wasn't repulsive enough already, she hits small children with her walking stick and plants thistles and nettles in her garden to keep them out.
  • Comically Missing the Point: The Twits' house has no windows because Mr. Twit didn't see the point of letting every Tom, Dick, and Harry peer in at them, and it didn't occur to him that windows are mostly for looking out of. This trope is promptly lampshaded by the narration.
  • Deadly Prank: Subverted. The last prank that Mr. Twit plays on his wife nearly goes this way. He tricks her into thinking she has the Shrinks, then stretches her by tying her to helium balloons that are tethered to the ground. When she points out there's enough to carry her away and asks him to tighten the bonds, he responds by slashing the tethers. So she nearly goes floating up into the air, presumable to suffocate in the atmosphere, except she thinks to bite through enough balloons to come down and smash her husband with her stick.
  • Death by Irony: The couple wind up glued upside-down to the floor after they have tortured Muggle-Wump and his family by making them stand upside-down on top of one another. And by being stuck in this state, the Twits develop an actual case of the Shrinks, which offs them.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Muggle-Wump and his children manage to save the next round of birds from becoming pie, thanks to the Roly-Poly Bird, manage to turn the Twits upside down, and escape into the nearby woods. The Roly-Poly Bird then offers to fly each of them to Africa when the winter frost hits so that they don't freeze.
  • Escalating War: The first several chapters focus entirely on the Twits pulling cruel pranks on each other. Finally the narrator says this has gone on long enough and he wants to move on to other topics.
  • Everything's Better with Monkeys: Muggle-Wump and family are undoubtedly the heroes of this tale.
  • Evil Cripple: Mrs. Twit has a glass eye, which she uses to play pranks on her husband, and uses a walking stick — though that last part probably doesn't count because she really carries it so she can hit "dogs and cats and small children."
  • Evil Is Petty: Mrs. Twit only carries a walking stick so that she can hit things with it. She also grows thistles and stinging nettles in the garden to keep children out. It doesn't work because when four boys do break into the garden, it's so they can look at the monkeys.
  • Evil Makes You Ugly: Mrs. Twit was once a beautiful woman, until she started thinking ugly thoughts all the time.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: The Big Dead Tree.
  • Feathered Fiend: Inverted. The Roly-Poly Bird and the other birds are instrumental to the escape of the monkey family and the turning of the Twits upside down.
  • Gaslighting: The titular dysfunctional couple do it to each other to begin with (for example, adding a small segment to the bottom of a walking stick every day to make the wife think she's shrinking), and have it spectacularly turned on them at the end, culminating in their Death by Irony.
  • Giving Them the Strip: Early on, a group of boys get stuck in a tree because Mr. Twit has coated the tree limbs with glue to catch birds for dinner. When he threatens to eat the boys instead, the only thing they can do to escape is slip out of their pants.
  • Halfway Plot Switch: The first chunk of the book consists of vignettes about how horrible the Twits are. The second chunk is about the family of monkeys trying to stop them from catching birds, which escalates into an effort to escape them.
  • Humans Are Bastards: Mr. and Mrs. Twit are the two main human characters, and both are horrible people.
  • The Hero: Muggle-Wump.
  • I Am A Humanitarian: Mr. Twit has no qualms with the idea of making several boys into a pie.
  • Jerkass: Mr. and Mrs. Twit are both rude, mean, and nasty.
  • Karmic Death: Both the Twits. See Death by Irony.
  • Kick the Dog: At least half of the book consists of this trope.
  • Masochism Tango: The first half of the book details this between Mr. and Mrs. Twit. They play nasty pranks on each other For the Evulz. The only time they seem united is when they want the birds for bird pie.
  • More Dakka: After the monkeys and birds manage to outwit the Twits several times, Mr. and Mrs. Twit decide to go purchase guns and shoot them all, seeking out "the kind [of guns] that spray out fifty bullets or more with each bang!"
  • Mythology Gag
    • When Muggle-Wump commands his family and the birds to take up the Twits' carpet and stick it onto the ceiling, they respond with "He's dotty!" "He's balmy!" "He's batty!", etc. This is much the same dialogue that the Golden Ticket tour group has as they wonder at Mr. Wonka's sanity during the boat ride in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The sentence "But there was no saving her now." also appears in both books referring to blueberry!Violet in Factory and the Balloonacy-imperiled Mrs. Twit here. And the ostensible cure for the shrinks — stretching her back to size — is similar to what is actually done to the miniaturized Mike Teavee.
    • The Roly-Poly Bird first appeared in Dahl's The Enormous Crocodile and later shows up as an Unexpected Character in the poetry anthology Dirty Beasts.
  • Obfuscating Disability: Double-subverted. Mrs. Twit's glass eye is an actual glass eye, meaning she's half-blind. But she lies about having a wart on her foot, as a reason for carrying around a walking stick. Her real reason to carry it is to hit people and animals.
  • Only One Name: Mr. and Mrs. Twit are only ever referred to as such, with no mention of either of their given names.
  • Only Sane Man: Played for Laughs in the chapter "Four Sticky Little Boys." When said little boys are are superglued to the Twits' tree by the seats of their pants and Mr. Twit decides to bake them in a pie in place of the birds they scared off, the fourth of them is the only one smart enough to think, "Wait, if we're only stuck by the seats of our pants, why don't we just slip out of them and get the heck out of here?".
  • The Pig Pen: The Twits are unhygienic, but Mr. Twit is moreso than his wife. He never washes, cleans or shaves off his beard, eats scraps of food that got stuck in his bushy beard while he ate, and wipes his mouth with his sleeve instead of using a cloth.
  • Sleeping Single: The Twits, and it isn't hard to see why.
  • Uncleanliness Is Next to Ungodliness: Both of the Twits are utterly filthy; especially Mr. Twit, who keeps bits of food in his beard.
  • Villain Protagonist: The Twits are a variation: They are introduced before Muggle-Wump and are the focus of most of the first half of the book. The position of protagonist is later given to Muggle-Wump.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Mr. Twit tries to bake some young boys into a pie when he finds them stuck in his tree.
  • Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?: When the Roly-Poly Bird manages to warn the birds to not get on the tree or on the monkeys' cage after both are coated in glue, Mr. Twit decides to just buy a shotgun for him and his wife. They need to go to the store to buy the guns, however; Muggle-Wump and the birds use the time to turn the Twits UPSIDE-DOWN.


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