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Literature / Esio Trot

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A story by Roald Dahl. A retired man, Mr Hoppy, is in love with the widow who lives in the apartment below him, Mrs Silver. However, he is too shy to express his feelings, and Mrs Silver showers her affection on her tortoise, Alfie. One day, she tells Mr Hoppy that she wishes he could grow bigger and he decides to use this as an opportunity to win her love. He tells Silver, while in Africa he learnt that you can talk to tortoises by saying words backwards, and gives her a paper with words telling the tortoise to grow bigger backwards, claiming he'll grow if she keeps telling him that. Secretly, he buys similar looking tortoises, and while Mrs Silver is out he uses a long claw on a stick to kidnap Alfie and replace him with a slightly bigger tortoise. He keeps doing this, and finally "Alfie" can't get into his house. Mrs Silver weighs him and thinks her tortoise has grown bigger. Hoppy then makes up another backwards rhyme, and tells her it will make him slightly smaller. When it "works" he asks her to marry him and she accepts. He takes all the tortoises back to the pet shops and they get married soon after.


A television movie was released in early 2015, which expands on the story and addresses the issues of the original book. It stars Dustin Hoffman as Mr Hoppy and Judi Dench as Mrs Silver.

Provides examples of:

  • Adaptational Heroism: The 2015 incarnation of Mr Hoppy is less of a Stalker with a Crush, is shown to genuinely like the tortoises he adopts (albeit for the same scheme), and has kinder moments, such as giving the narrator's family two tortoises after he's been exposed. He is also called out for his behaviour.
  • Adaptational Nationality: The 2015 version of Mr Henry Hoppy is an American to fit with Hoffman's casting.
  • Adaptation Expansion: Necessary to make a 90-minute film out of a relatively-short children's book. The movie benefits from expanding on the characterisation (and backstory) of its leads, explaining Mrs Silver's relations with her deceased husband and working hard to make Mr Hoppy a much more likeable person - he's more of a highly-shy Dogged Nice Guy (with emphasis on the Nice) who while acting partly out of self-interest is, in his own way, just trying to make the woman he loves happy; when called on his dishonesty he admits his fault. The family living in his building, who he tells the story to (revealing the father to be the Narrator All Along) are used to emphasise that, even from an outsider's perspective, he's a genuinely kind man with a gentle nature and that he truly does just want the woman he loves to be happy first and foremost.
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  • Animal Motifs: Hoffman's casting in the adaptation evokes the characteristics and features of a tortoise, emphasising how he can relate to Alfie and the tortoises in general.
  • Canon Foreigner: Everyone in the 2015 adaptation besides Mr Hoppy, Mrs Silver and of course Alfie.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: In-story. At the beginning Roald Dahl writes that by now it is outlawed in England to buy tortoises as the conditions used for transporting them were cruel and many tortoises died on the way. When the story is set you could still buy tortoises.
  • Foil: Mr Pringle in the adaptation is meant to contrast Mr Hoppy in every way; while both men are somewhat round, Pringle is tall to Hoppy's short, bombastic instead of shy, and most importantly self-absorbed and inconsiderate compared to Mr Hoppy's more thoughtful and compassionate nature.
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  • Karma Houdini: The original book has Mr Hoppy never admit to his scheme and get away scot free. The 2015 adaptation changes this; while he ultimately still marries Mrs Silver, he gets called out on his behaviour and is left to remorse over his actions for some time (it helps that he's a good deal nicer).
  • Mythology Gag: The little girl in the adaptation who is the Narrator's daughter (and sister to the boy on the lower floor in Mr Hoppy's apartment) is named Roberta, which is also the name of the girl who buys the original Alfie in the original book. Fittingly, in the movie he gives the two remaining tortoises who stayed with him to her and her brother as another Shout-Out to the book.
  • Named by the Adaptation: In the 2015 adaptation the two main characters are given first names; though Mrs Silver is addressed as "Lavinia" multiple times, Mr Hoppy only brings up his own given name of "Henry" the one time.
  • Speaks Fluent Animal: Mr Hoppy claims this can be done with tortoises by saying words backwards, hence Esio Trot means "Tortoise". The 2015 adaptation changes this by claiming that it is an African tradition to make them grow.
  • Stalker with a Crush: Mr Hoppy. Downplayed in the 2015 adaptation.
  • Stock Animal Diet: The tortoises much prefer lettuce to "thick old cabbage leaves".
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Averted at the end. Dahl says the original Alfie went to a girl who is now grown up with children and that by now Alfie has doubled in size.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: The 2015 incarnation is eventually discovered and called out on his behaviour. He is eventually forgiven, but Mrs Silver takes a while to do so.

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