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Literature / George's Marvellous Medicine

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George's Marvellous Medicine is a 1981 children's book by Roald Dahl. George is a young farmboy left alone with his nasty grandmother who constantly tortures him. Responsible for giving her medicine, he decides to mix one of his own in hopes it will get her to stop annoying him, using ingredients such as paint and animal pills, having no idea what the result will be.

And far from poisoning her, it instead makes her grow incredibly tall. When his parents return to the farm and see that it has similar effects on the animals, his dad tries to get George to reproduce the formula. However, he cannot get it exactly right (to the misfortune of the chickens they test it on).

Tropes present in this book:

  • Achievements in Ignorance: George creates a medicine that turns people and animals into giants, just by throwing a bunch of random household substances and animal medicines into a pot. His attempts to recreate it result in three further medicines that make the legs grow, make the neck grow, and shrink the drinker to baby size.
  • Added Alliterative Appeal: "[Grandma] spent all day and every day sitting in her chair by the window, and she was always complaining, grousing, grouching, grumbling, griping about something or other."
  • Artistic License Medicine: It's very obvious that Dahl deliberately gave the eponymous "medicine" fantastical effects for the sake of writing a funny story. Nevertheless, modern editions include a warning that making the same thing in Real Life would be Lethally Stupid, lest there be at least one child who would try to make the "medicine" themselves, thinking it would actually make people grow taller.
  • Asshole Victim: Grandma's end is horrible, and it's clear that Mr. Kranky knows what he's doing when he tells her to drink the final medicine when she mistakes it for tea, but she's such of a jerk that even George's mom (her own daughter!) gets over this rather quickly.
  • Attack of the 50-Foot Whatever: Grandma, and most of the animals of the farm, grow to giant size after some doses of medicine.
  • Backing Away Slowly: George does this during a creepy scene in the first chapter, taking one step backwards after another, when Grandma frightens him by hinting that she is a witch. He finally flees into the kitchen.
  • Balloon Belly: As part of the transformation that ultimately renders her a giant, Grandma briefly swells up in this manner (it's air — and it's "a puncture" that keeps her from exploding).
  • Bigger Is Better: At least in the case of farm animals, according to George's father. That's why he tries to have his son produce some more of his magic medicine.
  • Blessed with Suck: Subverted. When Grandma becomes a giantess she crashes through the roof and needs to get unstuck, later she has to sleep in the granary because she doesn't fit in the house; despite this, however, she's still perfectly happy with her new size.
  • Body Horror: What happens to the second and third chickens that drink George's experimental medicines when he tries to replicate the original formula. One grows super long legs and the other gets a six foot long neck. Averted with the fourth "test subject" chicken, which simply shrinks until it's the size of a newly hatched chick.
  • Broken Aesop: George's decision to not use anything from the medicine cupboard seems like a message to children about not playing around with harmful substances. All well and good except for the fact that many of the things he actually did use realistically would have killed Grandma anyway.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Grandma's tea-drinking habit. She demands one every couple of minutes from George or his parents after something exciting happens. In the end, she mistakes George's Marvellous Medicine Number Four for tea and gulps it against his and her daughter's protests. This shrinks her to microscopic size.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Mr Kranky is described as a kind father to George who, due to his excitable nature at even the smallest of things, is nonetheless not always an easy person to live with. The giant chicken in the middle of the yard being certainly not a small thing, and the subsequent possibilities surrounding the medicine and giant animals, has him spending most of the remainder of the book in a state of near-mania.
    • Grandma is a darker example. Although everything she says to George usually ends with him being lazy, stupid, childish or selfish, the lead-in usually runs on Insane Troll Logic. She apparently thinks that children should get smaller rather than larger, that insect-riddled cabbage is a delicacy, and hints that she might be a witch just to spook her grandson. She goes further during and after her transformation.
  • Didn't Think This Through: As George was just grabbing whatever he could find to make the medicine, when his father tries to help him recreate the recipe George ends up forgetting some minor details; for example, when looking at what he used from his parents' room he forgets that he added a couple of his mother's lipsticks to the recipe. George's mother also observes that the recipe needs the same amount of each ingredient rather than just needing the same ingredients, with the result that George will never be able to guarantee the right quantity of even the ones he did remember, to say nothing of the question of whether the order in which he added everything had any impact on the recipe. As a result, he creates three different versions of the original medicine that fail to achieve the desired results.
  • Does Not Like Spam: Early on, Grandma tells George to stop eating chocolate, and to eat cabbage instead. George reacts with disgust and says he doesn't like cabbage.
  • Do Not Try This at Home: Modern editions of the book come with warnings to children that mixing thirty odd different chemicals in a pot and giving it to your relatives to drink would probably in fact be quite poisonous. Sad thing is that there is probably at least one kid that needed to hear it. The same warning was repeated solemnly by children's TV presenter Philip Schofield, when the story was narrated on Children's TV.
  • Dramatic Drop: When she returns home from shopping, George's mother sees the giant hen and drops the bottle of milk she's carrying, then sees Grandma's head and neck sticking through the roof and drops the bag of groceries.
  • Everyone Has Standards: George hates his grandmother and thinks she's a terrible person, but even he doesn't want her to be killednote . Thus, he and his mother warn her not to drink from the cup he's holding because it's a variant of the Marvelous medicine that shrinks the person who swallows it and one dose turned a hen into a chick-size.
  • Fainting: After George's mother comes back from shopping and Grandma tells her that she and the hen in the garden were enlarged by George's medicine, George's mother comes very close to passing out.
  • Fate Worse than Death: Grandma shrinks to microscopic size after stealing George's fourth attempt at recreating the growth formula.
  • Gruesome Grandparent: George's Grandma loves to terrify him when his parents aren't there. She sometimes even does it while they are there.
  • Have a Gay Old Time:
    • Grandma likes to point her "horny finger" at George.
    • When George and Mr. Kranky are trying to replicate Marvelous Medicine #1 and have had two failures already, Mrs. Kranky comments, "You're going to have some mighty queer chickens around here if you go on like this."
  • Harmless Villain: Sure, Grandma is a real piece of work, but due to her old age and limited mobility, she can't actually do anything worse than boss George around, insult him and frighten him with scary stories.
  • Incredible Shrinking Man: Grandma's sticky end; she shrinks to the point where she's no longer visible.
  • It Runs on Nonsensoleum: The premise of the book is definitely powered by nonsensoleum.
  • Jerkass: Grandma, of course. She even insults her own daughter, George's mother, behind her back.
  • Kid Hero: George continues the tradition of "little boy protagonist" in Roald Dahl books.
  • Lethally Stupid: George. It's only thanks to Artistic License Medicine that the "medicine" he makes for Grandma doesn't kill her.
  • Loophole Abuse: George doesn't touch the the cabinet of human medicines because his parents very clearly warned him against doing so. However, they didn't say anything about the animal medicines...
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane:
    • George wonders if Grandma might be a witch (no, not that kind... probably) and in the same chapter Grandma implies that she has magic powers. Nothing actually happens to back this up; considering how nasty she is, she may just have been making it up to frighten him.
    • When boiling the medicine, George dances around the pot and chants a strange rhyme that comes into his head from nowhere. Whether the medicine was really magic or not is left open.
      Fiery broth and witch's brew
      Foamy froth and riches blue
      Fume and spume and spoondrift spray
      Fizzle swizzle shout hooray
      Watch it sloshing, swashing sploshing
      Hear it hissing, squishing, spissing
      Grandma better start to pray.
  • Miniature Senior Citizens: Grandma is so short that her feet don't even reach the floor when she's sitting in her armchair. She declares growing to be a nasty childish habit and says she gave it up long ago.
  • No Plans, No Prototype, No Backup: George literally grabs bottles of cosmetics, seasonings, antifreeze, animal pills, etc. and dumps them into a bucket, with little or no regard for what, exactly, he's using — or how much for that matter. This is why duplicating the first medicine proves impossible.
  • Not Hyperbole: After drinking the first Marvelous Medicine, Grandma yells that her stomach's on fire. Seconds later, giant clouds of billowing black smoke come pouring from her nose and mouth, prompting George to run and get the water jug.
  • Not Now, Kiddo:
    • George and his mother yell at his grandmother that they'll make her fresh tea and the cup in his hand isn't for drinking. Grandma doesn't listen, assuming George is being greedy about making tea for himself and not sharing. It's only after she gulps it that her daughter is able to tell her that it was George's Marvelous Medicine 4.
    • When his father is over-excited about the possibility of making more medicine, George tries to explain that he can't remember the hundreds of things he put in to make the medicine, but his father keeps on shouting him down.
      Mr Kranky: Don't keep saying wait a minute!
  • Obnoxious In-Laws: George's father doesn't like Grandma (his mother-in-law) either, to the point that he tricks her into drinking an entire cup of Marvelous Medicine #4, which makes her shrink until she's completely invisible.
  • Schmuck Bait: Grandma sees a cup of what looks like tea in George's hands the day after she becomes a giant. She demands it immediately. George and his mother protest, but George's father tells her it's good tea. Grandma takes the cup and chugs it before learning she's just taken a massive overdose of George's Marvelous Medicine #4.
  • Shapeshifting: What happens to George's chickens when he tries his new formulas on them, instead of the desired Size Shifting.
  • Slasher Smile: Grandma gives George one as she's telling him a scary story. The narration describes it as "a thin icy smile, like the kind a snake might make before it bites you".
  • Sophisticated as Hell: When George reads the labels on household products to put in the medicine, some of them are less than serious, especially on animal pills, to fit in with the comments he makes as he pours them in:
    • On flea powder for dogs:
      Keep well away from the dog's food, because this powder, if eaten, will make the dog explode.
      "Good," said George, pouring it all in.
    • On pills for horses:
      The hoarse-throated horse should suck one pill twice a day.
    • On sheep dip, for sloshing all over a sheep:
      Do not make the mixture any stronger, or the wool will fall out, and the animal will be naked.
    • On pills for pigs:
      Give one pill per day. In severe cases two pills may be given, but more than that will make the pig rock and roll.
  • Square-Cube Law: Square cube what? Though Grandma is depicted as unnaturally thin in her giant form, which could have compensated for the otherwise increased mass, the animals the same batch of medicine is used on retain their relative girth as they grow, yet are still agile enough for an enlarged pony to run around with Grandma on its back.
  • Trademark Favourite Food: Grandma is very fond of gin, and is allowed a small drink of it every evening. While initially making the medicine, George passes a bottle of gin on the sideboard, and remembering how much Grandma likes it, decides to add it to the mixture. Also, in a more disgusting example, beetles are Grandma's favourite insects to eat, because of how they crunch, especially if she has one in a stick of celery.
  • Transformation Exhilaration: The titular medicine seems to have made Grandma a true believer in the merits of greater height, despite starting the story believing that growing up (children both maturing and becoming physically larger) are childish habits. It probably helped that the medicine also cured all her bodily ailments into the bargain.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: Mr Killy Kranky isn't at all bothered that Grandma is now taller than the house. What really excites him is the chicken.
  • Women Are Wiser: Not that George's father is stupid but he does have a tendency to get very worked up and excited, so that it takes George at least three tries before he can point out that he can't remember everything he put into his medicine. His wife tells him to calm down and listen to his son, and is less optimistic about the chances of being able to replicate the medicine, pointing out that even if they remember the ingredients correctly they can't guarantee the amount of each ingredient necessary for the final recipe.

Alternative Title(s): Georges Marvelous Medicine