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Literature / Revolting Rhymes

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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.

In 2016, a two-part computer-animated adaptation of five of the stories aired on the BBC. For tropes specific to that film, see this page.

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.
  • Adaptational Karma: The narrator sees Goldilocks in the traditional version of the tale as a Karma Houdini, so, in his version, he has the bears eat Goldilocks!
  • Adaptational Nice Guy: Jack doesn't rob the Giant, and only takes golden leaves from the top of the beanstalk.
  • Adaptational Villainy: As the rhymes are Fractured Fairy Tales, several characters are put through this:
    • In the original Cinderella, the Prince is a typical Prince Charming. Here, however, he decapitates the ugly stepsisters and then tries to do the same to Cinderella.
    • Jack's mother from Jack and the Beanstalk simply scolded Jack for swapping the family cow for a handful of magic beans in the original tale. Here, she is downright abusive (beating him for half an hour with a vacuum cleaner's handle) and gets eaten by the giant.
    • Little Red Riding Hood turns out to be even more evil than the wolf, as she kills two wolves and the last pig.
  • Asshole Victim: Jack's mother and Goldilocks.
  • 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.
  • Bowdlerise: Reprints replace the prince calling Cinderella a "slut" with "mutt".
  • Cavalry Betrayal: The third pig calls Red Riding Hood for help when the Wolf decides to blow up the brick house with dynamite. She arrives, shoots the wolf... and murders the pig too, to make a leather suitcase to go with her fur coats.
  • Closet Punishment: At the beginning of Cinderella, "darling little Cinderella was locked up in a slimy cellar".
  • 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.
  • Face of an Angel, Mind of a Demon:
  • Fairy Godmother: Notable in that she's played fairly straight compared to many of the characters.
  • Flush the Evidence: One of Cinderella's ugly sisters disposes of Cinderella's lost slipper this way, before replacing it with the slipper from her own foot.
    At once, one of the ugly sisters
    (The one whose face was blotched with blisters)
    Sneaked up and grabbed the dainty shoe
    And quickly flushed it down the loo.
  • 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 (which are arguably his anyway, given that he planted the bean in the first place). 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: The dwarfs 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 so that she can have a leather suitcase to go with her fur coats.
  • The Gambling Addict: The dwarfs are compulsive gambling addicts how often go without food because they bet everything they have. Things go better when Snow White steal the Queen's mirror and asks it which horse will win.
  • Karma Houdini:
    • The Prince in Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood in The Three Little Pigs certainly qualify. Snow White's stepmother also 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.
  • 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 Dwarfs, 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.
  • Painful Rhyme: In her exchange with the Fairy, Cinderella rhymes "Palace" with "j[e]alous".
    [She] shouted, "Get me to the Ball!
    There is a Disco at the Palace!
    The rest have gone and I am jalous!"
  • Prince Charmless: The prince seems like a standard Prince Charming at first, but Cinderella is shocked to discover what he's really like.
    Poor Cindy's heart was torn to shreds.
    My prince! she thought. He chops off heads!
  • Smelly Feet Gag: In Cinderella, the shoe which replaces Cinderella's slipper is quoted thus:
    It also smelled a wee bit icky.
    (The owner's feet were hot and sticky.)
  • 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 survive, but they both do in these versions.
  • 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 Dwarfs" is that gambling's not a sin, provided that you always win (which they do, thanks to Snow White stealing the evil Queen's magic mirror).
  • Symbol Swearing: When Goldilocks breaks the baby's chair:
    She uses one disgusting word
    Which luckily you've never heard.
    (I dare not write it, even hint it.
    Nobody would ever print it.)
  • 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 still wants to try on the shoe even after seeing the Prince chop her sister's head off.
  • Wham Line: "The Three Little Pigs": "She has a pig-skin travelling case".
  • 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.