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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.

An animated film adaptation is in development at Netflix, with an intended release window of 2025.

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. In the first instance, it's first thing in the morning. Mrs. Twit pranks him by hiding her glass eye in his mug of beer so he gets a surprise when he finishes drinking.
  • And There Was Much Rejoicing: At the end, when the Twits disappear, all of the neighbors shout, "Hooray!"
  • 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!
  • Antagonist Title: The titular Twits are both horrible individuals, and are not the good guys of this story. A variation in that they are Villain Protagonists during the first half of the book, and become straight antagonists when the protagonist role shifts to Muggle-Wump for the second half.
  • Asshole Victim: When the Twits shrink down to nothing, not one character in the book pities them, and neither does the reader.
  • Author Tract: The entire book was inspired by how much Dahl hated beards.
  • Awful Wedded Life: Mr. and Mrs. Twit's married life consists entirely of trading insults and playing nasty pranks on each other.
  • Bad People Abuse Animals: Oh, yes they do. Mrs. Twit carries around her walking stick so she can hit dogs, cats, and small children with it; to say nothing of the Twits keeping the monkey family in a cage and making them do stupid upside-down tricks all day.
  • 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, and then goes on to explain that the man himself is just as despicable as his facial hair.note 
  • 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."
    • Similarly, Mrs. Twit is described as having once been a beautiful young girl, but her foul thoughts gradually turned her into... well, Mrs. Twit. Again, there is an accompanying illustration.
  • Black Comedy: Lots of this throughout, particularly in the opening stretch. It's probably the most overt example of this in Dahl's bibliography, at least in his childrens' books.
  • 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.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Hugtight glue. Mr. Twit first uses it to catch the birds for his and Mrs. Twit's Bird Pie every Wednesday. Muggle-Wump, his family and the birds use it in his plan to get revenge against the Twits by turning their living room upside-down.
  • 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.
    • Also implied with Mr. Twit, who decides that as there are no birds for his Bird Pie that evening because of the boys stuck in the Big Dead Tree, they will do instead.
  • 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.
  • Domestic Abuser: Played for Laughs. The Twits are equally horrid to each other as they are to the people and animals around them. A large amount of the book is an Escalating War of nasty pranks between the two, culminating in Mrs Twit beating the living daylights out of Mr Twit after trying to send her flying to her death.
  • Drill Sergeant Nasty: Muggle-Wump, when he is masterminding the operation of turning the Twits upside down, ordering everybody about, reminding the group that at any moment, the Twits would come rushing in with their guns. He takes it to the point that the Roly-Poly Bird actually tells him to simmer it down.
    He was like a demon hopping around the room telling everyone what do.
  • Dumbass Has a Point: Mr. Twit is explicitly stated to be a twit at the start of the story, but when Mrs. Twit suggests her walking stick grew longer on its own (Mr. Twit has been secretly gluing pieces of wood to the end every night to steadily make it longer), he points out how absurd her claim is.
    Mr. Twit: Don't be a fool! How can a walking stick possibly grow longer? It's made of dead wood, isn't it? Dead wood can't grow.
  • 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.
  • Empty Piles of Clothing: This is all that's left of Mr. and Mrs. Twit when they get the shrinks from being turned upside down.
  • 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.
  • 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, which made her ugly on the outside. According to the narrator, a person who constantly thinks bad thoughts will eventually turn ugly, while a person who always thinks good thoughts will always seem pretty, no matter how lacking their looks may be.
  • Evil Old Folks: The Twits are stated to have retired, and both are utter jerks.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: The Big Dead Tree is both dead and very tall.
  • Fat Bastard: The titular characters are both rather rotund and all-around horrible people. This turns out to be their undoing when they get stuck upside down, as their bodies are basically squashed into nothing under their own weight.
  • 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.
  • Foreshadowing: Although not explained in the text, a possible reason for the Twits' house being described as having no windows is so that when the living room is turned upside down, the Twits do not see that the view through the window is the right way up.
  • 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. The narrative carefully explains to the reader about how Mrs. Twit's stick lengthens so gradually that she doesn't notice it, even when it's halfway up to her shoulder. Eventually, Mr. Twit points it out.
  • 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. The last Mr. Twit sees of them is them running away, with their naked bottoms winking at the sun.
  • 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.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: Mr. Twit has no qualms with the idea of making several boys into a pie.
  • I Ate WHAT?!: Mr. Twit's reaction to finding out his spaghetti had worms in it.
  • I Just Want to Be Free: Muggle-Wump and his family are sick of being forced to perform tricks for the Twits and want to go home to the jungles of Africa. They get their wish.
  • I Was Quite a Looker: Mrs. Twit was a pretty woman when she was younger. But as she filled her head with nasty thoughts and became a repulsive person, she became ugly on the outside.
  • Jerkass: Mr. and Mrs. Twit are both rude, mean, and nasty.
  • Key Under the Doormat: Mrs. Twit hides the key there, which is how the monkeys get into the house.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Muggle-Wump and his family are forced into doing everything upside-down by Mr. Twit for six hours every day because of Mr. Twit's dream of one day owning the first upside-down monkey circus. As revenge, they turn the Twits upside-down and because of the glue on their heads, they get stuck to the floor and this proves to be their undoing.
  • Lethal Chef: To get back at her husband for the frog-in-the-bed prank, Mrs. Twit makes him spaghetti with worms in it and waits until he's finished the whole plate to tell him why it tasted so nasty and bitter (and why it was moving).
  • Losing Your Head: The Twits are still able to talk after their heads get compressed into nothing from the shrinks.
  • Manly Facial Hair: Mr. Twit thinks his beard makes him look wise and manly. In reality, it's filthy and long because he never maintains it, and it's prone to getting bits of food in it. Plus, everyone agreed that it made him look like a twit.
  • 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 Violet becoming a blueberry 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, along with Muggle-Wump, in Dahl's The Enormous Crocodile and later shows up in the poetry anthology Dirty Beasts.
  • No Name Given:
    • Muggle-Wump's wife and two children.
    • All four boys who get stuck in the Big Dead Tree when they sneak into the garden to look at the monkeys and decide to climb into the tree, not knowing the branches are smeared with glue.
  • 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.
  • Obviously Evil: Mr. and Mrs. Twit are as foul on the inside as they are on the outside. This goes double for Mrs. Twit, who looks like a stereotypical Wicked Witch.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Mrs. Twit when she feels something cold and slimy (a frog) crawling over her feet while she's in bed. It was put there by Mr. Twit to get back at her for dropping her glass eye in his beer.
    • Three of the four boys stuck in the Big Dead Tree when Mr. Twit decides to cook them by scaring away the birds for his Bird Pie.
    • Both the Twits at the end when they start shrinking into themselves.
  • Only One Name: Mr. and Mrs. Twit are only ever referred to as such, even by each other, 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 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 a minute, 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?".
  • Pet Gets the Keys: Played with. Muggle-Wump and his family have been shown to be unable to communicate with the English birds, who presumably could have fetched the key to their cage, but when they have a surprise visit from their friend the Roly-Poly bird, with whom they can speak, Muggle-Wump sends him to fetch the key to the monkey cage when the Twits have gone out.
  • The Pig-Pen: The Twits are unhygienic, but Mr. Twit is more so 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.
  • Random Events Plot: The first half of the book is essentially this, consisting of the Twits doing increasingly horrible things to one another. The actual plot only gets going in the second half.
  • Real After All: Mr. Twit plays a prank on his wife by making her think she has an imaginary disease called "the Shrinks". When the animals turn the Twits upside down, it turns out the Shrinks is indeed real, and it ends up killing them, to everyone's delight.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: Muggle-Wump and his family want to do this and go back to the African jungle where they came from, as they quite understandably despise the Twits for making their lives so miserable, and also because of what they do to the birds every week. At the end, they escape from the Twits and build a tree house in the woods. The Roly-Poly Bird offers to fly each of them to Africa before winter, knowing that the monkeys hate cold weather.
  • Screw Politeness, I'm a Senior!: Both of the Twits are stated to be retired, and are rude to absolutely everyone.
  • Shotguns Are Just Better: When Mr. Twit twice fails to catch birds for bird pie by smearing sticky glue on the Big Dead Tree, he and Mrs. Twit go out to buy guns. Not just any old guns, but those big shotguns which spray out fifty bullets or more with each bang.
  • Sleeping Single: The Twits, and it isn't hard to see why.
  • Too Dumb to Live: The ultimate fate of the Twits. They come home to find all their furniture hanging from the ceiling, and conclude that it's themselves who are upside down; they immediately stand on their heads to fix it, and the glue on the tops of their heads gets them stuck to the floor.
  • Trademark Favourite Food: Bird Pie is this for Mr. Twit, and he is not happy when he doesn't get to have it, especially when the Roly-Poly Bird warns the other birds not to roost in the Big Dead Tree or whatever else Mr. Twit covers in glue.
  • Trapped the Wrong Target: One chapter deals with a group of young boys getting stuck in the tree the night Mr. Twit put Hugtight glue on the branches to capture birds for the bird pie. Their presence scares away the birds.
  • Trauma Button: The Roly-Poly bird asks Muggle-Wump to stop mentioning bird pie, as it gives him the shudders.
    Roly-Poly Bird: (to Muggle-Wump) How would you like it if it was monkey pie they made every Wednesday, and you and your friends were boiled up, and I went on talking about it?
  • Ugly Cute: Invoked to demonstrate the premise that one's disposition affects one's appearance — Exhibit A is an odd-looking woman with "a wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth"... and a plainly visible sunny disposition that makes it all look endearing.
  • 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.