|Cover artist||Quentin Blake|
|Publisher||Jonathan Cape (London)|
|Media type||Print (hardback, paperback)|
The Twits is a humorous children's book written by Roald Dahl and illustrated by Quentin Blake. It was written in 1979, and first published in 1980. The Twits was adapted for the stage in November 2007.
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The idea of The Twits was triggered by Dahl's desire to 'do something against beards', because he had an acute hatred of them. The first sentence of the story is, 'What a lot of hairy-faced men there are around nowadays!'
A hideous, vindictive, spiteful couple known as the Twits live together in a brick house without windows. They continuously play nasty practical jokes on each other out of hatred for one another, ranging from Mr. Twit hiding a frog in his wife's bed that he claims is a monster, to Mrs. Twit tricking her husband into eating worms in his spaghetti.
They also keep a family of pet monkeys from Africa, the Muggle-Wumps. The Twits, who are retired circus trainers, are trying to create the first upside-down monkey circus, leaving the monkeys to stand on their heads for hours on end. If they fail to do what Mr. Twit says, Mrs. Twit beats them with her cane.
Mr. Twit also coats tree limbs with a strong sticky glue Hugtight in hopes of catching birds for Mrs. Twit to make into a bird pie. The monkeys try to warn the birds before they land on the tree, but the English-speaking birds do not understand the monkeys' African language.
One week, the Roly-Poly bird flies in from Africa to visit the monkeys and, acting as an interpreter of languages, saves the birds from sitting anywhere Mr. Twit has spread glue. Mr. Twit tries several times to catch the birds, spreading the glue on an increasing number of perches, but the Roly-Poly bird changes his warning to reflect the new traps. Tired of chasing the birds, the Twits decide to buy guns to kill them.
The Muggle-Wumps, tired of being forced to stand on their heads, with the help of the birds use Mr. Twit's powerful glue to attach the couple's furniture to their ceiling while they are away to trick them into thinking that they are upside down and that their ceiling is actually their floor. The birds also smear glue on the Twits' heads, which permanently fixes them to the ground when a panicked Mr. Twit suggests that they stand on their heads so that they are 'the right way up' after they first walk into the upside down living room.
Stuck on their heads with all their weight pressing down on them, they catch the 'Dreaded Shrinks' (a disease that Mr. Twit had convinced Mrs. Twit that she had earlier in the book as one of the aforementioned pranks), their bodies compressing 'downwards' so that they eventually shrink away into nothing, leaving the Muggle-Wumps free to escape.
Mr. Twit is a wicked person, having hair that covers his entire face, with the exception of his forehead, eyes, and nose. His hair (which he falsely believes makes him appear 'wise and grand' but is widely agreed by everyone else makes him look like a twit), is spiky and hard. Because he never washes it, his moustache holds scraps of food stuck there while he ate, including tinned sardines, Stilton cheese, and corn flakes.
Occasionally, he licks these scraps out and eats them when he is hungry. Instead of wiping his mouth with a cloth, Mr. Twit simply wipes it on his sleeve. Mr. Twit is a drinker with a fondness for beer; he even drinks alcohol at breakfast. He is known to be very quiet when he is plotting. He and his wife mistreat their monkeys, the Muggle-Wumps. They have kept Muggle-Wump and his family locked up in a cage in the garden. The dreaded shrinks demolished Mr. Twit into nothing.
Mrs. Twit is the hideously ugly, menacing wife of Mr. Twit. She is said to have quite a nice face once, but her ugly thoughts began to show on her face until she was so ugly, you couldn’t bear to look upon her.
She takes advantage of her glass eye to play practical jokes in revenge against her husband, and demonstrates multiple acts of cruelty and viciousness throughout the story: the main reason behind her use of a walking cane was as a weapon against innocent children and animals, she participates in the torment of the couple's pet monkeys the Muggle-Wumps, and she once served Mr. Twit a lunch of worms disguised as spaghetti.
Albeit, while she frequently demonstrates acts of stupidity, she has also exhibited intelligence: she managed to manoeuvre her way out of being carried off into the sky by balloons by chewing through several of the strings and landing safely on the ground. Aside from this, she is portrayed as being hideous, cruel, and unhygienic.
A series of pranks advance the plot of the story. Brief descriptions appear below:
Mrs. Twit removes her glass eye and drops it in her husband's beer mug while he isn't looking. It isn't until he empties the mug that he sees the eye sitting in there, startling him something awful. Mrs. Twit laughs, gloating that this proves she is always watching him.
In revenge for the glass eye trick, Mr. Twit places a frog in Mrs. Twit's bed, and frightens Mrs. Twit by claiming the item in her bed is a 'Giant Skillywiggler', with 'teeth like screwdrivers' with which it would bite off her toes. Mrs. Twit then faints, at which point Mr. Twit splashes a jugful of cold water onto her face. She soon recovers, as the frog hops onto her face to get near the water.
Mr. Twit then claims the 'Giant Skillywiggler' will soon bite off her nose. Mrs. Twit then flees.
Seeking revenge for the Frog Trick, Mrs. Twit places worms from the garden in cooked spaghetti, which Mr. Twit eats, being re assured by Mrs. Twit that it is merely a new kind called 'Squiggly Spaghetti' she has recently bought. When he has eaten it, Mrs. Twit joyfully reveals the truth, to Mr. Twit's horror and disgust.
In revenge for the Wormy Spaghetti, Mr. Twit glues pieces of wood no thicker than a penny onto Mrs. Twit's cane each night, as well as onto the legs of her chair, making Mrs. Twit believe that she is slowly shrinking.
Mr. Twit then frightens her by claiming that she has contracted an illness called the 'shrinks', by which she will be caused to disappear. Mr. Twit then claims that to cure the shrinks, Mrs. Twit will have to be 'stretched'. Mr. Twit then ties Mrs. Twit up in the garden to 60 gas balloons intending to leave her there for a while to teach her a lesson.
However, once Mrs. Twit makes the mistake of saying that if the strings break, it's goodbye for her, Mr. Twit pretends to tie some more strings to her ankles, before cutting through the strings and sending her skywards. Mrs. Twit eventually returns by biting through several of the balloon strings so she sinks slowly down, eventually collapsing on Mr. Twit in the garden and beating him senseless with her long walking stick immediately afterwards.
There is a 'Big Dead Tree' in the Twits' garden, which Mr. Twit uses to trap birds by spreading Hug-Tight Sticky Glue on the branches. Captive birds are then made into a pie by Mrs. Twit. During the story four schoolboys are caught instead of birds, but escape by unfastening their trousers and falling to the ground outside the Twits' garden after Mr. Twit said that he will make boy pie instead of bird pie. It is this use of glue that gives the captive monkey Muggle-Wump and his family the idea of using it against the Twits.
Using their friend the Roly-Poly Bird as an interpreter of languages, Muggle-Wump and his wife and children convey the warning that any bird landing on the Big Dead Tree will be cooked into Mrs. Twit's Bird Pie. When Mr. Twit, in retaliation, spreads glue on the monkeys' cage (which serves as a substitute perch), the monkeys alter the warning. The birds end up landing on the Twits' roof.
This enrages Mr. Twit, who doesn't want to keep waiting for his pie, so the Twits decide to go to the shop and buy a gun each. During their absence on this errand, Muggle-Wump plots a final trick: to turn the Twits' house upside down. With the help of the birds, Muggle-Wump removes the carpet from the floor, as well as all of the tables, chairs, and other objects in the house, and uses Mr. Twit's glue to stick the objects upside down to the ceiling, leaving the floor absolutely bare.
By doing this, the Twits will believe that they have been turned upside down, as they will be standing on what looks like the ceiling of their house and will stand on their heads to be the right way up. To keep their heads glued to the ground, two birds will put a small amount of glue on the Twits heads right before they enter the house so that when they stand on their heads, they will be stuck.
Just as the preparations for this trick are finished, the twits return home. Everything goes as planned, the Twits believed they've been turned upside down and so stand on their heads to counter it, only to be stuck to the bare floor. However, heads are not made to be stood upon. With so much weight on it from above, the Twits literally get 'the shrinks', as was mentioned earlier in the book. However, this time it's not a trick; it's the real thing. After a week or so, the Twits disappear, and everyone who knew of them shouts 'hooray!'. Meanwhile, The Muggle-wumps and Roly-Poly bird escape to their native African land.
Since February 2003, a feature film adaptation of the book has been in development by Vanguard Animation and its founder John H. Williams. As part of multi picture deal with Walt Disney Pictures, Vanguard was set to produce a CG animated/live action film, with John Cleese and Kirk DeMicco writing the screenplay.
In November 2004, it was reported that Mark Mylod signed up to direct the feature, and that Cleese may star in the film. In October 2006, after the executive/regime changes at Disney, the project moved to Working Title and Universal. By January 2012, the official site of Vanguard Animation stated that Conrad Vernon, the director of Shrek 2 and Monsters vs. Aliens, would direct the film.
However, the project appears to have been abandoned, as the latest information on it dates from 2012, and it has still not been theatrically released.