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by Roald Dahl
Harper Audio, 1980
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D. on Aug 1st 2002

The Twits

This wonderful story of Roald Dahl has been newly released as an unabridged audiobook performed with great panache by Simon Callow (best known in the USA for his performances in Four Weddings and a Funeral and Shakespeare in Love).  Mr. and Mrs. Twit are repellant characters in one of the most dysfunctional marriages ever: they spend their time playing horrible tricks on each other, and they keep caged monkeys, the Muggle-Wumps, who they are training to perform upside down.  This is one of the funniest audiotapes that I have heard in a long time. 

The humor in the description of the Twits’ tortuous marriage is partly to be found in the creativity in Dahl’s use of words, reminiscent of his terrific story The BFG.  But much of the source of humor comes from the utter awfulness of the Twits, and our recognition that they are in fact like real people.  For example, at the very start of the book when Dahl is describing how revolting people with bushy beards are, how they get pieces of food stuck in their facial hair, how Mr. Twit gives himself a snack whenever he is hungry just by licking some food from his beard, and how he wipes his beard with the back of his hand or his sleeve.  Later in the story, when Mr. Twit is playing a particularly cruel trick on his wife, she becomes so scared that she starts sniveling, but Mr. Twit shows no remorse. 

Both children and adults will recognize the horror that the Twits exemplify, and most people should find this story so funny that they will laugh out loud most of the way through.  There’s particular pleasure to be had in the interaction between the Roly-Poly Bird and the Muggle-Wumps, who plot a great revenge on the Twits.  The performance by Callow is masterful, bringing each character to life more than one would have believed possible.  Some parents might worry about their children being exposed to such a powerful depiction of cruelty, but in the end this is a highly moral story, and children should love it.

 

© 2002 Christian Perring. All rights reserved.

Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is editor of Metapsychology Online Review. His main research is on philosophical issues in psychiatry. He is especially interested in exploring how philosophers can play a greater role in public life, and he is keen to help foster communication between philosophers, mental health professionals, and the general public.