The Twits is a funny children's book written by Roald Dahl and illustrated by Quentin Blake. It was written in 1979, and first published in 1980.
Mr and Mrs Twit are two ugly, smelly, nasty people, who spend their lives playing nasty tricks on each other. Mrs Twit, who uses a walking stick, does not like children. They enjoy treating animals with cruelty, by luring birds to glue-smothered trees so that they can be baked into bird pie, and by tormenting their pet monkeys, Muggle-Wump and his family, by getting them to stand upside down, one on top of the other. One day, the arrival of the Roly-Poly Bird from Africa allows the monkeys and the surviving birds to get the revenge that they have craved for years. They glue the carpet and furniture to the ceiling while the Twits are out, then on their return two ravens land some drops of glue from paintbrushes held in their claws onto the Twits' heads. When the Twits go indoors and see their furniture apparently turned upside down, they stand on their heads, believing that they are upside down and intending to turn the right way up; of course remaining stuck that way. With the Twits out of the way, the Muggle-Wumps are able to return to their native Africa with the help of the Roly-Poly Bird. Eventually, the Twits' bodies collapse into themselves, until there is nothing left but that which they wore or carried with them.
Mr Twit is a trollish person, having hair that covers his whole face, except for his forehead, eyes and his nose. His hair (which he falsely believes makes him look wise and grand), is spiky and hard rather than smooth and soft. He is 60 years old, and he never washes. His beard contains scraps of food dropped there while he ate, including tinned sardines, stilton cheese, and corn flakes. Occasionally, he picks these scraps out and eats them. He is also a possible cannibal; when some boys come into his garden and climb the glue-ridden branches of the tree and get stuck, he threatens to bake them in a pie instead — although, fortunately, they escape. Mr Twit is a beer drinker, even doing so at breakfast. He is known to go very quiet when he is plotting his latest evil trick, the victim of which is usually his wife.
Mrs Twit is the shrewish wife of Mr Twit. She, unlike her husband, was once very beautiful, but thinking ugly thoughts caused her to transform into the ugliest woman in the world. She is no more hygienic than her husband, and no more pleasant either: she uses her cane as a weapon against children and animals. Mrs Twit has only one real eye; the other is made of glass, and she sometimes takes it out and uses it to frighten her husband. into Mr Twit's mug of beer at the breakfast table. This makes Mr Twit always jump in shock.
In revenge for the glass-eye trick, Mr Twit places a frog
in Mrs Twit's bed
. He teases Mrs Twit by claiming the item in her bed is a Giant Skillywiggler, with teeth
with which it would bite off her toes
. Mrs Twit faints during this trick, later to recover as the frog
sits on her face.
The Spaghetti Worms
Seeking revenge for the Frog trick, Mrs Twit engineers the Spaghetti Incident. Mr Twit enjoys spaghetti
for his lunch, and so the day after the Frog trick, Mrs Twit mixes worms
from the garden
into the cooked spaghetti, and hides the lot by covering it in a tomato
sauce. Mr Twit notices that his lunch is moving, but Mrs Twit claims that the spaghetti is of a new brand, 'Squiggly Spaghetti'. Mr Twit eats it all, causing Mrs Twit to burst out laughing.
After the Worms in the Spaghetti trick, Mr Twit makes Mrs Twit believe that she is slowly shrinking by gluing pieces of wood
no thicker than a penny
onto her cane
each night, as well as onto the legs of a stool
. He says that the only cure for this condition is to be stretched. He does this by tying Mrs Twit by her ankles to an iron ring
in the ground outside, then tying helium
to her arms until she is rising off the ground. As Mr Twit is about to leave her where she is for a few nights, Mrs Twit tells him to make sure that her ankles are secured so she doesn't float away. This only serves to prompt Mr Twit to cut the rope, sending Mrs Twit flying off. She bites the balloons off one at a time and sinks back to earth and lands on top of Mr Twit, beating him up with her cane
There is an unimaginatively-named "Big Dead Tree" in the Twits' garden
. This, Mr Twit uses to trap birds, by spreading "HUGTIGHT" sticky glue on the branches. Those that get stuck, he eventually picks off to be put into a pie baked by Mrs Twit. He also manages, inadvertently, to catch four boys by the same method when they foolishly climb the tree themselves. Mr Twit sees them and very nearly bakes them instead. Luckily, they escape in time. It is this use of glue that gives his pet monkey Muggle-Wump
and his family the idea of using it against the Twits.
The Twits, as a book, has, as Dahl himself acknowledged, occasionally made adults feel physically sick — perhaps not least because of the graphic description of what lies within Mr Twits' beard in the second chapter of the book (all the chapters being very short by the standards of Dahl's novels). However, it seems it was written with the view that children enjoy being disgusted — and frightened. Whatever the truth in this theory, it has remained popular amongst children and due to its shortness is occasionally seen as a good "starting point" by UK parents — and primary school teachers — when introducing children to Roald Dahl's stories for younger readers.
- The idea of The Twits was triggered by Dahl's simple desire to write "something about beards" since he had an acute dislike of them himself. The first sentence of the story — "what a lot of hairy faces one sees nowadays" — is a genuine complaint.
- The Twits as a book has remained so successful since its publication in 1980 — at least in Britain — that it was adapted for the stage in 1999.
- Certain things within the book, such as Mr Twit's beard, "Wormy Spaghetti" and bird pie, appear within Roald Dahl's Revolting Recipes.
- A monkey named Muggle-Wump (whether the same character as the one in The Twits or a member of the same family is not known) also appears in The Enormous Crocodile. A monkey bearing a more than passing resemblance to Quentin Blake's illustration of the same character also appears in The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me.
- A Roly-Poly Bird likewise makes an appearance in The Enormous Crocodile and is also to be found in Dirty Beasts.
- ISBN 0-224-06491-6 (hardcover, 2003)
- ISBN 0-14-130107-4 (paperback, 2002)
- ISBN 0-375-82242-9 (hardcover, 2002)
- ISBN 0-14-131138-X (paperback, 2001)
- ISBN 0-14-034640-6 (paperback, 1991)
- ISBN 0-14-031406-7 (paperback, 1982)
- ISBN 0-224-01855-8 (hardcover, 1980)