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