Roald Dahl's Revolting Rhymes
by Roald Dahl
Illustrations by Quentin Blake
New York : Knopf, 1983
Roald Dahl’s taste for the macabre has always shown itself in the wonderfully revolting villains of his children’s novels (the disgusting subject matter of The Twits and The Witches comes to mind) and in the twisted parables for a more mature audience found in his short stories for adults. Revolting Rhymes is Dahl’s take on the traditional fairy tales of old. The results are hilarious and disturbing. Goldilocks is a spoiled brat who pays dearly for an act of home invasion; the three little pigs learn a painful lesson about home construction; Jack discovers that personal hygiene can be a matter of life and death when dealing with giants; Cinderella finds relationships to be gruesomely complicated; Snow White and the Seven Dwarves take on the world of gambling; and we see the darker side of Little Red Riding Hood.
I first heard Revolting Rhymes during a story hour from my Language Arts teacher when I was in the third grade and it quickly became a favorite. The subversive tone behind the stories matched well with an interest in creepy fiction (courtesy of Alfred Hitchcock’s anthologies for “younger readers”) that I was cultivating at the time. “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” stuck out for me the most because of the poetic fate that Papa Bear decides for the greedy little girl who slurped down his son’s porridge as her final act. Each tale is told as a poem and Dahl’s lyricism makes these stories great to read aloud. Quentin Blake’s illustrations complement the verse perfectly in their portrayals of Dahl’s bizarre and often grotesque characters.
Although Dahl offered his own twist on these classic tales, his sardonic humor definitely echoes some of the darkness found in some of the original source materials. Particularly in the Brothers Grimm anthologies, repugnant characters met with gruesome ends and life lessons were often harsh, even in the land of make-believe.
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