Fairy Tale Friday: Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes

by Roald Dahl

Continuing with my Roald Dahl readings, here’s a collection of rhyming poems on six different fairy tales. Each one has a little twist to the story.

#1 “Cinderella”

It opens with the claim this story’s not as nice as you’ve been lead to believe. An instinctual response is to think he means the Grimm variant – cut toes, bird pecked out eyes – but in fact the twist is two fold.

One of the stepsisters swaps the glass slipper for her own, so it fits her (and this way Dahl gets to use his marked “language of disgust”: sticky, smelly, etc.), and the prince, repulsed by this, turns out to be a beheading fiend.

Rightly horrified, Cinderella asks her Fairy Godmother to get her a man who’s got less blood-lust. She marries a man who makes jam and marmalade instead.

#2 ” Jack and the Beanstalk”

The biggest twist in this one is that the solution is for Jack to take a bath, thereby the giant can’t smell him and potentially eat him. Also, instead of a goose that lays golden eggs or a golden singing harp, there’s simply gold leaves he wants to get off the beanstalk.

His mother — a nasty, disagreeable woman as adults often are in Dahl’s writing — berates him for his stupidity (selling their cow for a bean) and is later eaten by the giant when she tries to climb the beanstalk and get the golden leaves (the giant smells her and chomp chomp).

#3 “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”

Ah, I had forgotten this one, but I absolutely loved it.

While the set up is familiar (stepmother, magic mirror, huntsman sent to kill Snow White but lets her go out of compassion), the twist is what Snow White does afterwards.

She finds work with seven little men who constantly blow their money on betting until they are broke. Seeing the strait they’re in, Snow White sneaks back to the palace and swipes the magic mirror. Because it has the ability to answer every question completely honestly, even for events that haven’t happened yet, Snow White and the men become fabulously rich from betting on horse races, etc..

#4 “Goldilocks and the Three Bears”

In a twist on the classic tale (though more common nowadays in retellings I read/watch), Goldilocks is classified as a criminal for her actions. Dahl even lists her crimes (his writing is usually critical to beastly children who are spoiled, over-indulgent, dirty, and rude).

Baby Bear eats her at the end.

#5 “Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf”

I remember this one the best.

The Wolf eats grandmother up, as expected, and waits for Riding Hood. But Red doesn’t follow the script. Instead (and here’s the twist) she shoots the wolf dead and makes him into a wolfskin coat, in classic Dahl style — blunt but not overtly descriptive brutality.

It’s kind of morbid now when I think about it, considering how much I love wolves…

#6 “The Three Little Pigs”

A sequel of sorts, the last pig with the house of bricks calls up Red Riding Hood to ask for her assistance (since the Wolf is coming back at night to blow the pig’s house up with dynamite). Red, in cavalier fashion, says she’ll be around as soon as her hair dries.

But when she does, she easily shoots this wolf as dead as the first. But oh, no — the twist is she kills the pig as well and ends up with a pigskin traveling case, as Dahl points out in CAPITAL LETTERS, as he often does to emphasize words or phrases in his stories.

Over all, it’s a quick read and very fun, if you don’t mind Dahl’s general tone. These were probably some of the earliest retelling of fairy tales I ever read. Which is interesting to note, as I remember “Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf” best and I’d say “Little Red Riding Hood” is my favorite fairy tale.


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