What are Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes?

The BBC has adapted Dahl’s book of poems into two films for Christmas – but what is the source material all about and how does it all come together?

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Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes is a 1982 book in which the legendary storyteller retells six classic fairytales with different twists and endings.

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They are loved as much for their wit and verve as the brilliant Quentin Blake illustrations that accompanies the book.

The BBC has put a modern new spin on them as two half-hour films, weaving a narrative together in a coherent story voiced by actors including Rob Brydon and Dominic West and featuring all but one of the major characters.

In the Dahl original, the six fairytales are Cinderalla, Jack and the Beanstalk, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, The Three Little Pigs, Little Red Riding Hood, and Goldilocks.

In the BBC animation, all the stories are brought together except for Goldilocks who doesn’t feature because the narrative is told by the persona of a courtroom prosecutor – and so couldn’t be tied into the other stories.

All the rhymes have a twist, and often a grisly one at that.

For example, In Dahl’s Cinderella, much of the plot is the same as the classic story except one of the ugly stepsisters switches her shoe with the one Cinderella left behind at the ball.

When the prince sees that the shoe fits one of the stepsisters, he decides not to marry her, and instead personally cuts off her head himself. He does the same to the second sister, prompting Cinderella to decide she wants to marry a decent man, so she does…

In Snow White, our heroine takes a job as a cook and maid for seven jockeys in the city who also happen to be compulsive gamblers. Snow White sneaks back to steal the magic mirror, which can correctly predict the winning horse and makes the seven jockeys millionaires with the moral that “Gambling is not a sin / Provided that you always win”.

Asked to explain the appeal of the story for modern audiences – and why it works as a TV animation – Luke Kelly, managing director of the Dahl estate, said: “It’s scary in just the right ways and it doesn’t patronise children. [Dahl] was a believer in the idea that fairytales were a way for children to confront their fears; it was a big part of his childhood. It’s cautionary but not preachy.

“That combination of being scary and cautionary is allowed because you’re funny. You can imagine the giggles that come from kids. Someone doesn’t get killed, they are eaten in one gulp. Heads don’t roll they bounce. I feel that is the perfect embodiment of Dahl – bouncing heads!”

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Revoting Rhymes is on BBC1 on Boxing Day and on December 27 at 6.30pm