Unseen tricks in the archive

Posted by
Annie Price, The Roald Dahl Museum
Posted on
12:50pm, 21st April
Matilda, Museum, The Twits
George's Marvellous Medicine, copyright Quentin Blake

Stored in the archive of the Roald Dahl Museum are several drafts for each of Roald Dahl’s stories, some of which contain mischievous tricks.

The Twitsfirst published in 1980, continues to entertain adults and children alike with its horrible and hilarious trickery - this year, it was the most-read book in UK primary schools.

But tricks in Roald Dahl’s books aren't just reserved for Mr and Mrs Twit. Just think of The Enormous Crocodile's "secret plans and clever tricks," Mr Hoppy’s plan to make Alfie the Tortoise appear to grow larger, or the antics of the rambunctious little creatures in The Gremlins. And these are just the ones we know about - what about the tricks that didn’t make it into the stories?

In George’s Marvellous Medicine, George Kranky's mischievous mind immediately starts whirring as soon as his mother leaves the house with the fateful words: "don’t get up to mischief." Left alone in the house with his "grizzly old grunion of a Grandma," George decides to concoct a new medicine for her in the hope that it will cure her of her horridness or, at the very least, shake her up a bit. Discarded pages from an early draft of George's Marvellous Medicine reveal additional ingredients to this magical mixture that didn’t make it into the published book. 

One such ingredient is when George adds 'TARPIC FOR KEEPING YOUR LAVATORY BOWL AS FRESH AS A DAISY' to his medicine mix.

'If that doesn’t freshen her up,' George said as he poured it in, 'nothing will.'

However, the crowning glory is added to the potion just as George is passing the chicken shed. Here he scoops a handful of dried chicken droppings from the ground and sprinkles them over the mixture.

'Just a little extra touch of magic,' he said. 'And a little extra flavour.'

While Matilda Wormwood is "sensitive and brilliant" in the published book, in the first draft manuscript she starts out as a "wicked child" who enjoys playing tricks on her unfortunate family and friends. These unpublished tricks include slipping mice into her parents’ bed; dipping the cat’s paws in paint and chasing him around the house and covering herself in tomato ketchup to pretend she has been attacked by an Alsatian.

Her pranks even extend to school, where on Sports Day she sprinkles itching powder inside the gym shorts of all the children and manages to get everyone sent home for the rest of term with suspected chicken pox. Interestingly, several of the tricks we know from the book – such as dabbing superglue on the inside rim of her father’s hat or stuffing a talking parrot up the chimney – are almost word-for-word the same as in the first draft manuscript. The only difference is that in the first draft Matilda is a wicked child with kind parents, whereas in the book she is a kind child with wicked parents, changing both the tone of the story and the tricks.

In an interview in 1988, Roald Dahl revealed that, when writing the first draft of Matilda he "got it wrong" and that he had to start the whole book again. You can listen to Roald Dahl talking about this in his own words right here.

Anyone who has read Boy: Tales of Childhood will be familiar with The Great Mouse Plot in which, accompanied by his friends, the young Roald Dahl slips a dead mouse into a jar of gobstoppers in the local sweetshop owned by Mrs Pratchett. Her retribution is swift – the next day at school she points them out to the headmaster and watches as he beats them with the cane.

Less well known is that in the first draft manuscript, this plot was followed by a second. The boys realise that if they stop buying sweets from Mrs Pratchett, the nearest sweetshop would be in Cardiff, so they decide to get their own back on the nasty sweetshop owner again. They walk into the sweetshop and, without smiling, they each politely ask for something they have never bought from her before – a chocolate mouse. Mrs Pratchett is furious at their impudence, but Roald Dahl reasons with her, explaining, "It’s a sort of a mousey day for us today... so we thought we’d celebrate by having chocolate ones. There’s nothing wrong with that, is there?" Mrs Pratchett knows she has been beaten, and for the boys it is "a famous victory."