The Museum archive team share their favourite Roald Dahl barbarous beasties and bogtrotting baddies for Halloween
This autumn, we’re celebrating Roald Dahl’s Baddies – a collection of monstrous, horrible characters whose main aim in life was to scrunch and squitter the child heroes of his books.
One of the best parts of our work in the Collections Team is looking through the unpublished manuscript drafts of Roald Dahl’s stories to discover the differences between his early drafts and the published books. These are some of the stories behind a few of our favourite baddies…
The Crocodile is one of Roald Dahl’s most devious and cunning baddies, with his secret plans and clever tricks.
However, in the first draft of the story, the Crocodile gets off quite lightly for his crimes. Muggle-Wump the monkey paints the words "I MUST NOT EAT CHILDREN" onto his back and he is whirled around by Trunky the elephant to land back in the muddy river, where he resolves that in future, he will stick to eating fish.
Above: extract from 1st draft manuscript of The Enormous Crocodile.
From letters to his editors in the archive, we know that Roald felt this version was too tame, and so he changed the ending to be more dramatic, with the Crocodile coming to a much stickier end with the famous final line – "sizzled up like a sausage"!
This was the first book that Quentin Blake illustrated for Roald Dahl, and he said that he based the appearance of the Crocodile on the crocodile in Punch and Judy shows – more cartoonish than realistic, with saw-like teeth designed for eating children.
The Twits feature two of Roald Dahl’s most disgusting baddies, Mr and Mrs Twit, whose main purpose in life seemed to be to think of increasingly nasty tricks to play on each other. We can trace one of these tricks to a line in one of Roald’s Ideas Books which contains a few lines about a man in a pub who puts his glass eye in his beer tankard to warn off thieves.
Above: extract from one of Roald Dahl’s Ideas Books.
But the main inspiration of the book seemed to Roald Dahl’s intense dislike of beards. He was asked by a child whether he’d based Mr Twit on anyone and replied "I based Mr Twit on a sort-of mixture of every man in the world who has a big beard. Some of them I will admit, especially if they’re your fathers or your teachers... I’ll admit they might be quite nice men but they’re still twits to wear beards... I’ve never understood why a man does it, or why he’s trying to hide his face behind a sort of hedge of fur and stuff".
In an early draft of the book, he even added a disgusterous section about the consequences of a hairy-faced man blowing his nose when he had a cold – but in the end both Roald and his editors decided this was just too revolting!
The Big Friendly Giant lived in a land full of other gruesome man-eating giants. These gargantuan brutes are described as twice as tall and as wide as the BFG who is himself twenty-five foot tall.
Only one, The Crunching Giant, is named in the first draft. He would later become The Bonecruncher of the published book. Another, The Swollopman Giant appears amongst a list of ideas and ‘Gobblefunk’ words that Roald was experimenting with but he is not developed any further.
Above: extract showing the ‘Swallopman Giant’ from the 1st draft of The BFG.
Sophie’s close encounter with the Bloodbottler and the filthsome snozzcumber in the BFG’s cave is quite different in its original form. The giant, though described identically, is named as The Manhugger and Sophie does not have to resort to hiding inside the revolting vegetable. Instead she is already on the floor when he enters so she hides behind a table leg to evade his clutches. From this vantage point we get a grisly description of the Giant’s feet which are ‘the size of a perambulator. They were covered in filth and there were brown warts on some of the toes.’
The Meatdripping Giant in the finished book bears a striking similarity to another of Roald Dahl’s baddies in the way that he preys on humans. He likes to "pretend he is a big tree growing in the park" and to hold great big branches over his head, waiting for people to come along. Just like the Enormous Crocodile gathers branches together and pretends to be a coconut tree!
Some of the most frightening and ruthless baddies, The Witches, came into being after Roald Dahl had finished the BFG. After writing about giants he wanted to have a go at a story about the other great mythological creature in children’s folklore: witches.
In the earliest draft Grandmamma tells the boy even more tales of children who were squelched by these dangerous creatures. A young boy named Hans simply ‘melted away before his parents very eyes, leaving just a wet puddle on the floor’ and a boy named Henrik grew four legs and was used by his father to catch rabbits. Solveg’s fate was originally to be turned into a moth who flew into a candle-flame but Roald has crossed out this idea and gone on to describe how she ends up in the oil-painting.
These baddies who ‘hate children with a red-hot sizzling hatred’ also had even more recipes for getting rid of them in one draft. There was bath soap that turned children into froth and bubbles that were then flushed down the drain and a recipe to turn them into tennis balls so that they would get whacked by tennis racquets for the rest of their lives. Perhaps most unnerving are the teddy bears that when warmed up under the bed sheets turned into fierce living bears who bit children to pieces!
Above: extract showing the teddy bear recipe from 3rd draft of The Witches.