Dahl’s fairy story characters are his own creation based on well known traditional tales and he shows that they have many sides making us rethink how we see the story as a whole.
For example, there’s a good reason Little Red Riding Hood is fearless in the face of a wolf, she’s far more capable than anyone has guessed and there’s a twist at in the final poem in the collection that reveals even more about what she’s capable of in a very shocking way. (I’m not telling.).
Rhyme and immaculate ‘feet’
The poems are written in rhyming couplets. Every first line sets up a pattern that invites you to guess how the second one ends, this pulls you along and set’s up a game or concludes it in every single line. The poems are written in short lines, each with four strong beats, so they’re easy to read to yourself and to read out loud.
The syllables of almost every word (with the exception of when he’s quoting from the original tales) accurately follows a poetic foot, iambic tetrameter, which goes da DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM this makes it easy to read out loud and keep to the beats. These poems are carefully written to seem simple but Dahl rarely forces a rhyme to end a line with a word that seems unnatural or lets the need for a rhyme slow down the action.
The rhyme is used very effectively but kept in the background while we’re being told lively and revealing stories. At all times we’re kept aware of what is going on, who is speaking and what the characters face. At every point we’re guided through the action and engaged. If the original stories are known to us there’s the additional delight of expectations being turned on their head. These effects combined make Revolting Rhymes an excellent choice for reading out loud and for pleasure.