‘The Three Little Pigs’ by Roald Dahl was published in 1982 in his collection Revolting Rhymes. It is considered a book of satire-based poems for children, and was, as many of his works were, illustrated amusingly. The collection focuses on the retelling of folk or fairy tales, such as Cinderella and Goldilocks and the Three Bears. He presents alternatives to well established events and alters characters to change the narrative, always with a surprising ending.
Rhyme Scheme and Syntax
Dhal chose to use the rhyme scheme of aabbccdd, alternating end sounds as he saw fit. This same scheme is used in all the poems within Revolting Rhymes. It is the most basic of rhyming patterns and is generally ignored by modern and contemporary writers. In this case though, it is wholly appropriate for the subject matter and intended audience. The poem was aimed at children and the clear, pleasing pattern fits perfectly with the retold fairy tales. It gives the text a lighthearted sing-song-like tone, even when the subject matter becomes dark, especially at the end.
One of the most important elements of this piece, which is also seen in the original version is repetition. In the case of Dahl’s retelling, the repetition is used skillfully to represent the strain exerted by the wolf to destroy the different houses. He also utilizes capitalization in an exciting and engaging way. A reader will immediately notice when looking at the text of the poem that a few words, such as “straw” and “sticks” are in all caps. This was done to show both the wolf’s surprise and the narrator’s shock at the chosen building materials. You can read the full poem here.
Summary of The Three Little Pigs
‘The Three Little Pigs’ by Roald Dahl retells the story of Little Red Riding Hood and the Three Little Pigs with a surprisingly dark conclusion.
The poem begins with the speaker stating that he really likes pigs. This likely makes the story all the difficult for him to tell as it does not end well. There are some pigs, he says, that are not as clever as others. They are lesser. The first lives in a straw house that is incapable of protecting him.
The perspective switches to the wolf. He blows down the house and devours the first pig. The pig does not put up much resistance, simply praying the situation would go away. Things go a bit better for the second pig as he is able to argue briefly for his life. It doesn’t help him though and soon he too is in the belly of the wolf. The wolf is well aware that he is bloated and in theory doesn’t need any more food. That doesn’t stop him from going to the third house.
Once he arrives at the final house he soon discovers this pig is not going to be as easily taken. The house will not blow down, no matter how hard he tries. While inside, cowering for his life, the pig calls “Miss Red.” She saves him from the wolf but in a twist ending decides to kill him and make him into a carrying case.
Analysis of The Three Little Pigs
In the first stanza of this piece the speaker begins by making a statement about an animal he “really dig[s],” or appreciates. He is thinking of a pig and how in his mind they are ranked above “all others.” The speaker does not leave a reader to wonder why he feels this way. The next statements give the reader three reasons why he sees pigs as being so superior. They are “noble,” “clever” and “courteous.”
The first two words, while still anthropomorphic, are recognizable as descriptors used for animals. “Courteous” on the other hand is new. It would seem to require some higher interaction on the part of the animal for it to display this quality. When one considers that the following story will be a retelling of a classic fairytale, that makes sense. Animals are capable of anything humans are in the word of the ‘The Three Little Pigs.’
The following lines present the reader with a situation in which a pig is not as courteous or clever as expected. He speaks of the very rare occasion in which,
One meets a pig who is a fool.
This doesn’t happen very often but when it does, it is in the woods. He is speaking from what seems to be personal experience and describes coming upon the first “house of STRAW.” At this point the perspective shifts and the speaker is describing the sights and feelings of a wolf. This creature is surprised and pleased to have found the house. He licks his lips in anticipation, knowing that the straw house will be easy to breach.
In the next lines he speaks out loud and says to himself that now the pig has “‘had his chips.’” His time is up and he should be prepared to die, all because of his shoddy construction. The wolf then yells out loud to the resident of the home. He tells the pig to let him in or he’ll blow down the house. Here a reader encounters the familiar words of the wolf in the story of The Three Little Pigs.
The next stanza is only ten lines long. Within this section Dahl changes perspective again and takes the reader inside the straw house. This is an interesting departure from the original tale as the reader sees the situation from the perspective of the wolf, the pig, and the omniscient narrator. After hearing the wolf’s threat the pig “began to pray.” His words do nothing and the wolf starts to blow on the house, as promised.
In a humorous step away from the original text the wolf celebrates the destruction of the first house and his newly acquired meal. The pig is eaten while the wolf cries out,
“‘Bacon, pork and ham!
Oh, what lucky Wolf I am!’”
In his excitement over his acquisition of the pig he eats quickly. The part he saves for last is the tail. His investigation in the woods isn’t over yet though. He moves on and soon finds another house, this one is just as shockingly made of “TWIGS!” The wolf is happy with his good luck at finding these flimsily constructed homes.
The third stanza only contains three lines and is made up of the traditional words of the wolf. He threatens to blow down the new house if he is not let in immediately. The break between these lines and the next give the pig a moment to respond—he doesn’t.
The wolf is still speaking out loud and tells the pig that the time has come. He is going blow down the house. This time it takes a little bit more effort but all the same the pig is in danger. Unlike the first, this pig replies to the wolf. He attempts to save his own life through persuasion rather than prayer. The pragmatism of the pigs is increasing as their houses become more stable. This pig is closer to the “clever” animals the speaker cited in the first stanza.
The second pig asks the wolf to pause for a moment and consider that he has already had one meal. There is no reason, the pig says, that they can’t talk for a while instead. Clearly the pig thinks this line of reasoning is going to work—it doesn’t. The wolf does not even consider the proposal and “soon the pig was in his belly.”
At the beginning of the fifth stanza the wolf is celebrating the two pigs he has been able to eat. While they were a lot, he still isn’t satisfied. The wolf recognizes his own gluttony but decides to continue on. He gets to the final house. He knows that there is another pig “trying to hide” inside.
Before the wolf can make his threats the pig calls out “‘You’ll not get me!’” He is braver than the two preceding pigs and he has reason to be. When the wolf tries to blow the house down nothing happens. A reader should take note of the repetition used in these lines to convey the wolf’s straining breaths. He tries again and again to knock the house down. It is “as good as new” when he finally has to stop. Rather than retreat in disappointment, he makes a new plan.
The wolf is going to come back another day, this time with “dynamite!” Here is another diversion from the original story. It gives the wolf much greater agency in the world of the pigs if he is able to take advantage of a tool other than his breath. The pig is outraged by this decision. It is as if the wolf has personally insulted him with his brutish behaviour. Once more, the pig does not give in. He calls on “red Riding Hood.”
The sixth stanza contains the correspondence between the pig and “Miss Hood.” He asks her to come down to his house right away as he is in danger from a wolf. The woman is quick to reply in the affirmative. She’s happy to help and in the eighth stanza states that she will “be right there.” The pig is as polite as could be, referring back to the first stanza and the speaker description of the animals as “courteous.” He makes no demands on her, rather he asks politely and she agrees.
Little Red Riding Hood is not at all bothered by the call from the pig. She is well versed in the hunting of wolves and brushes off the danger. The situation is entirely mundane to her, as seen through her decision to wait till her hair has dried to come to the house.
The poem enters its conclusion in the ninth stanza. Before long the woman shows up at the pig’s house. She is brave, walking by herself. The wolf presents a terrifying image in comparison. His eyes are bright and his “gums…raw” from his previous meals. He sees the woman and some spit begins “dripping from his jaw.”
Before the wolf can act “Miss Hood” pulls out a gun and shoots him dead. This transition of power is quite poignant. Previously, the wolf acted before the pigs could. The stanza concludes with the third pig congratulating “Miss Riding Hood” for her “single shot.” The story could have ended there with an already surprising conclusion. That was not Dahl’s choice though. It was his goal in this collection to leave the reader with a lasting impression of the changes he made and what that means for the characters. Therefore, the final stanza is critical.
The last six lines bring back the original omniscient narrator. He looks down on the scene and tell the pig that he must,
Young ladies form the upper crust.
She is very different than he is, as he will soon see. The narrator describes how “Miss Hood” has two wolfskin coats she takes with her. But that’s not all, now she also carries a “PIGSKIN TRAVELING CASE.” The pig’s saviour turned into his executioner. There was never any way for him to escape the story.