Why Authors Get Gross

By Howard J. Bennett

If you’ve ever read a Captain Underpants book, you know that some books exist just to be gross. If you started reading chapter books because Captain Underpants made you giggle, that’s great. But what about authors whose primary mission is not to gross out their readers? Is there a place for icky stuff in regular novels?

The answer to this question is a resounding yes! Some of our best-loved writers have been known to dabble in grossology from time to time. They do it for a variety of reasons. Sometimes, they are just trying to be as creative as they can be, coming up with outrageous ideas. Other times, they may be trying to break up an intense or serious part of a book with a bit of humor—gross humor that is!

Roald Dahl is the author of lots of terrific books including James and the Giant Peach, Matilda and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

My favorite Roald Dahl book is The BFG. (The letters stands for the “big, friendly giant.”) In the book, a girl named Sophie is kidnapped by the BFG. Once the BFG gets Sophie to his home in giant country, she learns about lots of unusual things such a snozzcumbers, a disgusting vegetable that the BFG eats and frobscottle, a “delumptious” drink that the BFG loves. It turns out that frobscottle is no ordinary drink. It is fizzy like soda, but the bubbles travel down instead of up. As a result, the bubbles come out a person’s other end producing a whizzpopper, which is a fart that’s so powerful it launches the person into the air.

JK Rowling populated Harry Potter’s world with lots of gross things.

In Harry and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry, Ron, and Hermione were trapped in a bathroom with a huge, evil troll who wanted to pound them into mincemeat. When it looks like they’ll never escape, Harry jumps on the troll from behind and jams his wand up the troll’s nose. When Harry pulls the wand out of the troll’s nose, it’s covered with disgusting snot that looks like lumpy gray glue.

In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Ron became furious when Draco Malfoy calls Hermione a Mudblood. Unfortunately, when Ron tries to zap Malfoy his wand misfires and a jet of green light shoots out the back end and hits him in the stomach. When Ron tries to speak, he repeatedly throws up mouthfuls of slugs.

You may find this hard to believe, but Shrek! was a book before it was a movie. It was written by William Steig, who wrote a number of wonderful stories for kids. In the book, Shrek smells so bad flowers and trees move out of his way as he walks by. When Shrek comes upon a dragon as he is searching for his hideous princess, he lets out a whiff of blue flame and the dragon goes down like a ton of bricks.

The original Shrek! was published in 1990, eleven years before the movie. Although the movie Shrek had a few redeeming qualities, the Shrek of the book was an ogre through and through.


© 2012 Howard J. Bennett. All Rights Reserved.
(First published in the Washington Post 11/15/10.)

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