The Short Stories of Roald Dahl

I still have my first copies of my Roald Dahl books. James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Fantastic Mr. Fox. They’re all editions from the 70s given to me by my uncle and they are well-loved (read: falling a little bit apart). I really enjoyed his stories from a young age but I don’t think I truly appreciated Dahl till I read his adult short stories. I feel like these stories are really unknown and under-appreciated, overshadowed by the fun and whimsy of his children’s stories.

imag1119_c
I know you probably grew up on Quentin Blake’s illustrations but these are far superior (sorry Mr. Blake) – just look how pretty these covers are. Fantastic Mr Fox is gorgeous. It is like a painting.

I was about to write a sentence which went something along the lines of “his short stories are not a thing like his tales for children” but that would be a bit of a lie. A giant peach crushing your well-deserving enemies? A couple that go out of their way to torment each other? Children being picked off one by one on an innocent trip to a chocolate factory? I guess it should have been somewhat obvious to those well-versed in Dahl as one of his adult short stories The Champion of the World eventually evolved into Danny, Champion of the World. Dahl is darker than we give him credit for, not just because of the many misfortunes he’s suffered. Much like fairy tales, his children’s stories are wrapped in glitter and like a magician’s trick, we are too distracted to notice his dark humour.

His short stories don’t attempt to hide the darkness. The twisted endings and adult themes play on it, engage with it and laugh despite it. It’s a very different side of Dahl, yes, but it’s definitely worth the read. Here’s a few you can start with, some of my favourites. I’ll keep descriptions short to prevent spoilers.

Skin
I think “Skin” is a good place to start – not too dark (not exactly light), but I understand why the collection I own Skin and other Stories begins with it. The story starts when a man comes across an art exhibition which triggers the memory of the artist tattooing a painting onto his back decades earlier.

Lamb to the Slaughter
Think: Desperate Housewives, Mary Maloney and this story can contend with that kind of drama.

The Sound Machine
Imagine if every living thing including plants and trees created sound but we just couldn’t hear it.

Mrs. Bixby and the Colonel’s Coat
This one is all about karma and the dramatic irony in this one is brilliant – if these were moralistic fables Mrs. Bixby would learn that it doesn’t pay to cheat on your husband.

The Great Automatic Grammatizator
Dahl imagined the future: a machine that could write our stories for us. Who needs novelists?

Royal Jelly
Royal Jelly. That’s the stuff they give to the Queen Bee in a beehive. Only the best. So surely, it would be only the best for your newborn baby, right?

Parson’s Pleasure
This is another one of those karmically satisfying stories, this time about a man who travels the countryside looking for antique furniture and tries to con his way into more money than he deserves.

***

I wasn’t quite sure how to end this post, and as I probably won’t dedicate ALL of my blog posts to Roald Dahl I wanted to include a little side story. I recently dressed up as Roald Dahl (quite poorly, and very last minute-ly) for a Writing Society event at uni despite being fairly short, fairly female and fairly Asian; none of which I can say Roald Dahl was. It consisted of wearing black trousers, a white shirt and a cardigan. I have some Puffin postcards of which I found a Dahl title and slapped it onto a notebook and, because I don’t really know anyone who smokes, I made a cigarette out of paper, washi tape and the insides of a teabag (for the ash). I’m not entirely sure I was quite convincing enough but the theme was dead authors. A bit morbid, yes, but perhaps something Dahl would appreciate? Read his short stories. It might convince you.

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