Hi there, devotees of darkness.
Here’s a question for you: What memories does the name ‘Roald Dahl’ conjure up? If you say remembrances of reading (or watching) “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” or “Matilda,” you’re certainly not alone. Dahl is renowned worldwide for his captivating children’s stories, enchanting legions of kids over the past 5 decades with tales of chocolate rivers and telekinetic wonders. Yet, while children’s fiction may have secured his place in literary history, Dahl was also a master of darker narratives, meant to be consumed by mature audiences only.
Full disclosure: I never read any of Dahl’s children’s books as a kid. His short fiction was recommended to me by a friend when I was in middle school, and she explicitly stated that it was not like his stuff for children, assuming that I had actually read James and The Giant Peach and the like. The first collection I bought was “Kiss, Kiss.” It blew my mind, so naturally, I hunted down as many of his short story collections as possible. For me, his tales were like O. Henry on crack.
I guess I’m still a bit of a Dahl-crack head, even after all these years.
So in this post, the Longbox of Darkness will spotlight Dahl’s lesser-known but equally compelling (and disturbing) short stories for adults. Read on!
The Man Behind the Magic
Born in Wales in 1916 to Norwegian parents, Roald Dahl’s life was as remarkable as his stories. From being a fighter pilot and a spy to an inventor, his experiences shaped his writing career, which began with stories influenced by his World War II adventures. Even his adult-targeted narratives are imbued with a sharp wit, unexpected plot twists, and an insightful examination of human nature—elements that later became cornerstones of his children’s literature. Several of these gripping tales were adapted into episodes for the acclaimed television series “Alfred Hitchcock Presents.”
A Closer Look at Some of Dahl’s Best
Let’s enter the mesmerizing world of Dahl’s weird short stories. These are definitely NOT for the faint of heart.
1.“Lamb to the Slaughter”: Imagine a wife serving detectives the very murder weapon she used to kill her husband, only cooked and carved into tantalizing pieces. That’s the twisted reality Dahl constructs in “Lamb to the Slaughter.” The seamless blend of suspense and dark humor is quintessentially Dahl, making this story a must-read.
2.“Man from the South”: A suspenseful tale centered on a bizarre bet, “Man from the South” tells the story of an old man and a young American soldier. The wager? The soldier’s finger against the old man’s car was all decided by the success or failure of a lighter. With escalating tension and Dahl’s signature twist ending, this story will surely keep you gripped.
3.“The Landlady”: Dahl excels in transforming the mundane into the horrifying, and “The Landlady” is a testament to that skill. The seemingly harmless landlady in this story welcomes young Billy Weaver into her home, only to reveal a chilling secret that’s sure to give you goosebumps.
4.“The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar”: A tale of self-transformation and philanthropy, this narrative follows the life of Henry Sugar, an affluent yet purposeless man. Upon discovering a yogic method of seeing through playing cards, Sugar uses this talent to swindle casinos. His motive, however, isn’t personal gain. Instead, he donates all his winnings to orphanages, becoming an unlikely, invisible benefactor.
5.“The Hitchhiker”: This amusing tale follows a driver who picks up an eccentric hitchhiker claiming to be a ‘fingersmith’ or pickpocket. When the driver is stopped by a police officer for speeding, the hitchhiker’s skills unexpectedly come into play, turning a tense situation into an entertaining one, demonstrating Dahl’s knack for combining humor and suspense.
6.“Royal Jelly”: This story delves into the desperate measures a couple resorts to when their baby refuses to eat. The father, a beekeeper, feeds the baby royal jelly, a substance bees use to nurture their larvae. The disturbing transformation the baby undergoes creates a chilling narrative that’ll linger in your mind long after you’ve finished reading.
7.“Taste”: Dahl’s mastery of blending humor with tension is evident in this narrative about a bet made at a dinner party. The stakes are high: the hand of the host’s daughter versus a precious bottle of wine. The wine connoisseur has to identify the vintage of the wine served, leading to an intriguing and suspenseful dinner gathering.
8.“Neck”: Infidelity and revenge take center stage in this narrative, where an adulterous husband is caught in a rather uncomfortable situation by his wife. The husband’s predicament and the subsequent consequences reveal Dahl’s talent for crafting witty and darkly comedic scenarios.
9.“Skin”: This story deals with the question of value, beauty, and desperation. An old man with a unique tattoo – the masterpiece of a famous artist from his youth – finds himself grappling with a potentially gruesome decision when the tattoo gains immense value.
10.“The Way Up to Heaven”: This tale features Mrs. Foster, a woman tormented by her husband’s cruelty. Dahl expertly builds suspense as Mrs. Foster finds herself with a chance to rid herself of her oppressive husband. Her ultimate decision makes for a conclusion that’s as shocking as it is satisfying for the readers.
Each of these stories showcases Dahl’s ability to explore the complexities of human nature under extraordinary circumstances, ensuring his adult fiction remains as mesmerizing as his more famous children’s literature. All of these stories can be found in the following list of collections, though these books might be hard to come by:
- “Over to You: Ten Stories of Flyers and Flying” (1946)
- “Someone Like You” (1953)
- “Kiss Kiss” (1960)
- “Twenty-Nine Kisses from Roald Dahl” (1969)
- “Switch Bitch” (1974)
- “The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More” (1977)
- “The Best of Roald Dahl” (1978)
- “Tales of the Unexpected” (1979)
- “More Tales of the Unexpected” (1980)
- “The Roald Dahl Omnibus” (1986)
- “Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life: The Country Stories of Roald Dahl” (1989)
- “Two Fables” (1986) – This contains just two stories: ‘Princess Mammalia’, and ‘Princess and the Poacher.’
Unmasking the Darkness
Dahl’s name is synonymous with whimsical worlds, chocolate factories, and telekinetic children. Yet, by turning the page to the darker, more mature corner of his bibliography, we’ve uncovered a world of suspense, intrigue, and chilling horror that demonstrates Dahl’s unique versatility as a writer.
The ten stories highlighted above each illustrate the depth and breadth of Dahl’s talent. From “Lamb to the Slaughter” to “The Way Up to Heaven,” his adult narratives embody a masterful blend of dark humor, clever twists, and insightful commentaries on human nature, love, and greed. The characters and the extraordinary situations they find themselves in reflect the complexities of humanity in its rawest forms.
Moreover, Dahl’s stories challenge readers not only with their narratives but also with their implications. His characters often face moral quandaries that compel us, the readers, to question our own reactions and beliefs. Could we empathize with a wife-turned-murderer? Or with a man who must decide between preserving his skin or his life’s most precious memory? Through his provocative storytelling, Dahl engages us in these ethical dilemmas, adding another layer to our reading experience.
Despite the stark contrast with his children’s stories, Dahl’s adult fiction, too, has left an indelible mark. These narratives are neither sugary tales of fantastical worlds nor life lessons adorned in innocence. Instead, they are profound and unsettling explorations of the human psyche hidden beneath the veneer of everyday life.
Moreover, Dahl’s influence stretched beyond the written word. His adult stories were adapted into episodes for the television series “Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” allowing his dark, twisted tales to come alive on screen and reach a wider audience.
In the end, even his children’s stories weren’t devoid of moments of horror. Remember the frightful scene of the boat ride in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”? Or Miss Trunchbull’s tyranny in “Matilda”? Or even the equally disturbing hydrophobic scenes from “The Witches?” These instances highlight Dahl’s unique ability to create narratives that simultaneously enchant and terrify, regardless of the age of his readers.
*Do you have any fond memories of reading Dahl, and if so, what are some of your favorites? Reply in the comments below, dark ones.
As I wrap up this post, I hope that it has sparked an interest in exploring this less-known but equally fascinating side of Roald Dahl’s literary legacy. As the man himself once said, “The greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places.” So, keep reading, keep exploring, and you might just stumble upon something extraordinary in the unexpected corners of Dahl’s eerie bibliography.
*If you want to check out some of Dahl’s fiction for adults, The Longbox of Darkness recommends the excellent Roald Dahl: The Complete Short Fiction Vol. 1 and Vol. 2. Every single story, even the ones not mentioned in this post, are absolute gems of suspenseful fiction.
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