Lamb to the Slaughter
The Sound Machine
An African Story
Dip in the Pool
The Champion of the World
Beware of the Dog
My Lady Love, My Dove
ABOUT ROALD DAHL
Roald Dahl was born in 1916 in Wales of Norwegian parents. He was educated in England before starting work for the Shell Oil Company in Africa. He began writing after a 'monumental bash on the head' sustained as an RAF fighter pilot during the Second World War. Roald Dahl is one of the most successful and well known of all children's writers. His books, which are read by children the world over, include James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Magic Finger, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, Fantastic Mr Fox, Matilda, The Twits, The BFG and The Witches, winner of the 1983 Whitbread Award. Roald Dahl died in 1990 at the age of seventy-four.
Roald Dahl, the writer and the man, needs no introduction - his autobiographies, Boy and Going Solo, record, with considerable charm and with the skills of a storyteller, a life lived to the full.
It is clear that being a reader was as important to Dahl as being a writer; his mother introduced him to The Wind in the Willows and the stories of Beatrix Potter and A. A. Milne. He was encouraged to read at school and had read the works of many classic writers, including Tolstoy and Balzac, by the time he was twelve. The writers who influenced his own work were great storytellers such as Somerset Maugham, Rudyard Kipling and Damon Runyon and he became interested in writing stories that could be read in one sitting.
Roald Dahl wanted to write accessible stories that would enable young people to share his pleasure for reading. He once said, 'The success of a short story is simple, it must have a beginning, a middle and an end. The reader must never want to put it down.' Roald Dahl's children's books have that un-put-downable quality that has made him the most popular writer for children today. I remember reading an article about him somewhere that contained the memorable sentence, 'The popularity of Roald Dahl is swelling like the giant peach.' This continues to be true. Of course young readers love it when George describes his grandmother in George's Marvellous Medicine as having 'pale brown teeth and a small puckered-up mouth like a dog's bottom', but most of all, they love the characters, the anarchy, the power of the stories and the element of surprise that is never missing for long.
Returning again to my hardback volume of Roald Dahl's collected short stories for adults and then listening, with my fifteen-year-old niece, to some of them being read on the radio, I remember that they too have the magic of the children's stories. They may be nastier, more shocking, darkly fascinating and even more unpredictable, but they certainly can't be put down.
Some of the stories in this book are technically brilliant and have appealed to many young adult readers; they are a kind of bridge between the children's stories and the clearly adult stories. They tell of a woman who murders her husband with a leg of lamb, a sound machine that enables us to hear plants crying, a diamond's journey, a man who has a great work of art tattooed on his back, and much, much more.
The stories were written in New York, quite early in Roald Dahl's writing career. Most of the children's stories you will have enjoyed were written later in his famous refuge, the hut at the bottom of his garden. It was full of mementos - including one of his own arthritic hipbones - and it was his place. He wrote there in winter, wrapped in a blanket with his feet in a sleeping bag, and clearly his imagination never felt the cold. These more grown-up stories will evoke a range of feelings and responses; read them in your place and enjoy them.
Wendy Cooling, 2000
Books by Roald Dahl
BOY: TALES OF CHILDHOOD
CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY
CHARLIE AND THE GREAT GLASS ELEVATOR
DANNY THE CHAMPION OF THE WORLD
GEORGE'S MARVELLOUS MEDICINE
JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH
For younger readers
THE ENORMOUS CROCODILE
FANTASTIC MR FOX
THE GIRAFFE AND THE PELLY AND ME
THE MAGIC FINGER
DIRTY BEASTS (with Quentin Blake)
THE ENORMOUS CROCODILE (with Quentin Blake)
THE GIRAFFE AND THE PELLY AND ME (with Quentin Blake)
THE MINPINS (with Patrick Benson)
REVOLTING RHYMES (with Quentin Blake)
THE BFG: PLAYS FOR CHILDREN (Adapted by David Wood)
CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY: A PLAY (Adapted by Richard George)
DANNY THE CHAMPION OF THE WORLD: PLAYS FOR CHILDREN (Adapted by David Wood)
FANTASTIC MR FOX: A PLAY (Adapted by Sally Reid)
JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH: A PLAY (Adapted by Richard George)
THE TWITS: PLAYS FOR CHILDREN (Adapted by David Wood)
THE WITCHES: PLAYS FOR CHILDREN (Adapted by David Wood)
THE GREAT AUTOMATIC GRAMMATIZATOR AND OTHER STORIES
SKIN AND OTHER STORIES
THE VICAR OF NIBBLESWICKE
THE WONDERFUL STORY OF HENRY SUGAR AND SIX MORE
THE ROALD DAHL TREASURY
SONGS AND VERSE
That year - 1946 - winter was a long time going. Although it was April, a freezing wind blew through the streets of the city, and overhead the snow clouds moved across the sky.
The old man who was called Drioli shuffled painfully along the sidewalk of the rue de Rivoli. He was cold and miserable, huddled up like a hedgehog in a filthy black coat, only his eyes and the top of his head visible above the turned-up collar.
The door of a cafe opened and the faint whiff of roasting chicken brought a pain of yearning to the top of his stomach. He moved on glancing without any interest at the things in the shop windows - perfume, silk ties and shirts, diamonds, porcelain, antique furniture, finely bound books. Then a picture gallery. He had always liked picture galleries. This one had a single canvas on display in the window. He stopped to look at it. He turned to go on. He checked, looked back; and now, suddenly, there came to him a slight uneasiness, a movement of the memory, a distant recollection of something, somewhere, he had seen before. He looked again. It was a landscape, a clump of trees leaning madly over to one side as if blown by a tremendous wind, the sky swirling and twisting all around. Attached to the frame there was a little plaque, and on this it said: CHAIM SOUTINE (1894-1943).
Drioli stared at the picture, wondering vaguely what there was about it that seemed familiar. Crazy painting, he thought. Very strange and crazy - but I like it ... Chaim Soutine ... Soutine ... 'By God!' he cried suddenly. 'My little Kalmuck, that's who it is! My little Kalmuck with a picture in the finest shop in Paris! Just imagine that!'
The old man pressed his face closer to the window. He could remember the boy - yes, quite clearly he could remember him. But when? The rest of it was not so easy to recollect. It was so long ago. How long? Twenty - no, more like thirty years, wasn't it? Wait a minute. Yes - it was the year before the war, the first war, 1913. That was it. And this Soutine, this ugly little Kalmuck, a sullen brooding boy whom he had liked - almost loved - for no reason at all that he could think of except that he could paint.
And how he could paint! It was coming back more clearly now - the street, the line
of refuse cans along the length of it, the rotten smell, the brown cats walking delicately over the refuse, and then the women, moist fat women sitting on the doorsteps with their feet upon the cobblestones of the street. Which street? Where was it the boy had lived?
The Cite Falguiere, that was it! The old man nodded his head several times, pleased to have remembered the name. Then there was the studio with the single chair in it, and the filthy red couch that the boy had used for sleeping; the drunken parties, the cheap white wine, the furious quarrels, and always, always the bitter sullen face of the boy brooding over his work.
It was odd, Drioli thought, how easily it all came back to him now, how each single small remembered fact seemed instantly to remind him of another.
There was that nonsense with the tattoo, for instance. Now, that was a mad thing if ever there was one. How had it started? Ah, yes - he had got rich one day, that was it, and he had bought lots of wine. He could see himself now as he entered the studio with the parcel of bottles under his arm - the boy sitting before the easel, and his (Drioli's) own wife standing in the centre of the room, posing for her picture.
'Tonight we shall celebrate,' he said. 'We shall have a little celebration, us three.'
'What is it that we celebrate?' the boy asked, without looking up. 'Is it that you have decided to divorce your wife so she can marry me?'
'No,' Drioli said. 'We celebrate because today I have made a great sum of money with my work.'
'If you like.' Drioli was standing by the table unwrapping the parcel. He felt tired and he wanted to get at the wine. Nine clients in one day was all very nice, but it could play hell with a man's eyes. He had never done as many as nine before. Nine boozy soldiers - and the remarkable thing was that no fewer than seven of them had been able to pay in cash. This had made him extremely rich. But the work was terrible on the eyes. Drioli's eyes were half closed from fatigue, the whites streaked with little connecting lines of red; and about an inch behind each eyeball there was a small concentration of pain. But it was evening now and he was wealthy as a pig, and in the parcel there were three bottles - one for his wife, one for his friend, and one for him. He had found the corkscrew and was drawing the corks from the bottles, each making a small plop as it came out.
The boy put down his brush. 'Oh, Christ,' he said. 'How can one work with all this going on?'
The girl came across the room to look at the painting. Drioli came over also, holding a bottle in one hand, a glass in the other.
'No,' the boy shouted, blazing up suddenly. 'Please - no!' He snatched the canvas from the easel and stood it against the wall. But Drioli had seen it.
'I like it.'
'It's marvellous. Like all the others that you do, it's marvellous. I love them all.'
'The trouble is,' the boy said, scowling, 'that in themselves they are not nourishing. I cannot eat them.'
'But still they are marvellous.' Drioli handed him a tumblerful of the pale-yellow wine. 'Drink it,' he said. 'It will make you happy.'
Never, he thought, had he known a more unhappy person, or one with a gloomier face. He had spotted him in a cafe some seven months before, drinking alone, and because he had looked like a Russian or some sort of an Asiatic, Drioli had sat down at his table and talked.
'You are a Russian?'
Drioli had jumped up and embraced him, crying that he too had been born in that city.
'It wasn't actually Minsk,' the boy had said. 'But quite near.'
'Smilovichi, about twelve miles away.'
'Smilovichi!' Drioli had shouted, embracing him again. 'I walked there several times when I was a boy.' Then he had sat down again, staring affectionately at the other's face. 'You know,' he had said, 'you don't look like a western Russian. You're like a Tartar, or a Kalmuck. You look exactly like a Kalmuck.'
Now, standing in the studio, Drioli looked again at the boy as he took the glass of wine and tipped it down his throat in one swallow. Yes, he did have a face like a Kalmuck - very broad and high-cheeked, with a wide coarse nose. This broadness of the cheeks was accentuated by the ears which stood out sharply from the head. And then he had the narrow eyes, the black hair, the thick sullen mouth of a Kalmuck, but the hands - the hands were always a surprise, so small and white like a lady's, with tiny thin fingers.
'Give me some more,' the boy said. 'If we are to celebrate then let us do it properly.'
Drioli distributed the wine and sat himself on a chair. The boy sat on the old couch with Drioli's wife. The three bottles were placed on the floor between them.
'Tonight we shall drink as much as we possibly can,' Drioli said. 'I am exceptionally rich. I think perhaps I should go out now and buy some more bottles. How many shall I get?'
'Six more,' the boy said. 'Two for each.'
'Good. I shall go now and fetch them.'
'And I will help you.'
In the nearest cafe Drioli bought six bottles of white wine, and then carried them back to the studio. They placed them on the floor in two rows, and Drioli fetched the corkscrew and pulled the corks, all six of them; then they sat down again and continued to drink.
'It is only the very wealthy,' Drioli said, 'who can afford to celebrate in this manner.'
'That is true,' the boy said. 'Isn't that true, Josie?'
'How do you feel, Josie?'
'Will you leave Drioli and marry me?'
'Beautiful wine,' Drioli said. 'It is a privilege to drink it.'
Slowly, methodically, they set about getting themselves drunk. The process was routine, but all the same there was a certain ceremony to be observed, and a gravity to be maintained, and a great number of things to be said, then said again - and the wine must be praised, and the slowness was important too, so that there would be time to savour the three delicious stages of transition, especially (for Drioli) the one when he began to float and his feet did not really belong to him. That was the best period of them all - when he could look down at his feet and they were so far away that he would wonder what crazy person they might belong to and why they were lying around on the floor like that, in the distance.
After a while, he got up to switch on the light. He was surprised to see that the feet came with him when he did this, especially because he couldn't feel them touching the ground. It gave him a pleasant sensation of walking on air. Then he began wandering around the room, peeking slyly at the canvases stacked against the walls.
'Listen,' he said at length. 'I have an idea.' He came across and stood before the couch, swaying gently. 'Listen, my little Kalmuck.'
'I have a tremendous idea. Are you listening?'
'I'm listening to Josie.'
'Listen to me, please. You are my friend - my ugly little Kalmuck from Minsk - and to me you are such an artist that I would like to have a picture, a lovely picture -'
'Have them all. Take all you can find, but do not interrupt me when I am talking with your wife.'
'No, no. Now listen. I mean a picture that I can have with me always ... for ever ... wherever I go ... whatever happens ... but always with me ... a picture by you.' He reached forward and shook the boy's knee. 'Now listen to me, please.'
'Listen to him,' the girl said.
'It is this. I want you to paint a picture on my skin, on my back. Then I want you to tattoo over what you have painted so that it will be there always.'
'You have crazy ideas.'
'I will teach you how to use the tattoo. It is easy. A child could do it.'
'I am not a child.'
'You are quite mad. What is it you want?' The painter looked up into the slow, dark, wine-bright eyes of the other man. 'What in heaven's name is it you want?'
'You could do it easily! You could! You could!'
'You mean with the tattoo?'
'Yes, with the tattoo! I will teach you in two minutes!'
'Are you saying I do not know what I am talking about?'
No, the boy could not possibly be saying that because if anyone knew about the tattoo it was he - Drioli. Had he not, only last month, covered a man's whole belly with the most wonderful and delicate design composed entirely of flowers? What about the client who had had so much hair upon his chest that he had done him a picture of a grizzly bear so designed that the hair on the chest became the furry coat of the bear? Could he not draw the likeness of a lady and position it with such subtlety upon a man's arm that when the muscle of the arm was flexed the lady came to life and performed some astonishing contortions?
'All I am saying,' the boy told him, 'is that you are drunk and this is a drunken idea.'
'We could have Josie for a model. A study of Josie upon my back. Am I not entitled to a picture of my wife upon my back?'
'Yes.' Drioli knew he only had to mention his wife and the boy's thick brown lips would loosen and begin to quiver.
'No,' the girl said.
'Darling Josie, please. Take this bottle and finish it, then you will feel more generous. It is an enormous idea. Never in my life have I had such an idea before.'
'That he should make a picture of you upon my back. Am I not entitled to that?'
'A picture of me?'
'A nude study,' the boy said. 'It is an agreeable idea.'
'Not nude,' the girl said.
'It is an enormous idea,' Drioli said.
'It's a damn crazy idea,' the girl said.
'It is in any event an idea,' the boy said. 'It is an idea that calls for a celebration.'
They emptied another bottle among them. Then the boy said, 'It is no good. I could not possibly manage the tattoo. Instead, I will paint this picture on your back and you will have it with you so long as you do not take a bath and wash it off. If you never take a bath again in your life then you will have it always, as long as you live.'
'No,' Drioli said.
'Yes - and on the day that you decide to take a bath I will know that you do not any longer value my picture. It will be a test of your admiration for my art.'
'I do not like the idea,' the girl said. 'His admiration for your art is so great that he would be unclean for many years. Let us have the tattoo. But not nude.'