I had read a couple of the short stories from The Wonderful World of Henry Sugar and Six More by Roald Dahl previously but the rest were new to me. The stories are aimed at older children so of course I enjoyed them enormously.
The collection started with The Boy Who Talked With Animals. The narrator is an Englishman on a beach holiday in Jamaica where local fishermen caught an enormous turtle which they dragged up onto the beach. One particularly obnoxious holiday-maker wanted to buy the turtle’s shell while others looked forward to eating turtle soup and steak. At this point I considered becoming a vegetarian. It seemed to me that the turtle owned its own shell and contents, regardless of who else wanted them. Although the narrator was sympathetic to the fate of the turtle, the only advocate for the turtle’s life was a young boy.
The next story was The Hitch-Hiker whose narrator picked up a hitch-hiker in his high-powered car. The hitch-hiker’s trade as a ‘fingersmith’ proved useful when the narrator was caught speeding.
The Mildenhall Treasure was new to me. The story is a fictionalised version of an actual find of Roman treasure by a farmer in England while ploughing a paddock. I’ve been fascinated by the details of the find since reading this story and have been poring over photos of the 34 pieces of magnificent silver which are now housed in the British Museum.
The Swan is the story of two teenage bullies who went out bird-shooting but ended up tormenting a younger child. Nobody portrays horrible children quite so well as Roald Dahl.
The title story, The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar tells of a rich, good-for-nothing who reads an account of a man who could see without using his eyes. Henry Sugar decided to learn to do this himself so he could cheat his friends at cards. It took him years to learn but once he did, Henry Sugar became a better person.
Lucky Break How I Became a Writer is the author’s account of what it takes to be a writer and how he became one, starting with his childhood at boarding school where he was brutally beaten by school masters and older students. Fortunately he also learned to love good literature from a wonderful woman who taught him and his fellow students about a different landmark event in English Literature every Saturday morning. Dahl then talked about his first job with the Shell Oil Company, for whom he was working in Tanzania when World War Two broke out. He became a writer after the war when he met C.S. Forester, which is every bit as amazing a story as all of the rest.
The last story in this collection is A Piece of Cake My First Story – 1942. This is Dahl’s account of a plane crash he had during the war in the desert, which he wrote for C.S. Forester when asked to provide the details of his most exciting adventure during war time. C.S. Forester had requested this with the intention of turning into a story for a newspaper but ended up submitting Dahl’s story to the newspaper without changing a word. The story earned Dahl $1000 and a letter from C.S. Forester asking, “Did you know you were a writer?”
I’d forgotten how readable Roald Dahl’s stories are. Charlie & the Chocolate Factory is playing at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Melbourne at the moment and seeing the gorgeously purple and gold advertising for the show on the theatre’s façade and on trams, buildings and flagpoles all around town made me pick up this book.