The Wonderful World Of Henry Sugar (Roald Dahl)

Roald Dahl had that galvanic ability to emotionally penetrate the reader, giving his tales a unique intimacy. We feel as if we’ve gone through the experience inside his characters bodies. Even when he’s writing about dark subject matter there is always a sense of wonder. His stories are grounded in a real compassion, whether his target audience are children or adults. This collection of six are for teens and adults, not children. And they are not all fiction! So, without further ado, here is a basic list of what you get for your library card:

“The Boy Who Talked With Animals” This one is about a young tourist boy at a beach resort who seeks to free a giant sea turtle which has been captured by the hotel management. This sounds like a children’s story, but the characterization and the setting are quite adult.

“The Hitchhiker” Here we have an amusing tale about a British hitchhiker who reveals himself to be a *fingersmith* a master classman of the pickpocketing profession. The interplay between three different levels of British society: the journalist driver, the rough cockney passenger, and a belligerent traffic cop proves to be an entertaining read. Certainly the most humourous story in this collection, followed closely by that of Henry Sugar.

“The Mildenhall Treasure” Is an incredible story about an amazing discovery. On a cold winter morning, a farmer plowing another man’s land stumbled upon the greatest cache of Roman silver ever found in Britain. Regrettably, Gordon Butcher didn’t know what he had found because the silver had tarnished during its years in the ground. His boss did know what it was and took the stuff home where it hid for a few years before the authorities discovered it.

The crux of the story centers on a British law that says the person who finds any treasure receives compensation for the full market value of the items. The Mildenhall plates, bowls, and spoons would have netted Butcher nearly a million pounds. By allowing his boss to walk off with the silver, Gordon Butcher received only one thousand pounds. In a way, this book is similar to the Mildenhall Treasure: a great find even if you have little idea of it at first glance.
This is one of only a few non-fiction stories that Dahl ever wrote.

“The Swan” About a precocious child named Peter Watson who runs into two local tormentors, Ernie and Raymond, while out bird watching. The two goons march Watson around at the point of a gun for no other reason than alleviating their boredom on a weekend. The final indignity occurs when Raymond and Ernie shoot a beautiful swan, tie its wings to Peter’s arms, and force him to climb a tree so they can see him “fly.” There is something magical and memorable about what happens next as Peter learns that he is one of those precious souls which all the bullies in the world will never triumph over. The pain/cruelty/compassion/gentleness here shows the depth of feeling Dahl was capable of.

“The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar” It’s really two stories in one, about a wealthy but frivolous soul named Henry Sugar (from an affluent family) and his discovery of an unusual book in a friend’s library. The book tells the story about a man in India who has learned to see through objects without the use of his eyes. Sugar gets the sudden inspiration to attain this ability and soon discovers that he is a natural at it, one of the rare people with the amazing gift to learn this art in just a few years. Henry’s motivations are highly suspect at first: he wishes to use this newfound talent to cheat at the casino, thereby earning himself a fortune. But something rather odd occurs during his training process when Sugar soon discovers that he has little interest in accumulating money for selfish ends. Dahl writes the story in such a way that the reader becomes convinced Henry Sugar was a real, breathing person.

Here is a revealing quote about how the state of mind Roald Dahl would pass into when he wrote: “And it was then I began to realize for the first time that there are two distinct sides to a writer of fiction. First, there is the side he displays to the public, that of an ordinary person like anyone else, a person who does ordinary things and speaks ordinary language. Second, there is the secret side, which comes out in him only after he has closed the door of his workroom and is completely alone. It is then that he slips into another world altogether, a world where his imagination takes over and he finds himself actually living in the places he is writing about at that moment. I myself, if you want to know, fall into a kind of trance, and everything around me disappears. I see only the point of my pencil moving over the paper, and quite often two hours go by as though they were a couple of seconds.” That’s how ya do it.

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Comments

  1. I love that quote at the end, very inspiring! Great review as always, Roald Dahl’s short stories have always been very memorable to me.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you! Yeah, he had the gift alright. 🙂

    Like

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