Saturday, 9 September 2017

#23 A book with a name in the title

The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar  by Roald Dahl

This is a collection of short stories that Dahl wrote for older children and was published in 1977. There are six tales in all and they all touch upon some eccentricity of human nature, often with a deeper hint of malice and/or goodness.

Though we love Roald Dahl for his wonderful fantastical tales like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, James and the Giant Peach , The BFG etc. it is a well-known fact that he did write more ‘serious’ stories as well. In fact, he wrote children’s stories only after he had children of his own apparently.

So in this collection of tales we come across seven short and quirky tales (one is a recollection of how he became a writer). The opening tale of ‘The Boy Who Talked With Animals’ narrates the strange tale of a young boy who reacts strongly against the islanders who have captured a gigantic turtle and pleads with them to set it free. He has an uncanny ability to talk with animals and cannot stand watching it being tortured.  There is a fantastical end to this tale when the same boy goes missing but is found in a peculiar situation.

The second tale ‘The Hitchhiker’ is an amusing anecdote about a British hitchhiker who reveals himself to be a "fingersmith", a master classman of the pickpocketing profession.  It was my second favourite story among these.

The next one, titled ‘The Mildenhall Treasure’ is based on a true story of how one plowman, Gordon Butcher happens to stumble upon one of the most amazing treasures while he ploughs a field. Not realizing the worth of the Roman silverware utensils that he digs up, he even lets his boss walk away with it. But fate comes back and plays her card in the end. This is one of the few non-fiction writings he has done (if I am not wrong, he has only written two non-fiction stories).

The most disturbing tale of all would be ‘The Swan’, which is about a couple of sadist bullies torturing another kid who becomes their target for getting over their “boredom”. The way they go about tying him to the railway tracks and later cutting off a swan’s wings to tie it to the boy was shocking in terms of violent cruelty.

He has created some of the most memorable characters of children's fiction - Willy Wonka, Matilda and the BFG to name a few
The story I enjoyed the most would be the title tale – ‘The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar’. Dahl brings alive the amazing story of a wealthy and initially aimless soul called Henry Sugar who after reading about a man in India who had trained himself to see things without using his eyes, embarks on a strange mission. First he practices for over three years to achieve a similar level of expertise – he also is able to see through objects, like playing cards or words on a closed book. He also realizes how he can now win millions if he uses this talent of his. But what does he do with the money? Think of a modern day Robin Hood and Henry Sugar would fit the bill. You get the picture right? :)

Besides these tales there are two more which are of personal importance to Roald Dahl in his journey towards becoming a writer. In ‘Lucky Break’ , he confides in us the true story of how he became a writer. ‘A Piece of Cake’ which is the last tale in this, is in fact a copy of the very first nonfiction story he wrote for The Saturday Evening Post.

An entirely new set of words to describe entirely new and imagined things !
Somehow, this isn’t the Roald Dahl I was expecting to read, but surprisingly I ended up getting a glimpse of how he became a writer and became familiar with the other side of his writing as well.  Henry Sugar was definitely the most lovingly told tale with a generous and big-hearted millionaire with the strange and uncanny ability to read through cards. His explanation on how to become a good fiction writer was unexpected in a collection of short stories but makes us believe in the impossible – somehow he always manages to do that!

This month – September – happens to be the birth month of this scrumdiddlyumptious storyteller, who used his imagination to come up with such colourful characters that we loved growing up with. He even went ahead and made his own fantastical, albeit nonsensical language called Gooblefunk :D  which we absolutely enjoy in his popular children’s tales. There is even an Oxford Roald Dahl dictionary compiling all the words he brought to life like – frizzlecrump, swogswalloed, phizzwizards, trogglehumper and snozzcumber, to name a few.  If you would like to be more fluent in gobblefunk, check out this article here which provides a quick intro to the magical,  and hilarious words that make up Gobblefunk. Have a gloriumptious time reading!! (that's gobblefunk for 'glorious and wonderful) :)  


Anonymous said...

This sounds like a fantastic read. Thank you for this post, and for all the information on Dahl. I want to know how he sounded when he wrote for older children. I am surely adding this to my TBR.

Sne said...

Hey! Thank you so much for your words! :D I am glad it is something you enjoyed reading. In fact Roald Dahl has written a few such stories - often a psychological portrayal of the darkness in human nature. You may want to add 'Someone Like You ' too to your list. More darker and twisted than this one. Happy Reading!