Roald Dahl and Guy de Maupassant

CRACK! BANG! A young boy, Peter Watson was hanging from fifty feet up on a tree, and bullets were being fired at him. The two hooligans had threatened to shoot at Peter if he didn’t jump.  One of the loutish ones reloaded his gun and screamed “Last chance!” But Peter still didn’t jump. So, he pulled the trigger. Wait! Hold on, let’s rewind a little. Best friends Ernie and Raymond were ruthless and dangerous bullies. When Ernie receives a rifle for his birthday, the two decide to go hunting. At first, they hike along the countryside, shooting small birds and waterfowl but soon enough they see a new target: Peter Watson. Peter was “always the enemy” and Ernie and Raymond despised him because he was “nearly everything that they were not”. The two thugs quickly creep up on Peter and point the rifle at him. Since Peter wasn’t armed himself, he had to follow Ernie and Raymond’s orders. As a joke, they tie Peter to a railroad track. Peter ponders his options and decides to dig himself into the ground with his body and protect himself when the train comes. Peter survives the train with his gut and brains. Later, Ernie fires at a lone swan wading in a pond nearby (the most protected bird in England as well as a symbol of royalty) and kills it. Ernie forces Peter to go check the nest for eggs. “Tears were running down Peter’s face” as he trudges towards the nest. Peter finds two small cygnets and decides to save them by lying to the bullies.  Finally, Ernie and Raymond decide to put the wings of the swan on Peter’s back, so they can make him climb a massive tree and jump off into the pond. Peter climbs up and up when he finally reached the highest point of the tree. Ernie shouts for him to climb over to the branch above the water, jump, and fly off. When Peter refuses to do so, Ernie fires the rifle at him.  Peter stayed put and the bullets flew past him. Ernie yelled one more threat and when Peter didn’t answer, he shot the gun. Suddenly, a bullet hit Peter in the thigh: “the force of it was devastating.” The branch split, and the boy began to lose balance. As Peter struggled and fought to hang on, he saw a light. “The light was beckoning him, drawing him on, and he dove toward the light and spread his wings.”

Joely Dean, illustrator

Could you imagine someone abusing and torturing an animal just for the purpose of entertainment? This story begins on a calm, quiet, and very peaceful morning. Most of the people of the coastal town are asleep. The only noises that can be heard were the sounds of birds chirping and the occasional splashing of a distant boat. Then, suddenly a small flatboat appears on the bank.

Guy de Maupassant rowing, with two lady friends

Two companions are rowing the boat, Maillochon, and Labouise or Chicot. Maillochon was “a man of forty or fifty, tall and thin, with the restless eye of people who are worried by legitimate troubles”. As for Chicot, he is “red, fat, short and hairy” and “[has] a habit of calling everyone “sister”. The boat disappears into the mist again and they soon arrive at the other bank. It was the shore of a forest and a great place for rabbit hunting. The two men were scavengers and lived off of hunting wildlife. After shooting at rabbits for a couple of hours, bagging a few, the two decide to get back on the boat. It is midday by now and the mist is all gone. A while later, Chicot spots something on the other side of the river. It is an angry woman dragging a hopeless donkey. This sparks an idea from Chicot. They paddle across the river and stop near the woman. Chicot offers to buy the donkey from the exhausted woman. Soon enough, they strike a deal. Chicot’s idea is a simple game: a simple but horrifying game. The two men take turns shooting at the donkey from afar. This causes the donkey to have ridiculous (to these miscreants) reactions. But it also inflicts agony that wouldn’t be enough to kill the donkey. Animal torture. The pair keeps on laughing every time the donkey brays in pain. Finally, Chicot violently sticks his gun down the donkey’s throat and fires. “A stream of blood was oozing through its teeth. Soon it stopped moving. It was dead.” Maillochon and Chicot take the body and go back to their boat. After a brief lunch and some naps, the two head towards the wine shop of dealer Jules. Chicot and Maillochon sell their rabbit parts and then begin to scam old man Jules. They make Jules think that he is getting something big like venison or a buck when it’s just the corpse of the donkey. Eventually, the two men convince Jules to accept their offer and they profit from the dead donkey.

Roald Dahl is one of the greatest children’s book authors of all time, as well as a poet, short story writer, and screenwriter. He wrote the classics of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, BFG, James and the Giant Peach, and many other famous works. Born in Llandaff, South Wales on September 13, 1916, Dahl was half Norwegian. When Dahl was only three years old, his older sister and father passed away. Dahl’s first school was Llandaff Cathedral School but Dahl was abused by the principal for fooling around, so Dahl’s mother enrolled him at St. Peters, a British boarding school. In 1930, fourteen-year-old Roald Dahl transferred to Repton private school and spent four years there. Dahl’s mother offered to pay his tuition at Oxford or Cambridge University when he graduated but Dahl had other dreams to work for a company that would allow him to travel to places like Africa. After graduating from Repton in 1934, Dahl took a job as a clerk at the Shell oil company in London and lived with his mother and sisters in Bexley, commuting to work. After working as a clerk for a little over two years, Dahl took a job with the Shell branch office in Tanzania, Africa. He stayed there from 1937 to 1939. His book Going Solo

begins with him boarding the ship that would take him to Tanzania: “The ship that was carrying me away from England to Africa in the autumn of 1938 was called the SS Mantola.”  When World War II broke out, he joined the Royal Air Force (RAF). Dahl crash-landed in Libya and acquired serious injuries. But after recovering he went on to become an ace – a fighter pilot who takes down many enemies in air battles. After retiring from flying, Dahl started working as an assistant air attaché in Washington, DC. In D.C., novelist C.S. Forster encouraged him to write about his adventures in the RAF. Taking Dahl out for duck, the two were discussing Dahl’s experiences in the cockpit. At one point, masticating this dense fowl, Dahl had to put his hand up to his hero Forster. “C.S. my good man – how about we focus on devouring this wonderful bird, and when I get home tonight, I’ll write up some notes for you.” Well, what came from those notes eventually earned the title “A Piece of Cake”. When he sent it to Forster, the latter read it and was astounded at its quality and sent the untouched “notes” to The Saturday Evening Post. Published as “Shot Down in Libya”, Dahl’s first attempt at writing established him immediately as am important voice. For 25 years, Dahl wrote a few stories a year, all of which were snapped up for publication by magazines like The New Yorker, The Saturday Evening Post, and others. Dahl’s first book, The Gremlins, was unsuccessful but in 1961, when Dahl published Someone Like You, a collection of his short stories, his reputation was firmly set.

In 1963, Dahl began writing children’s books which catapulted him to even more fame.  He was highly influenced by his children and his own life. After decades of success as an author, Roald Dahl died on November 23, 1990, in a hospital in Oxford, England. His last published book was Esio Trot.
Henri René Albert Guy de Maupassant, known more commonly as Guy de Maupassant, is often depicted as “The Father of the Short Story” and is considered one of the best French short story writers. He is best known for his short stories, “Boule de suif” and “The Necklace”.  Maupassant was born on August 5, 1850, in Normandy, France. His parents separated when he was 11 years old, and Maupassant and his brother lived with their mother. Maupassant’s mother’s friend, novelist Gustave Flaubert,


was a major influence in Maupassant’s life.  Maupassant developed an attachment to literature and writing from Flaubert and his mother.  From 1870-71 Maupassant served in the French Army in the Franco-Prussian War.

After the war, Maupassant returned to Paris, where Flaubert was staying. Maupassant became a protegé to Flaubert, eventually making him into a wonderful writer. The two developed a fond relationship and Flaubert lectured Maupassant on the economy of style and generally took care of him. When Flaubert died in 1880, Maupassant was devastated, but he found that he had turned into a proficient author. He had published many stories during their time together. During his twenties, Maupassant discovered he had syphilis and it started to cause strange behavior. After a suicide attempt, Maupassant was obliged to be transferred to a private asylum and died on July 6, 1893, in Paris from the illness. Maupassant’s work has inspired many including W. Somerset Maugham, O. Henry, and Henry James.

Dahl’s short stories “Katina”, “Madame Rosette”, and “An African Story” all have something in common and it’s that in the background of each tale there is the environment of war. All of them take place during wartime and each of the stories takes us to an account of Dahl’s various experiences. They describe the hardships and challenges of wartime, such as violence and despair, and how one’s feelings and mentality can change when encountering them.

In an interview of Roald Dahl in The Twilight Zone Magazine, Dahl explains how he was drawn to write “Over to You”, a collection of short stories from Dahl’s experience as a fighter pilot in WW2. Dahl says, “Ah, well, Over to You is easily explainable, because that was written during the war, which was a highly emotional time. You didn’t live in it, and most of your readers won’t have lived in it, and it’s almost impossible to understand what an emotional time it was.” This illustrates the dire conditions that soldiers have to go through during wartime.
The soldiers in Dahl’s stories are depicted as gloomy but not depressed. They tend to resort to drinking and unhealthy methods to cope with their loneliness, exhaustion, and anxiety. The soldiers have to face the hardships of being away from home and family, the fatigue of military training, and the pressure of staying alive on the battlefield. Soldiers have to spend years away from their families and loved ones, which can damage their emotional state. They also have to go through hours of military training and drills which may benefit their physical conditions, but it can also lead to exhaustion and stress. Being a soldier is the definition of being a man. A man is seen as strong and enduring. He can persevere no matter how tough the challenges are: those are the qualities of a passionate soldier. Because both Dahl and Maupassant passed through the gauntlet of forming their manhood on the battlefield, they are obviously authoritative in their depictions of soldiers and airmen.

In “Katina”, a story set in the remote mountains of Greece during WWII where Dahl was stationed to fight the Luftwaffe, Dahl exposes his soldier’s mentality in a heartbreaking tale about an honorary member of the squadron – poor Katina, a little Greek girl who has lost her family, buried alive as they are under a mountain of rubble. When Dahl witnesses Katina die from the gunfire of a German Messerschmitt, his soldier mentality of bravery and toughness instantly crumbles. Dahl is in immense shock from the traumatic event of losing someone so dear and important to him that he has a supernatural vision of Katina “standing in the middle of the field”. He cannot even feel the emotions of sorrow and despair because of how much he is taken aback by the death of Katina.  He experiences an extreme condition where he sees the spirit of Katina on the battlefield, a reflection of all the people “who lose everything in the war” and the people who are willing to fight through the hardships of warfare.

Maupassant’s “Two Little Soldiers” tells the story of two comrades-in-arms, Luc Le Ganidec and Jean Kerderen. The soldiers have very unstable emotional states, they are depressed and homesick. Every Sunday they would leave their barracks and go to the countryside because it reminded them of their homeland region: Brittany. During one of their trips, they meet a kindhearted milkmaid and soon both develop affectionate feelings for her. Luc Le Ganidec acts before Jean and he starts meeting with the girl regularly, without telling Jean.  When Jean finally finds out he is heartbroken. “He wanted to weep, to run away, to hide somewhere, never to see anyone again.” Luc Le Ganidec doesn’t even know what he has done to his comrade – the phrase “love is blind” is clearly displayed in this story. Jean suffered tremendously from both the depression and loneliness of being a soldier and the heartache of love. Ultimately, Jean commits suicide, Ganidec being an eyewitness of his companion’s death. The two soldiers were at the bridge they stopped at every Sunday, watching the stream when suddenly “Jean leaned over the railing, farther and farther”. Luc, “paralyzed with horror”, watched as Jean fell to his death. Jean’s head bobbed up and out of the water but soon enough, he began to sink. Moments later, Ganidec “noticed a hand, just one hand, which appeared and again went of sight.” Jean was gone.

Furthermore, throughout Dahl and Maupassant’s stories, some seem to have similar themes. Ernie and Raymond from Dahl’s short story “The Swan” are thugs and bullies and this is mostly because of their horrible parents. Ernie was “brought up in a household where physical violence was an everyday occurrence”. This is the main reason for Ernie’s violent behavior, his own parents influenced him to become a bully because he experienced brutality regularly when he was growing up. This is likely the same for Raymond, as their “gang of friends” would have “great pleasure in catching small boys after school and twisting their arms behind their backs.” In Maupassant’s “An Adopted Son”, a rich woman meets two peasant families. She wants to adopt the infant son of the Tuvaches, one of the families. The wealthy woman and her husband promise a better future and happiness for their son. The peasant mother selfishly refuses, even after being offered large sums of money. When the couple goes to the Vallins (the other family) for their boy, they agree. The Tuvaches were also an example of bad parenting behavior because they were narcissistic and didn’t consider how it would impact their son’s future and his needs and feelings.
In the interview between Dahl and The Twilight Zone Magazine, when Dahl is asked why he thinks Maupassant would have a job selling short stories today, he answers, “writing dates unless it’s very, very good. Tolstoy doesn’t date, or Dickens, but it’s got to be bloody good. I don’t think Maupassant’s that good…  The trouble with most short-story writers is that they are uneven, and they bash them out too fast.” Basically Dahl is saying that standards change over time and one’s writing has to be consistent and good to be outstanding. Dahl believes that Maupassant is “uneven” and has some stories that are exceptional but others not so much. I think that Dahl and Maupassant are both uneven writers.

For instance, in Dahl’s “The Swan” there are meanings that are difficult to at first grasp, whereas in “The Umbrella Man” the story seems to be on its face quite simple: An old man steals people’s umbrellas and then sells them on the street so that he can keep drinking. I think that “The Umbrella Man” had meanings that were easy to identify but “The Swan” required critical analysis in order to find the themes. On the contrary, Maupassant’s “My Uncle Jules” is an example of one of his less notable short stories. “My Uncle Jules” didn’t have as big of a first impression on me compared to a story like “An Adopted Son” because it didn’t have as much animation to make me feel blown away. In “An Adopted Son”, Maupassant conveys the topics of bad parenting and adoption through tone and adequate description, and it makes the reader feel strong emotions and engaged which can help the story have a larger influence.

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