Short Stories

43 Roald Dahl (1916–1990)

Photo portrait of Roald Dahl.


Roald Dahl (1916–1990) was a British novelist, short story writer, poet, screenwriter, and fighter pilot. His books have sold more than 250 million copies worldwide.

Born in Wales to Norwegian immigrant parents, Dahl served in the Royal Air Force during the Second World War. He became a flying ace and intelligence officer, rising to the rank of acting wing commander. He rose to prominence as a writer in the 1940s with works for both children and adults, and he became one of the world’s bestselling authors. He has been referred to as “one of the greatest storytellers for children of the 20th century.” His awards for contribution to literature include the 1983 World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement and the British Book Awards’ Children’s Author of the Year in 1990. In 2008, The Times placed Dahl 16th on its list of “The 50 greatest British writers since 1945.”

Dahl’s short stories are known for their unexpected endings, and his children’s books for their unsentimental, macabre, often darkly comic mood, featuring villainous adult enemies of the child characters. His books champion the kind-hearted and feature an underlying warm sentiment. Dahl’s works for children include James and the Giant PeachCharlie and the Chocolate FactoryMatildaThe WitchesFantastic Mr FoxThe BFGThe Twits and George’s Marvellous Medicine. His adult works include Tales of the Unexpected. His story “The Landlady” first appeared in The New Yorker issue of 28 November 1959 and was subsequently published in his story collection Kiss, Kiss (1960).

The Landlady

Published 1959

You can read the full text here: “The Landlady” by Roald Dahl [PDF].


The Landlady

Study Questions

  1. Give one example of foreshadowing.
  2. What poison tastes like bitter almonds?
  3. Characterize the landlady. What is a taxidermist?
  4. Is what happens to Billy believable?
  5. Give one supernatural element in the story.
  6. How old is Billy Weaver? Why does he stay?
  7. Why is Billy’s desire to act briskly dangerous?
  8. What do chrysanthemums often symbolize?
  9. Give an example of irony in the story.
  10. Why does the landlady keep forgetting Billy’s name?


View this 24-minute film adaptation of Dahl’s “The Landlady”, filmed in 1979 as part of a British television series called Tales of the Unexpected, which features film adaptations of Dahl’s stories and a brief introduction to the film by Dahl. How would you rate this film? Are the changes made good ones, or do they detract from the original story?

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Media Attributions


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Composition and Literature Copyright © 2019 by James Sexton and Derek Soles is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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