Roald Dahl has earned his reputation as a brilliant children’s book author. Growing up, I can remember loving to read such tales as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Witches, The BFG, and Matilda—each filled with memorable characters and quirky storylines refreshing in their originality and playfulness. The ability to add an extra splash of imaginative excitement to someone’s life (and perhaps even spark a love for reading) is the trademark of a talented writer. It is also what makes Dahl’s narratives fun to read for both children and adults alike.
Dahl’s The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More is a short story collection perfect for anyone who shares fond childhood memories of his stories, or who wants to discover (or rediscover) him as an older reader. I happened to stumble across this amazing find at the Friends of the Community Bookstore at my local public library (where you never know what rare gems people will denote). While many of the selections are appropriate for children, especially “The Boy Who Talked with Animals” and “The Mildenhall Treasure,” adults would probably get the most of the anthology as a whole.
Almost all the seven stories included in the collection use the framing device of a Washington Irving-like writer narrator (maybe Dahl himself) who either experiences or hears about them, and which he then relates to the reader as if to a confidant. And one is an autobiographical tale focused on Dahl’s early career and development into a writer. They are as follows:
- “The Boy Who Talked with Animals”—A writer goes to a resort in Jamaica on vacation. At one point, he witnesses a great commotion over an enormous turtle stuck on the beach, and more amazing still, a young boy named David who can communicate with that turtle (and all animals).
- “The Hitchhiker”—A writer takes out his new car for a drive and picks up a mysterious, ratty-faced hitchhiker who pushes him into a high-speed chase on the highway.
- “The Mildenhall Treasure”—Gordon Butcher is a British farmer who also helps to plough the land of other farmers to survive. When he comes across odd objects in a field, which a fellow farmer named Ford asked him to plough, Gordon Butcher finds himself at the unwitting heart of a major historical find.
- “The Swan”—A young boy and bird enthusiast named Peter Watson gets bullied by two older, brutish boys, who attack the birds on a nature preserve. Peter Watson must then figure out what to do when faced with dire circumstances that test his own passions and character.
- “The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar”—An idle, wealthy man called Henry Sugar (which isn’t his real name) learns about a man who learns how to see without his eyes. Thinking to use the same ability to get more money, Henry Sugar decides to gain the ability himself, only to wind up on a personal quest that changes him in unexpected ways.
- “Lucky Break: How I Became a Writer”—As the title indicates, Dahl relates the events leading up to his transition into professional writing.
- “A Piece of Cake: First Story—1942”—When asked by author C.S. Forester for one of his most important experiences as a pilot during War World II, Dahl wrote this story entitled, “A Piece of Cake.” Credited as his first published story, it is what helped push Dahl become a fulltime writer.
Summaries can only reveal so much about the stories that appear in The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More. They are a fun romp into Dahl’s short works and touch on his development as a writer. He clearly had fun in their writing. As noted before, though, the stories included in the collection have the most to offer older readers. They all have the fanciful quality found in Dahl’s classic children’s stories, but they can sometimes get much darker than them (such as “The Swan”) and have a greater focus on delving into Dahl’s background as a writer.
In other words, The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More is a great collection to explore a classic children’s author from a fresh angle.