1. Roald Dahl’s “Ten Short Stories” collection. This collection includes “The Umbrella Man”, “Dip In The Pool”, “The Butler”, “The Hitchhiker”, “Mr. Botibol”, “My Lady Love, My Dove”, “The Way Up To Heaven”, “Parson’s Pleasure”, “The Sound Machine” and “The Wish”.
2. Short stories. Roald Dahl is best known for his children novels and books – which are also tremendously popular with adults too – but his bibliography of short stories provides wonderful depictions of human nature. His wit draws the deserved laughter; although the plots and characters do provide the impetus for readers to draw close parallels with our everyday lives, realising the degree of amazing similarities.
3. Appearance versus reality. Roald Dahl is unrestrained in his critique of one of the most negative traits of innate human nature: in which individuals choose to mask their true intentions behind façades for a variety of purposes. The gentleman in “The Umbrella Man” and Mr. Boggis in “Parson’s Pleasure” are experts in putting up acts to deceive others for their personal gains: the gentleman to feed his addiction to hard liquor and Mr. Boggis to significantly increase his wealth. Just like the Snapes in “My Lady Love, My Dove”, they are wonderful actors who have repeatedly blurred the line between appearance and reality for worldly benefits through experienced manipulation. Even though only Mr. Boggis seems to suffer some sort of punishment towards the end (when the commode was decimated into pieces), the reader is left to judge the other characters for their actions.
4. Scorn towards the greedy and the superficial. For Mr. Botibol in “Dip In The Pool”, his plot to slow the train down – because of his greed for money and need to win the auction pool – eventually does cost him his life. There is a subtle sense of ironic comedy because Mr. Botibol did try to cover as much ground as possible, ensuring that the elderly woman on the deck noticed his plunge and that she had not placed a bid; but never could expect her eventual inaction. In “The Butler”, Mr. Cleaver’s obsession with rising up the social ladder and superficially indulging in the purchase of wines only leads him to be scorned and ridiculed by his own butler in the end.
5. The perspectives of children in general. There is a strong sense of appreciation for the child’s power of imagination and fantasy, and his unrestrained ability to articulate genuine thoughts on events and dialogues. The little girl in “The Umbrella Man” was correct to point out that her mother had initially commented that the man as “a titled gentleman”, but quickly flip-flopped because of the hasty judgement. The boy in “The Wish” – with his fantastical creation of a carpet-world of coal and poisonous snakes – reflects the degree of innocence and untainted perspective towards the world.
6. Unpredictability of the stories and their plots. Roald Dahl keeps his readers re-thinking about the plot (and most of the time, the endings), and usually surprises with unpredictable conclusions that might have thrown most off. We are kept guessing – together with the driver-narrator – the stranger’s occupation and true identity in “The Hitchhiker”. In the “Dip In The Pool” and “Mr. Botibol”, the reader is left with the impression that the elderly woman might be inflicted with some form of mental illness in the former, and the reader would have never expected that Miss Darlington in the latter eventually revealed that she was actually a piano teacher; albeit with the similar desire to be a famous pianist.
7. “The Way Up To Heaven”. What really happened? Did Mrs. Foster ignore her husband’s cries for plea before she rushed off for Paris; or was it an unfortunate accident?
8. “She replaced the receiver and sat there at her husband’s desk, patiently waiting for the man who would be coming soon to repair the lift”. Maybe she did know all along; to cruelly punish her husband for being impervious to her fear of being late. That is the genius of Roald Dahl; in these instances you never really know what happened.
9. Life’s little cruelties. Mr. Boggis (“Parson’s Pleasure”) spends a great deal of effort to convince – and somewhat deceive – Mr. Rummins to sell the precious commode at a ridiculously low price; only to eventually have it chopped up to pieces. Arthur and his wife (“My Lady Love, My Dove”) makes the stunning revelation that the Snapes have been cheating throughout the bridge games; yet instead of exposing them or condemning their deplorable plot, Pamela is blinded by intrigue – and possibly greed – and coerces her husband to begin adopting the techniques, even though she had ironically condemned the characters of the Snapes before the latter’s visit.
10. Roald Dahl: “I have a passion for teaching kids to become readers, to become comfortable with a book, not daunted. Books shouldn’t be daunting, they should be funny, exciting and wonderful; and learning to be a reader gives a terrific advantage”.