Roald Dahl made a career on colorful depictions of childhood, but more often than not his stories highlighted the dark underbelly of humanity.
Roald Dahl’s most famous works have been adapted into some of the most entertaining pieces of art. From films like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach and Matilda, all of which also took the stage, to Witches, the world has enjoyed the shinier versions of Dahl’s writing.
Some adaptations lost their more cruel elements in the process, but if you look hard enough, there exists a wealth of untapped darkness in Dahl’s short stories. Most of these were taken on by Alfred Hitchcock and the television series Tales of the Unexpected, but some outliers paint tapestries of revenge, humiliation, and human indecency.
Gathered here is a taste of the stories fueled by vengeance, desperation, and total disregard for compassion. While all of these stories can be viewed as not worthy of adapting into modern pieces of art, you’d be surprised by how familiar they feel.
Included in our descriptions are common places where similar storylines appear on the current television and movie landscape.
Tattoo artists create some incredible pieces of art. Their canvases just happen to be parts of the human body and thus the people paying for the art are the ones who get to keep the result. Dahl takes a look at a world where “everything is for sale,” including a man’s back. Instead of taking the shirt off his back, Dahl sends a man to the most desperate place he could go, one where he sees no other way to pull himself up but to offer his tattoo as a piece of art by a suddenly in demand artist he once knew.
The story ends with some graphic imagery, a tarnished version of the portrait on the man’s back ends up for auction and the man is never heard from again.
Where can I see this? Elementary has an entire season finale arc in “The Grand Experiment” based on stolen information tattooed on a person’s arms that can only be read when placed under a blacklight. Think also Momento.
“Nunc Dimittis” may have its roots in liturgical services, but this revenge-based story bears no signs of religious services. A man feels ashamed that his wife believes him to be a “bore” and thus seeks to humiliate her in turn. Another artist comes into play here, one who paints his models nude and then adds layers of clothing over the figure.
The embarrassed man removes the extra layers and reveals the nude for his gathered party to see. His wife has the last laugh, claiming to forgive him and then poisoning him with caviar.
Where can I see this? There are quite a few layers to this story, but check out Law and Order: SVU at anytime during a marathon weekend and you are likely to catch quite a few episodes focusing on revenge porn, exploited nudity, or worse. One or two of the victims may even try to poison their tormentors.
Moving right along into another story of humiliation and revenge, this Dahl story spans the length of a commute. One morning a man is thrown off his schedule when someone is in his seat. Irritated already, the man recognizes the other as a prefect who used to torment him in school.
After recounting all of the man’s actions against him, the wronged man approaches the seat-taker and introduces himself. The man replies, giving a different name and school and therefore is not associated with the offended party at all. Or is he just going one step further all these years later to humiliate the poor man?
Where can I see this? Jane the Virgin comes to mind with this story. Jane frequently leans into “what if” scenarios where the wrongfully accused is acted upon with a grand flourish. However, it usually comes to pass that the parties cross each other without an interaction or feign a misunderstanding.
‘Mrs. Bixby and the Colonel’s Coat’
Covering up affairs and leaving the worst unsaid in a relationship are all at play in Dahl’s tale. A woman faking a visit to an aunt to carry out an affair takes in a gift of an expensive mink coat from her suitor. Rather than give up the coat, she pawns it and takes a ticket to reclaim the jacket.
Her husband takes the ticket to cash in after the wife claims she found it while out and about the town. He returns with a shabby jacket claiming that was all the ticket was worth. But as the wife goes to argue with the clerk for cheating her, she notices that her husband’s assistant is wearing the mink jacket he was sent to secure.
Where can I see this? Scandal does a great job of throwing affairs into the spotlight where one person catches that mistake in action. If this story went one step further and the husband was actually running for elected office, we’d have a season 6 arc.