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Mixed Bag: Story Time for Grown-Ups Featuring Roald Dahl


Mixed Bag: Story Time for Grown-Ups is a short story read-aloud program that meets every two weeks at lunch time (1:00 p.m). Mixed Bag PM meets at 7:00 p.m. on Tuesdays every two weeks. During the month of October in honor of Halloween, the focus is on Roald Dahl, with four short stories and an excerpt from The Witches.  

Roald Dahl (1916–1990) was a British novelist, short story writer, poet, and screenwriter. He served in the British Royal Air Force during WWII as fighter pilot and intelligence officer. His parents were Norwegian, but he was born in Wales and educated primarily in England. He began writing in the 1940’s for both children and adults. He was particularly known for his children’s stories, such as Charlie and the Chocolate FactoryJames and the Giant PeachFantastic Mr. FoxMatilda, and The Witches. If you want to know more about Dahl's life, Donald Sturrock wrote an authorized biography of Dahl called Storyteller, published in 2010. Roald Dahl's official web site also contains a lot of information.

Although known for his children's stories, Dahl wrote many short stories for adults, most of which have unexpected endings. Four of them are part of Story Time in October. One of his most famous short stories for adults is "Lamb to the Slaughter," where Det. Patrick Maloney is found murdered in his living-room the same night his wife Mary prepared roast leg of lamb for dinner. Coincidence? Ask Mary. This story was first published in 1953 in Harper’s Magazine. It was also included in Dahl’s short story collection Someone Like You published in 1953. In 1958 it was adapted for television as an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents starring Barbara Bel Geddes (better known as Miss Ellie on the TV series Dallas) as Mary Maloney. It was later adapted for Dahls’ British TV series Tales of the Unexpected. The full text of the story is online. It is also in a book of his short stories, Roald Dahl's Tales of the Unexpected.

In "Beware of the Dog," the British pilot tried to get his Spitfire back to base after he was wounded but had to parachute out close to the English Channel. When he awakens in hospital, he is missing his right leg and can’t believe he made it home to England. This is a World War II story first published in 1944 in Harper’s Magazine. It was included in Dahl’s collection of war stories Over to You: Ten Stories of Flyers and Flying published in 1946. In 1964 it was adapted to film under the title 36 Hours, starring James Garner as the downed pilot. It was later adapted for television as a movie for TNT in 1989 under the title Breaking Point, starring Corbin Bernsen as the pilot. The full text of the story is online
Although both of the following stories have unexpected endings, Dahl uses foreshadowing to set up the endings. In other words, he leaves clues throughout each story that something strange is going on. The readers aren’t sure what will happen, but they are not shocked when something does. Both stories are included in his collection of short stories Roald Dahl's Tales of the Unexpected.
In "The Landlady," before reporting to his new job in Bath, Billy Weaver took a room at a bed and breakfast where the landlady seemed a bit dotty but harmless. This story was first published in the November 28, 1959 issue of The New Yorker. It was included in Dahl's short story collection Kiss Kiss published in 1960. The story was adapted for television in an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents (Episode 19, Season 6). Dahl also adapted the screenplay for an episode of his BBC series Tales of the Unexpected (Episode 5, Season 1).
In "The Way Up to Heaven," Mrs. Foster was terrified about missing the plane to Paris for a long-awaited visit to her daughter and grandchildren. Mr. Foster planned to stay at his club in New York City for six weeks, so she took a limo to the airport, leaving Mr. Foster home alone. This story was first published in the February 27, 1954 issue of The New Yorker. It was included in Dahl's short story collection Kiss Kiss published in 1960. It was also published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine in November 1955. Dahl adapted the screenplay for an episode of his BBC series Tales of the Unexpected (Episode 9, Season 1), starring Julie Harris.
The Witches is a children's book narrated by an unnamed 8 year old boy. When his parents died in a car crash the Christmas after he turned 7, he went to live with his beloved Norwegian grandmother. Fortunately she taught him how to recognize REAL WITCHES, not the fairy tale kind. This book was first published in London in 1983. In 1993, it won the Whitbread Book Award (a literary prize offered to writers based in England and Ireland, now called the Costa Award). It was adapted into a stage play and then a movie released in 1990 starring Anjelica Huston as the Grand High Witch. The film also featured the puppetry of Jim Henson (creator of the Muppets); it was the last film he worked on before his death in 1990. The biggest change in the movie was the revised happy ending (Dahl hated it).
Dahl incorporated some of his own childhood experiences into The Witches: his Norwegian heritage, his father’s early death, his family’s decision to stay in England for educational opportunities, summer vacations spent in Norway with family, and Norwegian folktales of witches and trolls his mother told him. He created the Norwegian grandmother in the book as a tribute to his mother. 
Unlike most children’s stories, Dahl’s work is unsentimental and filled with dark humor. This explains how The Witches acquired the distinction of being one of the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books from 1990 to 2000 according to the American Library Association. Not only does it have violent content, it also questions adult authority figures and includes bathroom humor, all of which children love. It has also been criticized both for sexism (all witches are female according to Dahl) as well as for religious discrimination against Wicca.
Despite censorship challenges, Dahl had three books on Publisher’s Weekly’s list of 150 Bestselling Children’s Books (until 2000): James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Matilda, all of which have been made into films that are available at NYPL. In 2008 the Times of London placed Dahl 16th on its list of the 50 Greatest British Writers since 1945.
Dahl worked as a screenwriter for both film and television, working on the children's film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and the James Bond film You Only Live Twice, both based on books by British author Ian Fleming. He also wrote for Alfred Hitchcock Presents and 'Way Out (similar to The Twilight Zone), an American television series that he hosted in 1961. He also wrote the script for Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory starring Gene Wilder in 1971, long before Johnny Depp played Willy Wonka in 2005. Many of the episodes from Tales of the Unexpected are online. He was a gifted comic poet, especially for children. Here are some of his poems on the website Poemhunter.
In November Mixed Bag and Mixed Bag PM is dedicated to American classics. We will be reading Truman Capote's "The Thanksgiving Visitor." Hope to see you there.


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