The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More / Roald Dahl


‘I’m goin’ right through London and out the other side,’ he said. ‘I’m goin’ to Epsom, for the races. It’s Derby Day today.’ ‘So it is,’ I said. ‘I wish I were going with you. I love betting on horses.’ ‘I never bet on horses,’ he said. ‘I don’t even watch ’em run. That’s a stupid silly business.’ ‘Then why do you go?’ I asked.




‘When I get back to the station I’m going to do a little checking up on you,’ he said to my passenger. ‘Me? What’ve I done wrong?’ the rat-faced man asked. ‘I don’t like your face, that’s all,’ the policeman said.





‘So you’re a pickpocket,’ I said. ‘I don’t like that word,’ he answered. ‘It’s a coarse and vulgar word. Pickpockets is coarse and vulgar people who only do easy little amateur jobs. They lift money from blind old ladies.’ ‘What do you call yourself, then?’ ‘Me? I’m a fingersmith. I’m a professional fingersmith.’ He spoke the words solemnly and proudly, as though he were telling me he was the President of the Royal College of Surgeons or the Archbishop of Canterbury. ‘I’ve never heard that word before,’ I said. ‘Did you invent it?’ ‘Of course I didn’t invent it,’ he replied. ‘It’s the name given to them who’s risen to the very top of the profession. You’ve ’eard of a goldsmith and a silversmith, for instance. They’re experts with gold and silver. I’m an expert with my fingers, so I’m a fingersmith.’





‘That policeman’s going to check up on you pretty thoroughly,’ I said. ‘Doesn’t that worry you a bit?’ ‘Nobody’s checkin’ up on me,’ he said. ‘Of course they are. He’s got your name and address written down most carefully in his black book.’ The man gave me another of his sly, ratty little smiles. ‘Ah,’ he said. ‘So ’ee ’as. But I’ll bet ’ee ain’t got it all written down in ’is memory as well. I’ve never known a copper yet with a decent memory. Some of ’em can’t even remember their own names.’





Gordon Butcher was thirty-eight. He was not an ordinary farm labourer. He took orders from no man unless he wished. He owned his own tractor, and with this he ploughed other men’s fields and gathered other men’s harvests under contract. His thoughts were only for his wife, his son, his two daughters. His wealth was in his small brick house, his two cows, his tractor, his skill as a ploughman.





Actually, a farmer called Rolfe owned the four and a half acres. Rolfe had asked Ford to get it ploughed because Ford, like Gordon Butcher, did ploughing jobs for other men. The difference between Ford and Gordon Butcher was that Ford was somewhat grander. He was a fairly prosperous small-time agricultural engineer who had a nice house and a large yard full of sheds filled with farm implements and machinery. Gordon Butcher had only his one tractor. On this occasion, however, when Rolfe had asked Ford to plough up his four and a half acres on Thistley Green, Ford was too busy to do the work so he hired Gordon Butcher to do it for him.





The lower rim remained resting on the snow. With his other hand, he grasped the top of the sack. He didn’t lift that either. He just held it. And there he stooped amid the swirling snowflakes, both hands embracing, as it were, the treasure, but not actually taking it. It was a subtle and a canny gesture. It managed somehow to signify ownership before ownership had been discussed. A child plays the same game when he reaches out and closes his fingers over the biggest chocolate éclair on the plate and then says, ‘Can I have this one, Mummy?’ He’s already got it. ‘Well, Gordon,’ Ford said, stooping over, holding the sack and the great dish in his gloved fingers. ‘I don’t suppose you want any of this old stuff.’ It was not a question. It was a statement of fact framed as a question.





‘Nothing else?’ ‘No, I don’t think so.’ Ford wished fervently that Dr Fawcett had never come. He wished even more fervently that he would go away. It was at this point that Ford noticed something that made him sweat. He saw suddenly that he had left lying on the mantel over the fireplace the two most beautiful of the Roman spoons from the treasure hoard. These spoons had fascinated him because each was inscribed with the name of a Roman girl child to whom it had been given, presumably as a christening present, by Roman parents who had been converted to Christianity. One name was Pascentia, the other was Papittedo. Rather lovely names. Ford, sweating with fear, tried to place himself between Dr Fawcett and the mantelpiece. He might even, he thought, be able to slip the spoons into his pocket if he got the chance. He didn’t get the chance. Perhaps Ford had polished them so well that a little flash of reflected light from the silver caught the doctor’s eye. Who knows? The fact remains that Fawcett saw them. The moment he saw them, he pounced like a tiger.





Peter Watson was always the enemy. Ernie and Raymond detested him because he was nearly everything that they were not.





Peter Watson, lying helpless between the rails, realized now that they were not going to release him. These were dangerous, crazy boys. They lived for the moment and never considered the consequences.





They were hooligans, these two, and from what Peter read in his father’s newspaper nearly every day, they were not by any means on their own. It seemed the whole country was full of hooligans. They wrecked the interiors of trains, they fought pitched battles in the streets with knives and bicycle chains and metal clubs, they attacked pedestrians, especially other young boys walking alone, and they smashed up roadside cafés. Ernie and Raymond, though perhaps not quite yet fully qualified hooligans, were most definitely on their way.





Some people, when they have taken too much and have been driven beyond the point of endurance, simply crumble and give up. There are others, though they are not many, who will for some reason always be unconquerable. You meet them in time of war and also in time of peace. They have an indomitable spirit and nothing, neither pain nor torture nor threat of death, will cause them to give up. Little Peter Watson was one of these. And as he fought and scrabbled to prevent himself from falling out of the top of that tree, it came to him suddenly that he was going to win. He looked up and he saw a light shining over the waters of the lake that was of such brilliance and beauty he was unable to look away from it. The light was beckoning him, drawing him on, and he dived towards the light and spread his wings.





Men like Henry Sugar are to be found drifting like seaweed all over the world. They can be seen especially in London, New York, Paris, Nassau, Montego Bay, Cannes and St Tropez. They are not particularly bad men. But they are not good men either. They are of no real importance. They are simply a part of the decoration.





With ridiculous games such as these did Henry and his friends try to conquer the deadly boredom of being both idle and wealthy.





The men were in dinner-jackets and there wasn’t a tall one among them. Why, Henry wondered, did this particular kind of rich man always have short legs? Their legs all seemed to stop at the knees with no thighs above. Most of them had bellies coming out a long way, and crimson faces, and cigars between their lips. Their eyes glittered with greed.





This man also had arithmetic in his fingers. But he had more than that. He had arithmetic, trigonometry and calculus and algebra and Euclidean geometry in every nerve of his body. He was a human calculating-machine with a hundred thousand electric wires in his brain.





If this sort of thing had happened to him three years ago, before he’d started the yoga business, he’d have gone crazy with excitement. He’d have been dancing in the streets and rushing off to the nearest nightclub to celebrate with champagne. The funny thing was that he didn’t really feel excited at all. He felt melancholy. It had somehow all been too easy. Every time he’d made a bet, he’d been certain of winning. There was no thrill, no suspense, no danger of losing. He knew of course that from now on he could travel around the world and make millions. But was it going to be any fun doing it? It was slowly beginning to dawn upon Henry that nothing is any fun if you can get as much of it as you want. Especially money.





Charles Dickens found it easy. At the age of twenty-four, he simply sat down and wrote Pickwick Papers, which became an immediate best-seller. But Dickens was a genius, and geniuses are different from the rest of us.





In this century (it was not always so in the last one), just about every single writer who has finally become successful in the world of fiction has started out in some other job – a schoolteacher, perhaps, or a doctor or a journalist or a lawyer. (Alice in Wonderland was written by a mathematician, and The Wind in the Willows by a civil servant.) The first attempts at writing have therefore always had to be done in spare time, usually at night. The reason for this is obvious. When you are adult, it is necessary to earn a living. To earn a living, you must get a job. You must if possible get a job that guarantees you so much money a week. But however much you may want to take up fiction writing as a career, it would be pointless to go along to a publisher and say, ‘I want a job as a fiction writer.’ If you did that, he would tell you to buzz off and write the book first.





Here are some of the qualities you should possess or should try to acquire if you wish to become a fiction writer: You should have a lively imagination. You should be able to write well. By that I mean you should be able to make a scene come alive in the reader’s mind. Not everybody has this ability. It is a gift, and you either have it or you don’t. You must have stamina. In other words, you must be able to stick to what you are doing and never give up, for hour after hour, day after day, week after week and month after month. You must be a perfectionist. That means you must never be satisfied with what you have written until you have rewritten it again and again, making it as good as you possibly can. You must have strong self-discipline. You are working alone. No one is employing you. No one is around to give you the sack if you don’t turn up for work, or to tick you off if you start slacking. It helps a lot if you have a keen sense of humour. This is not essential when writing for grown-ups, but for children, it’s vital. You must have a degree of humility. The writer who thinks that his work is marvellous is heading for trouble.





I was then twelve, and my English teacher was Mr Victor Corrado. I remember him vividly, a tall, handsome athlete with black wavy hair and a Roman nose (who one night later on eloped with the matron, Miss Davis, and we never saw either of them again). Anyway, it so happened that Mr Corrado took us in boxing as well as in English Composition, and in this particular report it said under English, ‘See his report on boxing. Precisely the same remarks apply.’ So we look under Boxing, and there it says, ‘Too slow and ponderous. His punches are not well-timed and are easily seen coming.’





At thirteen I left prep school and was sent, again as a boarder, to one of our famous British public schools. They are not, of course, public at all. They are extremely private and expensive. Mine was called Repton, in Derbyshire, and our headmaster at the time was the Reverend Geoffrey Fisher, who later became Bishop of Chester, then Bishop of London, and finally Archbishop of Canterbury. In his last job, he crowned Queen Elizabeth II in Westminster Abbey.





I naturally hoped that my long-suffering backside would be given a rest at my new and more adult school, but it was not to be. The beatings at Repton were more fierce and more frequent than anything I had yet experienced. And do not think for one moment that the future Archbishop of Canterbury objected to these squalid exercises. He rolled up his sleeves and joined in with gusto. His were the bad ones, the really terrifying occasions. Some of the beatings administered by this Man of God, this future Head of the Church of England, were very brutal. To my certain knowledge he once had to produce a basin of water, a sponge and a towel so that the victim could wash the blood away afterwards.





But nastiest of all, I think, was the fact that prefects were allowed to beat their fellow pupils.





In the old days, when a man was about to be hanged, a silence would fall upon the whole prison and the other prisoners would sit very quietly in their cells until the deed had been done. Much the same thing happened at school when a beating was taking place. Upstairs in the dormitories, the boys would sit in silence on their beds in sympathy for the victim, and through the silence, from down below in the changing-room, would come the crack of each stroke as it was delivered.





Easter Term, 1931 (aged 15). English Composition. ‘A persistent muddler. Vocabulary negligible, sentences malconstructed. He reminds me of a camel.’





When I left school at the age of eighteen, in 1934, I turned down my mother’s offer (my father died when I was three) to go to university. Unless one was going to become a doctor, a lawyer, a scientist, an engineer or some other kind of professional person, I saw little point in wasting three or four years at Oxford or Cambridge, and I still hold this view.





Within an hour, we had a couple of hundred of them on our hands. I felt rather sorry for them. Many I knew personally, like Willy Hink the watchmaker and Herman Schneider who owned the soda-water factory. Their only crime had been that they were German. But this was war, and in the cool of the evening, we marched them all back to Dar-es-Salaam where they were put into a huge camp surrounded by barbed wire.





And it was then I began to realize for the first time that there are two distinct sides to a writer of fiction. First, there is the side he displays to the public, that of an ordinary person like anyone else, a person who does ordinary things and speaks an ordinary language. Second, there is the secret side which comes out in him only after he has closed the door of his workroom and is completely alone. It is then that he slips into another world altogether, a world where his imagination takes over and he finds himself actually living in the places he is writing about at that moment.





The main course was roast duck with vegetables and potatoes and a thick rich gravy. This was a dish that required one’s full attention as well as two hands. My narrative began to flounder. Forester kept putting down the pencil and picking up the fork, and vice versa. Things weren’t going well. And apart from that, I have never been much good at telling stories aloud. ‘Look,’ I said. ‘If you like, I’ll try to write down on paper what happened and send it to you. Then you can rewrite it properly yourself in your own time. Wouldn’t that be easier? I could do it tonight.’ That, though I didn’t know it at the time, was the moment that changed my life. ‘A splendid idea,’ Forester said. ‘Then I can put this silly notebook away and we can enjoy our lunch. Would you really mind doing that for me?’





Dear RD, You were meant to give me notes, not a finished story. I’m bowled over. Your piece is marvellous. It is the work of a gifted writer. I didn’t touch a word of it. I sent it at once under your name to my agent, Harold Matson, asking him to offer it to the Saturday Evening Post with my personal recommendation. You will be happy to hear that the Post accepted it immediately and have paid one thousand dollars. Mr Matson’s commission is ten per cent. I enclose his check for nine hundred dollars. It’s all yours. As you will see from Mr Matson’s letter, which I also enclose, the Post is asking if you will write more stories for them. I do hope you will. Did you know you were a writer? With my very best wishes and congratulations, C. S. Forester.





enjoy least of all writing about my own experiences. And that explains why this story is so lacking in detail. I could quite easily have described what it was like to be in a dog-fight with German fighters fifteen thousand feet above the Parthenon in Athens, or the thrill of chasing a Junkers 88 in and out the mountain peaks in Northern Greece, but I don’t want to do it. For me, the pleasure of writing comes with inventing stories.





To me, the most important and difficult thing about writing fiction is to find the plot. Good original plots are very hard to come by. You never know when a lovely idea is going to flit suddenly into your mind, but by golly, when it does come along, you grab it with both hands and hang on to it tight. The trick is to write it down at once, otherwise you’ll forget it. A good plot is like a dream. If you don’t write down your dream on paper the moment you wake up, the chances are you’ll forget it and it’ll be gone for ever.





I knew that the hotness was unpleasant, but that was all I knew. I disliked it, so I curled my legs up under the seat and waited. I think there was something wrong with the telegraph system between the body and the brain. It did not seem to be working very well. Somehow it was a bit slow in telling the brain all about it and in asking for instructions. But I believe a message eventually got through, saying, ‘Down here there is a great hotness. What shall we do? (Signed) Left Leg and Right Leg.’ For a long time there was no reply. The brain was figuring the matter out. Then slowly, word by word, the answer was tapped over the wires. ‘The – plane – is – burning. Get – out – repeat – get – out – get – out.’ The order was relayed to the whole system, to all the muscles in the legs, arms and body, and the muscles went to work.





If a clever man said, ‘I am going to build a big thing that will burn better and quicker than anything else in the world,’ and if he applied himself diligently to his task, he would probably finish up by building something very like a Gladiator.





Suddenly I saw some bullet holes in my starboard wing and I got angry and scared both at the same time; but mostly I got angry. Then I got confident and I said, ‘The German who did that had no sense of humour. There’s always one man in a party who has no sense of humour. But there’s nothing to worry about; there’s nothing at all to worry about.’ Then I saw more bullet holes and I got scared.







동화책이 아닌 로알드 달의 소설들 중에서는 처음으로 읽어본 작품. 초반에는 조금 지루했는데 Swans부터 작가 특유의 똘끼가 본격적으로 드러나기 시작하면서 점점 재밌어졌다. 허세 없이 진솔하게 글을 쓰는 것이 로알드 달의 강점이라는 생각이 든다. 그래서 그리 젊은 나이에 글재주를 인정받고 출세한 것이 아닐까 싶고... (굉장히 부러움!) 정작 학창시절에는 영작문 성적이 형편없었다고 하지만.