Up until quite recently, I did not know that Roald Dahl was such a prolific short-story writer. I will always associate him with fond childhood memories and learning to read during grade-school. Like so many other kids, I was obsessed with his books, reading them over and over again until the pages fell out: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, The Witches, Matilda, The Twits. All classics. His books sparked my young imagination and I was totally enchanted by Dahl's immersive story-telling skills. My lifelong love for reading probably started around this time.
Roald Dahl's stories always had a dark sense of humor about them and were also quite creepy ("The Witches" definitely freaked me out as a kid) but "The Landlady" turned out to be surprisingly macabre for an author known mostly for his children's stories. The premise is quite simple: Billy Weaver is a young man traveling the English countryside and is in need of lodging for the night. He comes across a quaint little bed and breakfast that catches his eye and is met by a slightly odd but solicitous landlady who is very eager to have him as one of her guests. Everything seems pretty normal at first until Billy notices that the landlady is fond of creepy-looking animal taxidermy and also urges him to sign the guest book, which he discovers only has two names listed from several years ago. Dahl seems more concerned with creating an ominous and unsettling mood rather than focusing on plot, which is predictably formulaic. It would not be a spoiler to say that Billy Weaver is doomed from the moment he rings the doorbell but the fun in reading this story is to relish in Dahl's playful invention and twisted dark humor. The gloomy atmosphere and depiction of the devilishly creepy landlady provides plenty of foreshadowing so the "surprise ending" is not really a surprise at all since the author makes it obvious pretty early on that things won't end well for Billy. A brief short-story that is entertaining in a darkly amusing way but a far-cry from the high level of quality writing expected from Dahl.