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In The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More, Dahl claims that this is his “first story” and that it tells the story of how he was shot down over the Libyan Desert. Both statements are incorrect. Dahl’s first story was called “Shot Down Over Libya” and it’s nothing like this one. This version was written by Dahl almost thirty years later. Furthermore, Dahl didn’t crash as a result of enemy fire, but rather because of poor directions and lack of fuel. (You can read more about this controversy on the “Shot Down Over Libya” page.)
Spoiler warning! The story is told entirely in the first person. The narrator explains that he doesn’t remember much before it happened. He’s a pilot, and he describes landing at Fouka with his fellow pilot Peter. They discuss the shaking airmen there who have been stretched too thin by the war effort. Once their planes are refuelled, the two of them get ready to fly off towards their destination in the Libyan Desert. The old airman who straps in the narrator tells him to be careful. “It’s a piece of cake,” the narrator replies. It turns out to be otherwise. In the desert they are surrounded by “lots and lots of trouble”, and the narrator is too low to bail out of his plane. His plane crashes into the ground and he blacks out. By the time he comes to, the plane has caught fire and is burning around him. With some struggle (“I think there was something wrong with the telegraph system between the body and brain.”) he manages to extricate himself from the cockpit and crawl to safety. Peter has landed nearby and manages to find him. The narrator slips into unconsciousness while Peter takes care of him.
The next part of the story is filled with the dreams that the narrator has while unconscious in the hospital. He dreams of Peter and the airmen painting funny pictures on their aircraft to distract the Germans. He dreams of fighting his way through a sky filled with German fighter planes. The planes begin to sing and dance and play “Oranges and Lemons”. He gets annoyed that the Germans are not laughing at his funny pictures. His plane is shot and some of the bullets penetrate his body. He spirals out of control towards the ocean. He sees white horses riding on the waves. He finds himself sitting in a red velvet chair. Someone tells him that he is missing, believed killed. He wants to call his mother, but the telephone only goes to God. Then he dreams that he is running and cannot stop. He passes his mother, who is picking mushrooms. He runs towards a cliff and tries to throw himself to the ground, but it doesn’t work. He runs off the edge and finds himself falling into infinite blackness.
When he finally awakes, he discovers that he’s been in the hospital for four days. The nurse tells him that he’ll be fine. He calls out for her, but she’s already gone.