- First published:
- June 3, 1950 issue of Collier’s
- Illustrated by Martha Sawyers
- Related books:
- Magazine publications:
- Radio Shows:
- TV Shows:
This is one of Dahl’s most famous stories, and one of the most misunderstood, I think. The entire time you’re reading it, you think that the main conflict is between the men and the krait on Harry’s stomach. It’s only in the last few paragraphs, though, that you realize that the “poison” is actually racism. Harry Pope is perfectly willing to tolerate Dr. Ganderbai as long as his life is in danger, but as soon as Ganderbai dares to question the white man, Harry lets his true colors show. The story is also a masterpiece of tension and suspense. You should check out the radio version sometime.
Spoiler warning! Timber Woods, the narrator, arrives home at his bungalow to discover his partner, Harry Pope, lying in bed and acting strangely. Harry is whispering and sweating all over. He tells Timber that a krait – an extremely poisonous little snake – crawled onto the bed and is now sleeping under the sheet on Harry’s stomach. Timber gets a knife from the kitchen in case Harry gets bitten, which he’ll use to cut the skin and suck out the poison. Harry tells him to call the doctor. Doctor Ganderbai agrees to come at once. Once he arrives, he quickly decides that the first thing to do is inject Harry with some snakebite serum. Carefully, Ganderbai rolls up Harry’s pajama sleeve and ties on a rubber tourniquet. Harry is struggling not to move or cough. Ganderbai smoothly inserts the needles and administers the serum. Outside, the doctor tells Timber that the serum is by no means a guarantee of safety. They decide to try to anesthetize the snake. The use chloroform to soak the mattress beneath Harry. The process is agonizing and takes a long time. Eventually they begin to slowly lift the sheet off Harry. They see no sign of the snake. “It could be up the leg of his pajamas,” says Ganderbai. At that, Harry goes berserk and leaps to his feet, shaking his legs violently. When he stops, they realize that he hasn’t been bitten and the snake is nowhere to be seen. “Mr. Pope, you are of course quite sure you saw it in the first place?” asks Ganderbai. Harry turns red and asks if Ganderbai is accusing him of being a liar. When the doctor doesn’t reply, Harry begins screaming horrible racist insults at him. The doctor quickly leaves. Timber stops the doctor outside and apologies for Harry. He thanks the doctor for his help. “All he needs is a good holiday,” Ganderbai says quietly before driving off.
- “The Art of Vengeance” by Joyce Carol Oates (The New York Review of Books)
- Elsewhere on the web:
- “Poison” – Online Games
- Online matching, concentration, and flash card games with concepts from the book