“Black Mamba”

Sections: Information | Plot Description


Information


Plot Description

“An African Story” was first published in Over to You: Ten Stories of Flyers and Flying, but it actually has very little to do with that aeronautical theme. The story comes to us in the form of a found manuscript, which the narrator (Dahl) supposedly found in the suitcase of a fellow RAF pilot and friend who died in combat. The manuscript is the dead pilot’s recollection of a story that was told to him by a strange old African man following a forced landing in the Nairobi Highlands. In other words, “An African Story” is about a story about a story.

Spoiler warning! In the found manuscript’s story, the old African man lives in his small shack with his dog, some chickens, a cow, and another man named Judson (evidently some sort of helper). Judson is an irritable fellow, and the sound of the dog licking its paw practically drives him mad. He strikes it with a bamboo rod and breaks its back. The old man puts the dog out of its misery and curses at Judson. Later they begin to have a mysterious problem with the cow: her milk is disappearing during the night. The old man waits up one night and sees something amazing – a deadly poisonous black mamba snake is visiting the cow and drinking milk from her udders! After making sure that this goes on every night, he tells Judson that a small boy is stealing the milk and that Judson should hide beside the cow and catch him in the act. Judson does this and is of course bitten by the snake. He dies there in the meadow, and as the old man watches the snake again begin to suckle at the cow, he says quietly, “You can have his share… Yes, we don’t mind your having his share.”


“The Visitor”

Sections: Information | Plot Description | Fun Stuff 


Information


Plot Description

This is the first story in which we meet Oswald Hendryks Cornelius, noted seducer extraordinaire. It’s a story-within-a-story that begins as the narrator explains how he came to inherit all 28 volumes of his uncle’s memoirs. It’s interesting to note that the narrator seems to be Dahl himself: a letter from Oswald makes reference to “you and your three sisters,” and Dahl, of course, had three sisters himself. Note: this is a very adult story in tone and probably shouldn’t be read by any children without permission from their parents.

Spoiler warning! After inheriting his long-absent uncle’s books, the narrator reads through them all and desperately wants them to be published and shared with the world. Unfortunately the books contain many salacious details, including the names of many (married) woman that Oswald slept with and whose husbands would not find such a scandal appealing. After consulting with a lawyer, the narrator determines that the “Sinai Desert Episode” is probably safe to print. Before launching into this, the very last entry from the diary, the narrator describes his uncle and the singular effect he seems to have had on women. He was a fastidious man who collected walking sticks, ties made from spider silk, and Chinese porcelain. He had a way of speaking that seemed to hypnotize the listener (usually a woman) and put her into a spell of lust.

The Sinai Desert episode is dated 1946 and involves Oswald’s escape from Cairo following a romantic rendezvous with an aristocratic Moorish woman (and another man’s mistress). He decides to drive to Jerusalem via the desert road and search for scorpions to add to his collection. He succeeds with the scorpion but when he stops for gasoline the diseased attendant tells him that his fan belt has broken. He will have to spend the night in the desert and wait for a new fan belt to arrive. As Oswald resigns himself to this, a Rolls-Royce drives up and a wealthy man steps out. They quickly get to know each other and the rich man, Abdul Aziz, invites Oswald to spend the night at his house nearby. The man explains on the way that he chooses to live in such a wild location in order to protect his beautiful young daughter from the unwanted attention of men. Oswald is astounded when he meets the mother and daughter, and he can’t make his mind up which one he wants to seduce. They both go immediately to their own bedrooms, though, without giving him any indication of a possible rendezvous. He is disappointed but prepares to go to sleep. In the middle of the night, his door opens and a woman climbs into bed with him. After hours of energetic lovemaking, she slips out as silently as she arrived. Oswald believes he will be able to tell which it was by a bite mark he has left on her neck. But the next morning, BOTH of them are wearing scarves! As Abdul drives him back to the gas station, Oswald fishes for an invitation back to the house. Abdul doesn’t take the bait, though, and after a while he admits that there is another reason he lives in such an isolated spot. He has another daughter living in the house… and she has leprosy. “Dear fellow, you mustn’t alarm yourself like this,” he tells Oswald. “You have to have the most intimate contact with the person in order to catch it…” Shaking, Oswald returns to his repaired car and watches the Rolls-Royce drive back off across the desert.


“Lucky Break”

Sections: Information | Plot Description


Information


Plot Description

This isn’t really much of a story. It’s mostly just Dahl’s advice for becoming a writer and anecdotes about how he fell into the profession. A lot of the school passages seem to be reproduced in Boy.

Spoiler warning! Dahl starts off by giving advice to people who want to become full-time professional writers. He says that you have to have another day job to start, and he gives a list of qualities that you should possess. Then he flashes back to his days at St. Peter’s Prep School, where boys were savagely beaten for any infraction of the rules. He looks over some of his school reports trying to see any hint of his future career, but most of his teachers give him horrible marks in English Composition. His only good memories of those school years were the Saturday afternoons when the teachers would all go off to the pub and a local woman, Mrs. O’Connor, was brought in to watch the boys. Instead of merely babysitting them, though, she taught them about the entire history of English literature. By the time Dahl left for Repton, he was an insatiable reader. Repton was even worse for him, and when he left school he decided to work for Shell and visit exotic lands. He was posted to East Africa, but left in 1939 to join the R.A.F. and fight in World War II. He tells of his training and of the horrific crash that eventually got him invalided home. Then the R.A.F. decided to send him to America as “Assistant Air Attaché”. While there, he was contacted by the famous author C.S. Forester, who wanted to write a story about the crash. Dahl wrote down everything he could remember and sent it to Forester, who responded, “Did you know you were a writer?” The story was published “without any changes” in the Saturday Evening Post. Dahl goes on to talk about The Gremlins and how he was eventually able to meet Franklin Roosevelt. At the end of the story, Dahl talks about the red notebook that he wrotes down all of his plot ideas in. He even shows the reader the blurbs that eventually become Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and “Henry Sugar”. And that, he says, is “how I became a writer.”


“An African Story”

Sections: Information | Plot Description | Reviews 


Information


Plot Description

“An African Story” was first published in Over to You: Ten Stories of Flyers and Flying, but it actually has very little to do with that aeronautical theme. The story comes to us in the form of a found manuscript, which the narrator (Dahl) supposedly found in the suitcase of a fellow RAF pilot and friend who died in combat. The manuscript is the dead pilot’s recollection of a story that was told to him by a strange old African man following a forced landing in the Nairobi Highlands. In other words, “An African Story” is about a story about a story.

Spoiler warning! In the found manuscript’s story, the old African man lives in his small shack with his dog, some chickens, a cow, and another man named Judson (evidently some sort of helper). Judson is an irritable fellow, and the sound of the dog licking its paw practically drives him mad. He strikes it with a bamboo rod and breaks its back. The old man puts the dog out of its misery and curses at Judson. Later they begin to have a mysterious problem with the cow: her milk is disappearing during the night. The old man waits up one night and sees something amazing – a deadly poisonous black mamba snake is visiting the cow and drinking milk from her udders! After making sure that this goes on every night, he tells Judson that a small boy is stealing the milk and that Judson should hide beside the cow and catch him in the act. Judson does this and is of course bitten by the snake. He dies there in the meadow, and as the old man watches the snake again begin to suckle at the cow, he says quietly, “You can have his share… Yes, we don’t mind your having his share.”


Reviews


Going Solo

Sections: Information | Description | Reviews | Fun Stuff | Teacher Ideas | Covers | Bulgarian, Catalan, Czech, Dutch, French, German, Greek, Italian, Norwegian, Persian, Russian, Serbian, Spanish, Thai, and Turkish Covers


Information

Information on identifying editions is from Richard Walker’s “Roald Dahl – A Guide to Collecting His First Editions”.

  • First editions:
    • Jonathan Cape, 1986, UK.
      • To identify: Used a standard single statement (‘First published’ followed by the date with later printings stated underneath) and published with a jacket priced at £7.95.
    • Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1986, USA.
      • To identify: Used a First Edition statement and published with a jacket priced at $14.95.
  • Connections:
    • Over to You is a collection of short stories about pilots and flying, much of which is autobiographical and similar to the stories in this book
    • “Katina” tells a story set in the Greek campaign that Dahl describes in this book
  • Buy this book:

Important note: From 2022 onwards, Puffin has edited selected Dahl books to remove sensitive language and insert new sentences not written by Dahl. If you would prefer to read the original text, ensure you get a copy published before 2022 or one of the “Classic Collection” published by Penguin.


Description

In Going Solo, the world’s favourite storyteller, Roald Dahl, tells of life as a fighter pilot in Africa.

‘They did not think for one moment that they would find anything but a burnt-out fuselage and a charred skeleton, and they were astounded when they came upon my still-breathing body lying in the sand nearby.’

In 1938 Roald Dahl was fresh out of school and bound for his first job in Africa, hoping to find adventure far from home. However, he got far more excitement than he bargained for when the outbreak of the Second World War led him to join the RAF. His account of his experiences in Africa, crashing a plane in the Western Desert, rescue and recovery from his horrific injuries in Alexandria, flying a Hurricane as Greece fell to the Germans, and many other daring deeds, recreates a world as bizarre and unnerving as any he wrote about in his fiction.


Reviews

  • “Young Man, Old Empire, Bad War” by Gahan Wilson from the October 12, 1986 issue of New York Times – New York, USA
  • “More pleasure in Dahl’s accounts from life than from his fables” by Ralph Elliott from the February 14, 1987 issue of The Canberra Times – Canberra, Australia (read online)
  • Student Review by Melanie Burd

Fun Stuff

Sotheby’s Dahl Auction 1997


Teacher Ideas


Covers


Bulgarian Covers – Момчето пораства: приключения в Африка


Catalan Covers – Sol pel món


Czech Covers – Sólový let


Dutch Covers – Solo: 1938-1941


French Covers – Escadrille 80


German Covers – Im Alleingang


Greek Covers – Σόλο πορεία


Italian Covers – In solitario. Diario di volo


Norwegian Covers – På Egne Vinger


Persian Covers – سفر تک نفره


Russian Covers – Полеты в одиночку


Serbian Covers – Samostalni let


Spanish Covers – Volando solo


Thai Covers


Turkish Covers – Tek Başına