Monday, 24 September 2012

My favourite short stories (1)

I thought that I would start a series of articles discussing my favourite short stories, as the technique of short fiction writing is something that I have been exploring for the past two or three years.

The first short story that I would like to draw attention to is "Sredni Vashtar" by the Edwardian British writer Saki -the pseudonym of Hector Hugh Munro (1870-1916)


"Sredni Vashtar" by Saki (H.H Munro)

This story is about a young boy, Conradin, who is the unhappy ward of his older female cousin, Mrs De Ropp. Conradin's immersion in a secret world, focusing on the pet animals of which he knows his guardian would disapprove, draws attention to the conflict between the almost pagan-like religion which Conradin invents and values for its sense of escapism, and the conservative values and conventional views of Mrs De Ropp.

I find this story wonderful to read for its psychological insight into the mind and imagination of a child, and particularly a child living in these difficult circumstances. The story is blackly comic, and rich with dark humour. Parallels can be drawn from the content of the story with Saki's own life, as he endured a strict upbringing as the ward of his aunts and grandmother when his mother died and his father was working in Burma.

It's also a fine example of the macabre in a domestic setting, with its sublime depiction of the suppressed fierce resentment of the child-protagonist and the triumphant nature of his spiteful revenge. The tone and themes of this story remind me of Roald Dahl's stories later in the 20th century (speaking of him, I'll talk about a favourite Dahl short story of mine next). All hail Sredni Vashtar, the Great Ferret:

Sredni Vashtar went forth,

His thoughts were red thoughts and his teeth were white.

His enemies called for peace, but he brought them death.

Sredni Vashtar the Beautiful

You can read "Sredni Vashtar" for yourself, here:


"Man From the South" by Roald Dahl

Another of my favourite short stories is "Man From the South" by Roald Dahl. Dahl is most famous for his children's books, but he was also an accomplished short story and novella writer for adults. Many of his short stories were used as the basis for the TV series Tales of the Unexpected. Dahl was a master of macabre tales and "Man From the South" falls into this category of his fiction. It's a twisted story about a sinister old man. He is a compulsive gambler who sets a particularly grisly high stake upon his bets...and to say any more would be to give the game away.

“Shall we not perhaps make a little bet on dat?”  He smiled at the boy.  “Shall we not make a little bet on whether your lighter lights?”

“Sure, I’ll bet,” the boy said.  “Why not?”

“You like to bet?”

“Sure, I’ll always bet.”

The man paused and examined his cigar, and I must say I didn’t much like the way he was behaving.  It seemed he was already trying to make something out of this, and to embarrass the boy, and at the same time I had the feeling he was relishing a private little secret all his own.

You can read "Man From the South" for yourself, here:

Man from the South by Roald Dahl

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