Roald Dahl Questions and Answers

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How does Roald Dahl create tension in the story "The Landlady"?

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David Morrison eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Dahl effectively creates tension by setting a nightmarish tale in a seemingly normal, everyday environment. The story takes place in a cosy bed and breakfast in the beautiful, ancient city of Bath. The owner of the guest house seems to be a perfectly respectable, if somewhat eccentric, old lady. Neither we, nor Billy Weaver, have any reason to think there's something unusual about the place.

But gradually we realize that the whole set-up is a facade. There's something quite unreal about the place, something not quite right. There are subtle hints that there's an atmosphere of evil hanging over the house, but really no more than that. The old lady's house is like a museum; although it's only later that we find out exactly what kind of museum it is. The clues are there to help poor, hapless Billy connect the dots, so to speak, but he's been completely taken in by this apparently harmless old granny. Sure, that dachshund sitting by the fire seems eerily quiet, and those names in the guest book ring a bell, but it could all be put down to some good, old-fashioned English eccentricity. In a way, it is; but not quite in the way that either we, or Billy, could ever possibly have imagined.

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Lori Steinbach eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In this story, Roald Dahl's "The Landlady," tension is created by the use of suspense. We know from the very beginning that something is not quite right. Billy has every intention of going one place and ends up in a totally different place after experiencing some kind of hypnotic moment. We know that things just are not quite right at the Landlady's house, as well. Umbrellas in the stand but no guests in the house. A bed turned down and a room waiting for him when he had no plans to even be there. Cryptic remarks by the Landlady throughout Billy's time there. Recognizable names in the guest book--with no evidence of their having ever left. From beginning to end, something is just not right. It is this which creates the tension which builds to the rather shocking--though not all that surprising--climax.

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