Both “The Tell-tale Heart” and “The Landlady” are gothic, spooky stories. Each them uses a wry, humorously straightforward narration. Each one also gets more and more suspenseful as the story goes on, and takes advantage of the setting to make it suspenseful. Finally, each one has a surprise ending.
However, there are many differences between the stories. First of all, in one case (“The Tell-tale Heart”) the narrator is the murderer, and in the other case he is the victim. Although “The Tell-tale Heart” has a climactic ending, we do know what happens—the narrator confesses and is arrested.
In the case of “The Landlady” the narrator has a name: Billy Weaver. The narrator in “The Tell-tale Heart” does not. Ironically, the first person narrator in Poe’s story actually tells us less about himself than the third person narrator in Dahl’s tells us about Billy. We don’t even know Poe’s narrator’s name.
In Poe’s story, the narrator talks directly to the reader.
The disease had sharpened my senses—not destroyed—not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. How, then, am I mad? (enotes etext p. 4).
It is pretty disturbing. The narrator does not introduce himself, but right off the bat tells us he is not crazy and then pretty much convinces us that he actually is.
Dahl’s description of Billy Weaver is much less interesting, in some ways. It is just a list and description of settings.
Billy Weaver had traveled down from London …and … it was about nine o’clock in the evening, and the moon was coming up out of a clear starry sky over the houses opposite the station entrance.
In each case, the reader is introduced to strange happenings by just throwing them at us. There is the murder in “A Tell-tale Heart.”
In an instant I dragged him to the floor, and pulled the heavy bed over him. I then smiled gaily, to find the deed so far done. But, for many minutes, the heart beat on with a muffled sound. (p. 5)
While the murder in “The Landlady” is more subtle.
“That’s good. Because later on, if I happen to forget what you were called, then I could always come down here and look it up. I still do that almost every day with Mr. Mulholland and Mr. . . . Mr. . . .”
This implies that she has killed and stuffed her other guests, or why would she be looking them up when they are not there?
Yet while we know exactly what happened in “Heart” we are a little unsure in “Landlady.”
Excuse my asking, but haven’t there been any other guests here except them in the last two or three years?”
She tells him he is the only one. Of course, since the others are stuffed.
Both stories end abruptly in climactic and suspenseful ways, but while the narrator is arrested after confessing in “The Tell-tale Heart,” we are just left to think that Billy Weaver is going to be killed in “The Landlady” because she tells him there were no other guests, and asks him to sign the guest book, where her victims are, and the tea tastes “faintly of bitter almonds,” meaning she has poisoned him.