What inspired Roald Dahl to write "Lamb to the Slaughter"?

A real-life incident inspired Roahl Dahl to write "Lamb to the Slaughter." As Dahl recalled years later, James Bond creator Ian Fleming leaned over to him at a dinner party to complain that whoever left their tough leg of lamb in the freezer so long should be shot. This gave Dahl the idea for a different kind of murder with a leg of lamb.

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As is often the case, a real incident sparked a work of fiction —or so was Dahl's recollection more than twenty years later. At that point, he credited James Bond creator, Ian Fleming, a friend from his Washington, D.C. years, with inspiring the 1953 story. Dahl said that Fleming had...

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As is often the case, a real incident sparked a work of fiction—or so was Dahl's recollection more than twenty years later. At that point, he credited James Bond creator, Ian Fleming, a friend from his Washington, D.C. years, with inspiring the 1953 story. Dahl said that Fleming had commented at a Vermont dinner party about an especially tough leg of lamb, saying that whoever had kept it in the freezer so long should be shot. That sparked in Dahl a different idea about a leg of lamb and a murder.

But for all Dahl's retrospective credit to Fleming, Dahl himself had a vivid imagination all his own and generally included the macrabre in his stories. He wrote, for example, "Stairway to Heaven" not long after "Lamb to the Slaughter." In this 1954 story, a woman who has long been subjected to sadistic passive-aggressive abuse by her husband leaves him stranded to die stuck between floors on an elevator.

What makes Dahl's murderous twists palatable, and even often appropriate for children, is that the person killed richly deserves the fate. In "Lamb for the Slaughter," for example, Mary's husband has coldly announced to his devoted, innocent, and six-months-pregnant wife that he is going to divorce her, destroying her life. We enjoy Dahl because he offers such good-hearted underdogs as Mary a chance to get back at cold-hearted bullies.

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The story is that Ian Fleming actually came up with the idea for the story over a dinner of leg of lamb Dahl prepared for him. The meat was so tough, Fleming thought Dahl should be shot for serving it, and Dahl was inspired to come up with a story in which the murder weapon actually is a piece of meat. Dahl, in his introduction to the TV version of the story (that aired as part of the UK show “Tales of the Unexpected”), gave Fleming all the credit for the idea, but the story’s dark comedy is uniquely Dahl. In the American TV version of the story, which aired on “Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” the way in which the domestic routine of a wife, preparing for the return of her husband from work, is easily adapted to the purposes of murder is at once appalling and quite funny——a Dahl trademark.

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Roald Dahl's "Lamb to the Slaughter" was the inspiration for an episode of the first series of Tales of the Unexpected, where Dahl, himself, cozied up in front of a roaring fire, introduced the clip, and explained the inspiration for his darkly comedic tale:

My friend, the late Ian Fleming, the James Bond man, is really responsible for the story you're going to see now. We were staying the weekend at the house in Vermont, and, at dinner, the roast leg of lamb was so dry and tough that Ian looked across the room and whispered, "This ruddy thing must have been in deep freeze for ten years; you ought to be shot."

"No," I said. "I think there must be a more interesting punishment than that."

That's how the idea for this story began.

With its murder by mutton, "Lamb to the Slaughter" exemplifies Dahl's taste for black humor and the fact that he's unafraid to wring laughs from violence. The short story first appeared in Harper's Magazine in September 1953, after being rejected by The New Yorker. In addition to being adapted for Tales of the Unexpected, it was also the inspiration for a 1958 episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

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The previous contributor rightly mentions that the inspiration for Dahl in writing "Lamb to the Slaughter" was a less-than-successful dinner he had with Ian Fleming. At that dinner, the roast leg of lamb that was served did not meet with the James Bond author's approval; it was horribly dry and tough. He jokingly exclaimed that the leg of lamb must have been left in the deep freeze for ten years and that he, Dahl, ought to be shot. Immediately, a little light bulb appeared over Dahl's head and he told Fleming that there must be a more interesting punishment than that. In turn, this inspired Fleming to come up with the idea of a woman murdering her husband with a frozen leg of mutton and then serving the investigating police officers with the murder weapon. Such are the inauspicious occasions in literary history that often give rise to great ideas.

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Roald Dahl's short story "Lamb to the Slaughter" was first published in 1953.  Freezer technology had been around for decades, but it wasn't until the 1940's that home freezers became commonplace in most homes.  Roald Dahl and Ian Fleming (the author of the James Bond books) were friends during the 1950's.  Jennet Conant's book, The Irregulars: Roald Dahl and the British Spy Ring in Wartime Washington, tells that the Dahl's inspiration for the short story was suggested to him by Ian Fleming over dinner one night.  The freezer, being a new invention, spiked Fleming's and Dahl's interest.  Dahl supposedly asked Fleming what would be the best weapon on hand that someone might have in their freezer.  Fleming responded by suggesting that Dahl write a story in which the lead character commits a murder with a mutton leg. 

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In Roald Dahl's television series Tales of the Unexpected (1979–1988), he explains the inspiration behind Lamb to the Slaughter, originally published in 1953:

My friend, the late Ian Fleming, the James Bond man, is really responsible for the story you're going to see now. We were staying the weekend at the house in Vermont, and, at dinner, the roast leg of lamb was so dry and tough that Ian looked across the room and whispered, "This ruddy thing must have been in deep freeze for ten years; you ought to be shot."

Fleming's joke that the lamb was in the deep freeze for so long and that Dahl should be murdered for serving it, inspired the author of the short story to use a frozen leg of lamb or mutton as a murder weapon (a leg of lamb that is room temperature would not have done much damage).

Roald Dahl had a definite tendency toward dark humor, even in his books written for children. For instance, in Matilda, headmistress Trunchbull's most dangerous form of punishment is placing children who misbehave in the Chokey, a cupboard so small that children were forced to stand, with broken glass sticking out in the walls and nails on the door.

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