Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life: The Country Stories of Roald Dahl

by Roald Dahl
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Gambling and risk-taking appear repeatedly in Dahl's work, most centrally in "Mr. Feasey." Once again, Claud has cooked up a scheme to run dogs and win that would make his father proud. Having discovered ringers—two dogs that appear to be identical— Claud first races the slower dog which comes in last place, then waits for the perfect opportunity to bring in the ringer that will not only win the race but upset the betting odds. The narrator is the one who will work with Claud to bet and collect the money for a profitable turn.

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Although one might consider this the classic storyline of the trickster getting tricked, one does not simply laugh at Claud's ruse and admire the cunning of Feasey. As hard as the individual tries to beat the system—in this case, Claud's attempt to outwit the odds of winning at the makeshift dog track—the ones in control will make certain they profit. Because Feasey's reputation to spot a ringer is threatened, Claud and the narrator's scheme is derailed by Feasey's bookies, who know that part of the crowd's enthusiasm, which they rely on for their profits, is Feasey's ability to identify the ringers.

Dahl once referred to "Mr. Feasey" and other stories originally published in the collection Someone Like You ("The Ratcatcher," "Rummins," and "Mr. Hoddy") as "Claud's Dog" stories. The central focus, however, more often rests on Claud's thinking habits and his humorous misadventures. "Mr. Hoddy," for example is not so much about Hoddy as the town butcher as it is about his being Clarice Hoddy's father and Claud's less-than-satisfactory interactions with Hoddy as he seeks Clarice's hand in marriage.

Claud and the narrator finally succeed in a risky undertaking in "Champion of the World," at least until the results are hilariously made public. Knowing the totality of Claud's misadventures, as we do by reading them together in this collection, adds humor to the story of how even this triumph goes awry. Claud spends his days preparing for nights spent stealing pheasants from the grounds of a local businessman who raises them for annual hunts. A favorite unofficial sport of the locals is to steal these pheasants under the noses of the grounds men paid to protect the birds. Although they will not let the game go to waste, the most satisfying results are when the upper-class hunt yields little game. Not only does Claud proudly reveal his buttocks scarred from past skirmishes, but he excitedly predicts that Gordon's suggested plan will set a new standard for successful pilfering.

The excitement and fear of the nighttime attempt to experiment with the new plan is sprinkled with the narrative humor of Gordon, who is undergoing the experience for the first time. The humor escalates the next morning, when the plan falls apart as the pheasants revive from their midnight snack.

Most often prompted by material gain, Dahl's characters never receive what they expect. Other times, their desire for high adventure, perhaps a result of this seemingly boring farm life, leads his characters to great risk-taking, such as when Claud introduces a buddy to the tricks of his illegal trade.

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