Beasts and Super-Beasts by Saki

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(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Beasts and Super-Beasts was the last collection of Saki’s short fiction published in his lifetime. According to some critics, it is his best. It contains the most representative of his later short stories. The book includes the stories for which Saki is now remembered. A number of the stories feature Clovis Sangrail, Saki’s later version of Reginald. There are also a number of ghost or fantasy tales that provide an eerie, unworldly atmosphere. There are some tales that explore the demoniac side of childhood. Most of these short stories have ironic, surprise endings.

The witty commentary that Saki uses to such effect in his earlier short fiction is still present, but the stories in Beasts and Super-Beasts rely more on plot than do his earlier efforts. They also establish Saki’s reputation for writing about the dark side of human nature. Twenty-first century readers will probably be less shocked by these tales than the prewar audience for which they were written because the stories’ bleakness has become a staple of modern writing. It is to Saki’s credit that he pioneered such a modernist vision. The stories seem less dated than some of his other ones.

In “The Story-Teller,” a confirmed bachelor quiets some unruly children in a railway compartment by telling them a story. The story is about a little girl who wins medals for her goodness and is eaten by a wolf. She tries to escape the wolf by hiding in some bushes, but her medals clank, giving away her hiding place. There are also stories that border on the absurd. For example, in “The Stalled Ox,” an artist who paints portraits of livestock is called to remove an ox from a neighbor’s drawing room. Instead, he paints the beast and creates a sensation at the Royal Academy of Art with his picture, “Ox in a Morning-Room, Late Autumn.” “The Dreamer” is about a distracted young man who looks so much like a retail clerk that he is able to sell things to customers in shops that he visits with his aunt. He pockets the money he receives for the goods. A gourmand in “The Blind Spot” covers up a killing committed by his cook because, although the cook may be a murderer,...

(The entire section is 553 words.)