Dahl’s Tiger

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Years ago I had to read an assigned novel with 5th graders. The book – which I refuse to name, but will allow was written by a famous children’s author – began excellently. On the very first page, two children find a tiger in a cage.

Pause to imagine what Roald Dahl would have done with the next hundred pages.

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Well, here’s what the unnamed author did with the next hundred pages: the two kids dwell on personal problems while the tiger remains caged. The tiger is finally set free (p. 102) only to be shot dead three pages later. The book takes eleven more pages to expire.

I bet if I told Roald Dahl “Hey, I’ve got an idea for a story! Two kids find a caged tiger, but the caged tiger will just be a metaphor for their feelings!” he’d tell me to walk to an open field and stand still while he fetched his Hawker Hurricane.

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He recently turned one hundred. Eat a piece of cake, skaal your Bestemama, and please, for Boy’s sake:

If you say in the first chapter that there is a tiger in a cage, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must be set free. If it’s not going to be freed, it shouldn’t be there.