Roald Dahl, 'The Hitchhiker'

avon

Forum Staff
May 2008
14,253



Roald Dahl, 'The Hitchhiker', 1974.


"All car-makers is liars," he said. "You can buy any car you like and it’ll never do what the makers say it will in the ads." "This one will." "Open 'er up then and prove it," he said. "Go on, guv'nor, open 'er right up and let's see what she'll do." There is a traffic circle at Chalfont St. Peter and immediately beyond it there's a long straight section of divided highway. We came out of the circle onto the highway and I pressed my foot hard down on the accelerator. The big car leaped forward as though she'd been stung. In ten seconds or so, we were doing ninety.

Text available at:
http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:un_MdjwjvxkJ:www.daltonvoorburg.nl/file/5150/1068724107/The+Hitchhiker.doc+the+hitch+hiker+roald+dahl+text&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=uk&client=firefox-a



Open for discussion Sunday, 5 September, 2010.

Enjoy.
 

avon

Forum Staff
May 2008
14,253
Roald Dahl, ‘The Hitchhiker’.

Roald Dahl (sounds ROE-ahl Doll) was a rare talent. His stories for adults are full of twists and turn; his bountiful corpus of stories for children nearly all contain humour and mischief in abundance. He was born in 1916 and died in 1990, was buried with a snooker cue, some cigars and a power saw, safe in the knowledge that his stories (or tales) had reached many millions of readers the world over.

So, what did we make of this particular short story?
 

Pedro

Forum Staff
Mar 2008
17,151
On a mountain top in Costa Rica. yeah...I win!!
This story is not exactly true, but it isn’t exactly false, either. This story is more than an entertainment, it retells for the thousandth time the story of ‘trickster’. A retelling that is not repetitious, but redemptive, restorative and part of the equipment in the knapsack of all sojourners.

[Soujourner from the ancient Latin ‘subdiurnare’, the ‘sub’ meaning ‘under’ or ‘during’ ‘diurnum’ meaning ‘day’ which took the sense of a temporary stay, one just traveling through. By the time the words are filtered through French and reached English ears the day traveler becomes a sojourner. And in this story our trickster is obviously the hitchhiker. And how!]

In our mythological literature the trickster is a boundary crosser. He is the one that dares to cross the lines drawn by society. His story always fascinates because he dares do what we dare not. He stands at the gates of the city and the gates of the psyche. If we draw a line between right and wrong, living and dead, male and female, young and old, sacred and profane, clean and dirty, trickster is there to cross the line and confuse the distinction. He is the creative idiot yet also the wise fool, the grey haired baby and the cross dresser. He appears on first look as a mystery, something we can’t define nor learn through questioning.

In this story it is the conflict of the cop (the authority figure, the father, the super ego) correcting the driver (the adult, the ego, the rational).

Here trickster (the id, the child) is there to offer his amoral actions and allow the normally honorable behavior of the driver to embrace ambiguity and ambivalence so that life (the ego’s) can get going again.

In this story the hitchhiker is manna from heaven. I don’t think Dahl was consciously playing with these concepts, I merely restate an old belief that a good writer has healthy instincts and knows when a note sounds false and will throw it out.

We do know from other tales that the road trickster travels is also a spirit road. Some times a bridge between heaven and earth and often he takes the role of thief. Tricky Prometheus stealing fire from heaven is the famous example. The motif here of stealing from the gods the good things that humans want if they are to survive is found all over the world. In this story trickster steal the cops fire and gives it to the driver.

When I first read this story my first thought was, “Dahl amuses me again, very nice and a fun read.” Then when I started to write something, because book discussion requires it, I found all this pouring out on the page. Is this some kind of paradox, some contradiction or duplicity; or am I just tricking this up with myna variations of Freud?
 

avon

Forum Staff
May 2008
14,253
When I first read this story my first thought was, “Dahl amuses me again, very nice and a fun read.” Then when I started to write something, because book discussion requires it, I found all this pouring out on the page. Is this some kind of paradox, some contradiction or duplicity; or am I just tricking this up with myna variations of Freud?

Strangely, this is the exact opposite of my experience. I left things to the last minute, thinking that I would find plenty to say about the tale, but then when I sat down this morning to write, nothing emerged. The story seemed blatantly obvious and any efforts of mine to inject substance would simply crash upon the rocks. Well done, you've done what I could not! Nice post. :)


If we draw a line between right and wrong, living and dead, male and female, young and old, sacred and profane, clean and dirty, trickster is there to cross the line and confuse the distinction. He is the creative idiot yet also the wise fool, the grey haired baby and the cross dresser.
Interestingly, you allude to Benjamin Button and Doctor Moreau here. I agree. It's worth noting that Dahl describes the trickster as being 'ratty-faced' and greyish and 'like some sort of huge human rat.' Judging by his dialect, he is clearly of low-class (stereotypically speaking). Adding to that your 'crossing boundaries' identification and we are ready to compare him to one of Moreau's corps de ballet. But this time, he is the dominant character here. He is the one who seemingly knows everything about everything - the driver has to guess and the cop gets outrightly lied to.

Interesting points, my friend. I wonder if anyone else has anything to add!
 

Pedro

Forum Staff
Mar 2008
17,151
On a mountain top in Costa Rica. yeah...I win!!
I thought the story was a lot of fun to read. It put a smile on my face. I like stories that do that. I recommend it. Highly.
 
Jan 2010
26
he is clearly of low-class (stereotypically speaking)
And yet, he is the most clever, both with his hands and in misleading the cop. The cop and the driver don't seem able to look or act beyond their 'place in society', but the hitchhiker - the lower class man - solves the problems by acting directly to the point. I like him !!
 

Lucius

Forum Staff
Jan 2007
16,363
Nebraska
I'm not familiar with Dahl's work. But what with his having been a fighter ace in real life, he may have written himself into this one as the driver of the high performance vehicle.

It's practically a parody of uncanniness - what with The Hitchhiker having relieved the narrator of his belt while he was driving. Maybe something about how life can be "kinda funny" sometimes. Our trickster did describe himself as an "'od carrier" to the policeman. Od indeed!

It's only 7 more days until Roald Dahl Day.

The guy was definitely an original. I highly recommend The Irregulars: Roald Dahl and the British Spy Ring in Wartime Washington by Jennet Conant(even if it is non-fiction).
 

avon

Forum Staff
May 2008
14,253
And yet, he is the most clever, both with his hands and in misleading the cop. The cop and the driver don't seem able to look or act beyond their 'place in society', but the hitchhiker - the lower class man - solves the problems by acting directly to the point. I like him !!
Agreed. He is clearly the sharpest character - by far. But then, those are all the hallmarks of a rat (anthropomorphically speaking!). He is clever, inventive, keen-sensed, cautious (neophobic?), agile ... in fact, the more I think about it, the more impressed I become with Dahl's characterization.
 

avon

Forum Staff
May 2008
14,253
The guy was definitely an original. I highly recommend The Irregulars: Roald Dahl and the British Spy Ring in Wartime Washington by Jennet Conant(even if it is non-fiction).
His work for children is amazingly good; its not surprising he's so fondly remembered with his own 'day'. My favourite:


From Revolting Rhymes
'Little Red Riding Hood'
by Roald Dahl


As soon as Wolf began to feel
That he would like a decent meal,
He went and knocked on Grandma's door.
When Grandma opened it, she saw
The sharp white teeth, the horrid grin,
And Wolfie said, 'May I come in?'
Poor Grandmamma was terrified,
'He's going to eat me up!' she cried.
And she was absolutely right.
He ate her up in one big bite.
But Grandmamma was small and tough,
And Wolfie wailed, 'That's not enough!
'I haven't yet begun to feel
'That I have had a decent meal!'
He ran around the kitchen yelping,
'I've got to have another helping!'
Then added with a frightful leer,
'I'm therefore going to wait right here
'Till Little Miss Red Riding Hood
'Comes home from walking in the wood.'
He quickly put on Grandma's clothes,
(Of course he hadn't eaten those.)
He dressed himself in coat and hat.
He put on shoes and after that
He even brushed and curled his hair,
Then sat himself in Grandma's chair.
In came the little girl in red.
She stopped. She stared. And then she said,

'What great big ears you have, Grandma.'
'All the better to hear you with,' the Wolf replied.
'What great big eyes you have, Grandma,'
said Little Red Riding Hood.
'All the better to see you with,' the Wolf replied.

He sat there watching her and smiled.
He thought, I'm going to eat this child.
Compared with her old Grandmamma
She's going to taste like caviare.

Then Little Red Riding Hood said,
'But Grandma, what a lovely
great big furry coat you have on.'

'That's wrong!' cried Wolf. 'Have you forgot
'To tell me what BIG TEETH I've got?
'Ah well, no matter what you say,
'I'm going to eat you anyway.'
The small girl smiles. One eyelid flickers.
She whips a pistol from her knickers.
She aims it at the creature's head
And bang, bang, bang, she shoots him dead.
A few weeks later, in the wood,
I came across Miss Riding Hood.
But what a change! No cloak of red,
No silly hood upon her head.
She said, 'Hello, and do please note
'My lovely furry WOLF-SKINCOAT.'
From: http://www.funny-poems.biz/roald_dahl/Little-Red-Riding-Hood-poems-rhymes-by-Roald-Dahl.html
 
Jan 2010
1,316
Well I'm sorry I haven't read the story and am not likely to have time to but just wanted to echo Lucius's plug of the Irregulars - not because it is brilliantly written but because it tells a fascinating true story which reveals that Dahl was a significant actor in an extraordinarily extensive British effort to influence US opinion in favour of joining their side in WWII. This effort also had a hand in creating the OSS, the predecessor to the CIA.