The Body Snatchers by R.L Stevenson and The Landlady by Roald Dahl

The Body Snatchers by R.L Stevenson and The Landlady by Roald Dahl

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Comparison between The Body Snatchers written by R.L Stevenson in
1884 and The Landlady written by Roald Dahl in 1960

In this assignment I am going to compare and contrast the way that
Stevenson and Dahl create and maintain dramatic tension.

Both of these texts contain many similarities as they both involve
death and deceit, which is conveyed in the characters. In The Body
Snatchers there are several people involved in the deceit, which
encapsulates the relationship between the characters. The landlady is
the only person involved in the murders, deceit and stuffing of the
victims in The Landlady. This conveys loneliness and she seems to be
withdrawn from society. Both of these stories have a 'back-story', as
they both seem to be an extract or joining the story after the first
few pages.

In The Body Snatchers we meet the main characters in The George, a
public house in Debenham, Scotland. It is quite an ordinary night in
The George but then an extraordinary thing happens, suddenly out of
the blue a "Great Neighbouring Proprietor" was struck down with
'apoplexy', which required the aid of a doctor from London "Dr
Macfarlane". A gentleman by the name of Fettes knew the doctor as they
had somewhat of a past together. They conversed briefly and abruptly
then Fettes asked Dr Macfarlane if he had seen it again, "it" being
Gray an old acquaintance of Fettes & the Dr but you don't find out
what "it" is until the end of the story. After this Dr Macfarline
rushes off into his fly and then to the station. This sets up three
mysteries or questions the reader wants answered and is the way
Stevenson hooks you into the story. You want to know what conflict
there had been between them in the past, why one became famous &
successful where the other became an old drunk, unsuccessful & poor.
And finally what does 'it' refer to?

The Body Snatchers then uses a flashback technique to take us back to
when Dr Macfarlane and Fettes were studying at medical school, which
is where the murder, deceit and treachery takes place. The medical
schools in this time bought bodies, which were often exhumed and
stolen from graves or murdered for use as medical research or
training, Fettes is in charge of the payment and management of these
bodies yet turns a blind eye either due to fear or to further his

In The Landlady one of the main characters is Billy Weaver. In the
text it says, " He had never been to Bath before…Billy was only
seventeen". This positions the audience as it tells us he is

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unfamiliar with the area, a foreigner, and therefore might be prone to
be misled or misguided. The fact that he is relatively young and
inexperienced might add to the chance of being misled. As he is so
young the reader feels that this character is quite an innocent figure
in the story.

The character who plays alongside Billy is a quite mysterious lady who
seems to know an awful lot about Billy Weaver. It is as if she was
expecting him and was prepared. The use of language by the Landlady
also sounds rehearsed. It is as if she knows the replies to all his
questions in advance. Throughout the story Dahl has put this quality
in the Landlady's character as a barrier to understanding and learning
more about the Landlady. Dahl has given her the sweet innocent voice
and voice of knowledge, and a facial mask of a sweet old lady, to
allow her to say what she wants without revealing a lot.

She says "I am inclined to be just a teeny weeny bit choosy &
particular" "I see someone standing there who is exactly right". This
suggests that she has in the past waited for other people and chosen
them to participate in something. This is dramatic irony, as the
reader suspects what type of character the Landlady is, but Billy
Weaver does not. In The Landlady Dahl uses dramatic irony to build
tension and suspense as from the start of the story Dahl makes us feel
uneasy about the Landlady but she gains respect from Billy because the
room is cheap the landlady seems friendly and he is naïve. This is his
first major chance of success and he does not want to waste it. The
Body Snatchers does not use dramatic irony because the story is mostly
laid out as a flashback therefore this tactic can't be used as the
characters already know. We only find out in the last line the fate of
Billy Weaver, Christopher Mulholland and Gregory W. Temple, Billy's
fate is to join the two young gentleman on the third floor an be
stuffed. I feel there is some sign of mental health problems with the
landlady as she calls Billy; Mr Perkins & Mr Wilkins, Dahl may be
trying to imply senility or certainly someone of disturbed mental
health, hence the killings and stuffing.

In The Body Snatchers Stevenson uses a lot of descriptive writing and
leaves little to the imagination and there is little speech compared
to Dahl, The Landlady requires someone with a good imagination to
fully understand the story, there is little descriptive writing and
revolves mostly around speech there is also no description of how she
stuffed the bodies or what happens to Billy, was it arsenic or just
some 'off' tea? The Body Snatchers uses the same writing style in some
respects, they both conclude the story as they are started, with a
certain air of mystery. In The Body Snatchers we never find out how
they got home from the middle of nowhere, what happened to the fly and
how the body in the fly changed from an old lady to a man. The only
thing we know is that 'it' refers to the body of Grey who was murdered
& dissected. Stevenson also uses vivid descriptions of the environment
to build up tension. In the final scene he uses the rain, night and
lightening to build the tension and just as the climax of the tension
is over as they have the body the body starts to flop around giving
out an aura that something is not right, Stevenson uses the whole of
the last paragraph to build up to this one word which drops in like a
horrifying revelation.

Both stories have a supernatural theme: in The Landlady the repetitive
use of "Bed & Breakfast" indicates that there is subliminal messages
or witchcraft willing Billy to rent the room. Everything else seems
normal but this event stands out like a sore thumb. There is only one
major supernatural event in the story, which is a major sign that
there is foul play, and to a certain extent, mind control. The
supernatural element is used to pull us into the story early on but is
never explained to encourage us to read on. Unlike The Landlady, The
Body Snatchers has only one supernatural occurrence in the concluding
scene where Fettes and Wolfe Macfarlane are excavating a dead body due
to a shortage of bodies. They find a body that matches the criteria
and they start digging, the lamp falls and breaks which is a typical
shock tactic used in books/films/plays. They exhume the woman's body
put it in the fly then the dead body changes into Grey. Both men jump
out of the fly and then the fly goes back to Edinburgh. The name Grey
also adds mystery, what is grey? It is lifelessness just a void,
nothing, emptiness which relates to the character because nobody knows
what Grey is. Fettes or fête is French for market, which also relates
to the character because he buys or retrieves corpses for the medical
students. Wolfe Macfarlane's name also relates to his character, a
wolf is a hunter, which shows no remorse for what he has done but runs
away with his tail between his legs if he is scared, a perfect
description for the character. The names in the guest book Gregory W.
Temple, his surname an indication that he is a temple, maybe The
Landlady worships him, the other name Christopher Mullholland, to mull
over something is to contemplate it which Dahl may be trying to toy
with, is he making the wrong decision? Apart from this both have
relatively ordinary names with no connections like Billy perhaps this
makes what happened to them even worse. The Landlady never has a name
that I feel adds mystery to her character and also makes her seem more
evil because we want to know her name for another indication of her

In The Body Snatchers the language is more varied, it also has longer
more elaborate sentences & more complex and unfamiliar words e.g.
"apoplexy", "Few lads could have been more insensible to the
impressions of a life thus passed among the ensign of morality."
"Ghastly comrade". You also need to know how the medical schools
worked in this time; all dissections were carried out on human bodies,
as they did not know that the anatomy of other mammals was so similar
to that of humans. It is also interesting to know that The Landlady
was based on the celebrated case of Burke & Hare at the time.

In The Landlady the language used is much more familiar and modern. It
may be aimed at a younger audience, the time when it was written,
Dahl's personally preferred writing style or a combination of these
factors. The Landlady uses language, which creates an apparent
effervescent atmosphere of affability and friendliness compared with a
concoction of emotions, character interactions and relationships in
The Body Snatchers (fear, aggression, dominance, envy etc). This
builds up a picture of the characters and gives a fuller understanding
of the characters. In The Landlady, I would say that the characters
are less fully developed, less interesting and less believable which I
wouldn't say builds up a true picture of the characters.

I personally think that The Body Snatchers is a more challenging book
to read therefore favour it over The Landlady, which I think is
targeted at adolescents because it does not expand on the murders or
how they were stuffed, Dahl also makes a joke through the book, he
makes the reader think that the landlady wants to stuff him in a
sexual way whereas she wants to stuff him in a non-sexual and literal
way. I prefer a story to have at least one subplot The Landlady didn't
even give us this the characters seamed to be like a drawing in only
two dimensions and overall it relied on the reader to make the story
what it was.
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