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Literature / The Landlady

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"The Landlady" is a short horror story by Roald Dahl, first published in The New Yorker in 1959 and anthologized numerous times since.

It starts out with Billy, a young Londoner, arriving in Bath on business and looking for a place to stay. He finds a cozy-looking bed and breakfast inn with a quaint old woman inside, who welcomes him to stay, just like the other young men she's been fond of.

The story was adapted for a 1961 episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and a 1979 episode of Tales of the Unexpected.


Tropes used in "The Landlady":

  • Adaptation Expansion: Both the Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Tales of the Unexpected adaptations of this story expand upon the ending, showing Billy die from being poisoned. The Tales of the Unexpected adaptation goes one step farther, and not only shows the other tenants, but also shows the landlady begin the process of taxidermying Billy.
  • Adaptational Karma: In the Alfred Hitchcock Presents version, the landlady is arrested offscreen after turning Billy's corpse into a rug.
  • Affably Evil: The eponymous landlady is a sweet old woman, she just feels lonely. And is an unrepentant murderer.
  • Ambiguous Ending: What it might seem to those not very attentive to details or simply unfamiliar to Bitter Almonds trope. If you belong to neither of these, however, the ending is unambiguously Downer.
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  • Bitter Almonds: Discussed trope: when the landlady offers Billy some more tea near the end, he turns it down, since it tasted like bitter almonds.
  • The Collector: The old woman herself freely admits to stuffing her old pets that have passed on. She collects other things too...
  • Crapsaccharine World: The B&B appears nice, but really isn't.
  • Creepy Housekeeper: The titular character.
  • Dirty Old Woman: She's really got a thing for young, handsome men.
  • Genre Shift: Until the very end, it appears to just be a little Slice of Life story.
  • Hell Hotel: What it actually turns out to be, although it appears pleasant.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: A complicated example. Originally, the story was going to be a straight "ghost story," but Dahl was unhappy with it and rewrote it to be more mundane. There are still hints of the supernatural, like Billy being compelled by the landlady's sign. It's very common for the landlady to be interpreted as a witch.
  • Mummies at the Dinner Table: It's what the eponymous landlady does to her dead pets, as well as the guests she murders.
  • Mundane Horror: A nice small bed-and-breakfast with a friendly host, where nearly every small detail implies something creepy. It has only two guests who are still there though they checked in more than a year ago, and are "known for one and the same thing" (having gone missing); the host gives her guests tea which tastes like Bitter Almonds. Guess the implications?
  • Nice Guy: Billy
  • Taxidermy Terror: Semi-averted; the stuffed dog and parrot are pleasant-looking and amazingly lifelike, and the horror only comes when you realize the landlady is applying the same techniques to the young men she "collects".
  • The Thing That Would Not Leave: Tragically and permanently inverted.
  • Viewers Are Geniuses: Although you can eventually realize what the landlady's problem is, you can't understand the true horror of the story unless you're familiar with the Bitter Almonds trope.
  • Wax Museum Morgue: The twist of the story.


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