Lamb to the Slaughter

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"Lamb to the Slaughter" (1953) is a short story by Roald Dahl. It was initially rejected, along with four other stories, by The New Yorker, but was ultimately published in Harper's Magazine in September 1953.[1] It was adapted for an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and starred Barbara Bel Geddes. Originally broadcast on April 13, 1958, it was one of only 17 AHP episodes directed by Hitchcock himself. The story was subsequently adapted for Dahl's British TV series Tales of the Unexpected. Dahl included it in his short story compilation Someone like You.

"Lamb to the Slaughter" demonstrates Dahl's fascination with horror (with elements of black comedy), which is seen in both his adult fiction and his stories for children.[2] The story was supposedly suggested to Dahl by his friend Ian Fleming: "Why don't you have someone murder their husband with a frozen leg of mutton which she then serves to the detectives who come to investigate the murder?".[3]

Plot summary[edit]

Mary Maloney, a housewife devoted to making a home for her husband, and heavily pregnant, awaits her husband Patrick's return home from his job as a local police detective. Mary is very much content in her marriage, and believes her husband to be as well. When he returns, Mary notices that he is uncharacteristically aloof and assumes that he is tired from work. After having more to drink than usual, Patrick reveals to Mary what is making him act strangely. The reader is told only to their conversation, learning explicitly only that Patrick will ensure that Mary will be "looked after," but the clear implication is that he will be leaving her (and their unborn child) for another woman...

Seemingly in a trance, Mary fetches a large leg of lamb from the deep-freezer in the cellar to cook for their dinner. Patrick, his back to Mary, angrily calls to her not to make him any dinner, as he is going out. While he is looking out the window, quite suddenly, as if she is acting without thinking, Mary strikes Patrick in the back of the head with the frozen lamb leg, killing him.

Mary realizes that Patrick is dead and begins, rather coldly and practically, to ponder what must happen now. There is the baby to consider; she does not know what the law does with a pregnant murderer; she will not risk the child's sharing her fate. She owes it to the unborn child to escape discovery if she can. She prepares the leg of lamb that she used as a weapon and places it in the oven to somewhat destroy the evidence. Then she considers an alibi. After practicing a cheerful mask and some innocuous remarks to make in conversation, she visits the grocer and chats blandly with him about what to make for Patrick's dinner. Upon her return to the house and to the room where her husband lies dead on the floor, she acts surprised and meaningfully cries. Then she calls the police.

When the police (who are all friends of her husband) arrive, they ask Mary questions and look at the scene. Considering Mary above suspicion, the police conclude that Patrick was killed by an intruder with a large blunt object, likely made of metal. After they make a fruitless search around the house and surrounding area, Mary realizes that the leg is just about done, and offers it to the policemen, pointing out that they have already been working through and past the dinner hour and that the meat will otherwise go to waste; they hesitate, but accept. During the meal, as Mary sits nearby but does not join them, the policemen discuss the murder weapon's possible location. One officer, his mouth full of meat, says it is "probably right under our very noses". Mary, overhearing, begins to giggle.

Alfred Hitchcock Presents Adaptation[edit]

In the televised AHP version of the story, Hitchcock presents it from a supermarket set where he's given a ticket "for blocking an aisle during the rush hour", even though he claims to have been in the slow lane. In this version, the audience hears Patrick declare that he is leaving Mary, played by Barbara Bel Geddes, for another woman. At the end of the program, Hitchcock explains that Mary Maloney was finally caught after trying to bump off her second husband in the same manner, because "he was the forgetful type and had forgotten to plug in the freezer," making the meat "as soft as jelly."

This episode appears on the 2-disc special edition DVD of Hitchcock's Psycho.

Tales of the Unexpected Adaptation[edit]

In 1979 the story was adapted by Robin Chapman for Roald Dahl's British television series Tales of the Unexpected with Susan George as Mary.

References[edit]

  1. ^ http://www.harpers.org/archive/1953/09/0006460
  2. ^ Roald Dahl: The Storyteller, by Jason Hook, page 21
  3. ^ Jennet Conant, The Irregulars: Roald Dahl and the British Spy Ring in Wartime Washington, 2008. p. 333

External links[edit]