"The Landlady" by Roald Dahl

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Plot Summary

A young man by the name of Billy Weaver has just arrived in Bath, England, and he is looking for a place to stay for the night before he starts his new job. As he walks through the neighborhood, he notices a welcoming bed and breakfast that stands out among all of the rundown, dreary houses that surround it. Billy goes inside, meets his landlady, and signs the guestbook (after lots of encouragement by the landlady). Little does Billy know, the landlady is a murderess who chooses young men who are "just right," poisons their tea with cyanide, and stuffs them like the rest of all her "little pets."
Tales of the Unexpected Series 1 Episode 5 The Landlady 21 Apr. 1979

Elements of Author's Craft

  • Irony - Billy does not suspect the landlady is a murderer because she seems innocent, kind, and caring. This is an example of situational irony. There is dramatic irony, too. At the end of the story, the reader knows that Billy's tea ha been poisoned and infers that he will be killed; however, Billy himself does not know this.

  • Setting - The setting occurs sometime after "the war," which was probably World War II. Between the "deadly" cold and the rundown houses, the mood of the story is dark and grim.

  • Dialogue - When Billy tries to figure out where he heard Temple and Mulholland's names before, the landlady repeatedly interrupts him and tries to distract him with new topics of conversation and tea. This shows that the landlady has something to hide and does not want Billy to connect the dots.
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Possible Themes

  1. People are not always what they seem.
  2. Don't judge a book by its cover.
  3. When something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Character Archetypes

The Villain - The Landlady

She gains Billy's trust by offering him a nice place to stay and a good price; additionally, she seems warm and attentive. Who wouldn't want to stay at such a charming bed and breakfast with such a doting landlady? However, she is just the opposite of what she seems, and this makes her a villain. The landlady fits the villain archetype because she is insane and represents bad qualities of humanity. She has an evil plan and stops and nothing to make it happen - she pretends to be like a caring mother while poisoning Billy's tea! While the reader never knows if the landlady is caught and punished for her crimes, she is still the antagonist of the story.


"As though they were both famous for the same sort of thing, if you see what I mean—like . . . well . . . like Dempsey and Tunney, for example, or Churchill and Roosevelt."

This is a reference to U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and English Prime Minister Winston Churchill. There names are often paired together because they were both remarkable Allied leaders during World War II. This helps the reader understand that the last two visitors to the landlady's bed and breakfast, Temple and Mulholland, were mentioned in the news and connected in a similar way. This leads the reader to conclude that the men were famous and in the news because they went missing.