Short story: “The Story-Teller”

by look i have opinions

“The Story-Teller,” by Saki (H. H. Munro)

Collected in Beasts and Super-Beasts (on Gutenberg here); also found online here; on YouTube there’s an audio version here and a live reading in two parts that seems to omit the last line

1,966 words

So here’s what I like and don’t like about Saki. What I like is how gleeful he is about very, very good little girls getting gobbled up by wolves, and prim authority figures getting scandalized. What I don’t like is how flat and obvious and smug he can be about it.

“Was she pretty?” asked the bigger of the small girls.

“Not as pretty as any of you,” said the bachelor, “but she was horribly good.”

There was a wave of reaction in favour of the story; the word horrible in connection with goodness was a novelty that commended itself. It seemed to introduce a ring of truth that was absent from the aunt’s tales of infant life.

I want so badly to strike out that last sentence, where Saki stops story-telling and starts preaching—or let’s call it reverse preaching, preaching against proper society instead of for it. I’m sure when this story was published, it was a breath of fresh air. But I was brought up on the tepid leftovers of sixties counterculture, complete with stock prissy authority figures and individualist platitudes, not to mention marketing campaigns built around rebellion and irony. Saki’s generation couldn’t have felt the limits of cynicism the way mine does.

It doesn’t help that the bachelor of this story (like Clovis and other Saki characters) is a blatant self-insert and that the whole story is contrived to show off his cleverness and daring honesty to their best effect. I have nothing against wish-fulfillment fiction—in fact, I love wish-fulfillment fiction. I just want it to have a low embarrassment-to-gratification ratio.

Anyway, this story is pretty good but it doesn’t hold up as well as “Sredni Vashtar”. Saki, go write more stuff like that.

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