“Royal Jelly” is a short story by Roald Dahl first published in the February 1983 issue of Twilight Zone Magazine. It was included in Dahl’s books Tales of the Unexpected, Kiss Kiss, and also published as a standalone volume in 2011.
Although known by many as simply a famed author of childrens’ stories, Roald Dahl had long produced tales of varying lengths, the majority aimed very clearly at adults. His collection of short stories, Kiss Kiss, first published in 1960, saw the first appearance of “Royal Jelly”, two decades before it was to be recreated on-screen as one of the most chilling episodes of the long-running ITV series, Tales of the Unexpected. This collection is particularly notable for being one of Dahl’s most macabre collections, nearly all of the the stories going on to be adapted into other forms:
- “The Landlady” – later to be televised not only on Tales of the Unexpected but also Alfred Hitchcock Presents
- “William and Mary” – later screened on the oft-forgotten Way Out and also Tales of the Unexpected
- “The Way Up to Heaven” – featured as part of the TV series, Suspicion, produced by Alfred Hitchcock
- “Parson’s Pleasure” – dramatised as part of a BBC Radio 4 series, featuring Charles Dance
- “Mrs Bixby and the Colonel’s Coat” – screened as part of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, directed by Hitchcock himself
- “Royal Jelly”
- “Georgy Porgy” – filmed for Tales of the Unexpected and starring Joan Collins
- “Genesis and Catastrophe: A True Story” – televised on Tales of the Unexpected and made into a short film by Jonathan Liebesman, before he inflicted The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning and Wrath of the Titans upon an unsuspecting public
- “Edward the Conqueror” – adapted for Tales of the Unexpected‘s first series
- “Pig” – sadly, this segmented tale has yet to be re-told – it is, in fairness, likely to upset many viewers
- “The Champion of the World” – later expanded to Danny, Champion of the World, his well-loved childrens’ tale
“Royal Jelly” is a story about the Taylor family: Albert, Mabel, and their newborn baby daughter. Mabel is frightened because the child won’t eat and has been losing weight since birth. Albert, a bee-keeper, devises a novel solution by adding royal jelly, used to make bee larvae grow, to the baby’s milk. The baby begins to drink ravenously, getting fatter. Albert admits to putting royal jelly in their daughter’s milk, and Mabel tells him to stop. However, despite his wife’s wishes, Albert continues to add royal jelly to his daughter’s milk, resulting in her growing larger.
Finally, Albert admits that he himself ate royal jelly (something of an understatement, he’s utterly addicted) in an effort to increase his fertility, which obviously worked as their daughter was conceived soon after. Mabel realises how much her husband resembles a gigantic bee, and their daughter looks like nothing but a big grub but with “yellowy-brown hairs” on her stomach. At the end of the story, Albert says, “Why don’t you cover her up, Mabel? We don’t want our little queen to catch a cold.”
Filmed for television as part of Tales of the Unexpected, the Royal Jelly episode opened the second series. Dramatised by Robin Chapman and directed by Herbert Wise (famed for his adaptation of the TV movie, The Woman in Black), it starred Timothy West (husband of the actress Prunella Scales and star of Fawlty Towers and many other TV shows himself) as the ‘inventive’ father and Britain’s biggest female genre star of the 1970s, Susan George (Die Screaming Marianne, Straw Dogs, Fright) as his beleaguered wife. Both are terrific actors, even to the extent that the audience may not query how the gorgeous George has ended up with the significantly older, less attractive, West.
Both budget and the actors’ skills negate the need for significant glimpses at the child, West’s ‘buzzing’, surely a goofy trait waiting to happen is utterly chilling and somehow completely believable. Dahl, as is his wont, explains the story’s genesis in the episode’s prologue:
“Back in the winter of 1959, I saw in a shop window in New York a little white jar with a notice on it saying, ‘Royal Jelly, 2 ounces, $350’. I’d never heard of the stuff – the shop told me it had magical properties and it undoubtedly has…so I wrote a story about it.
Years later, Dick Van Dyke, who had read the story, sent me from France a box of small glass phials containing pure Royal Jelly. I drank them one by one but I’m not going to say what they did to me or I’ll ruin what you’re about to see now.”
Daz Lawrence, MOVIES and MANIA
Royal Jelly (2021)