The Tortoise Catcher

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An early draft of Roald Dahl's Esio Trot, showing his sketch of Mr Hoppy's tortoise-grabber
Fullscreen
An early draft of Roald Dahl's Esio Trot, showing his sketch of Mr Hoppy's tortoise-grabber
Fullscreen
An early draft of Roald Dahl's Esio Trot, showing his sketch of Mr Hoppy's tortoise-grabber
Fullscreen

Roald Dahl worked on Esio Trot in the later years of his life - although the idea had occurred to him several years earlier, as he said in a speech - and, as a tortoise-owner himself, the method by which Mr Hoppy would enact his plan to help Mrs Silver's Alfie grow was one he spent a lot of time on.

These early draft pages from Esio Trot show Roald Dahl's own sketches of what he later called the 'tortoise-catcher' - and they're remarkably similar to Quentin Blake's final illustrations for the story.

The text on each page reads:

Page one

"In the flat directly below Mr Hoppy's lived old Mrs Silver and she also had a balcony. But unlike Mr Hoppy, Mts Silver grew no flowers. Her balcony was given over to her one and only much-loved pet, a Tortoise called Alfie.

Mrs Silver had boarded up the three open sides of her balcony so that Alfie could walk about without toppling over the edge into the city below. And there was a kind of little kennel into which Alfie would crawl every night to keep warm.

When winter came, the kennel would be stuffed full of hay and Alfie would crawl into it and go to sleep for about five months. In the spring he would emerge once again and Mrs Silver clap [ped] her hands and cr[ied] out, "Welcome back, my darling! I've got a lovely lettuce all ready for you!"

Page two:

Mr Hoppy had a plan.

If only he could make it work, he would be a magic-man in Mrs Silver's eyes. She might even love him for it. He must make it work.

He went out to see

Page three:

Mrs Silver worked afternoons from one to five at the cash-till in a supermarket

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