The Swan is the second short movie by Wes Anderson inside his 2023 partnership with Netflix: based on the short story published by Roald Dahl in 1977, it tells the story of a young boy, Peter, bullied by two other boys, Ernie and Raymond. The story is fascinating because it progressively shifts from a realistic tale to a fantastic ending, and a question arises in those who watch it: does Peter die? Let’s discover what happens in the short film and the book.
In this article, you can discover more about The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar, the first short film by Wes Anderson based on Roald Dahl.
Netflix’s The Swan: does Peter die in Roald Dahl’s book?
In The Swan, the 1977 book by Roald Dahl and the 2023 short movie by Wes Anderson, Peter is a young boy watching birds with his binoculars. He’s always been Ernie and Raymond’s favorite victim: they’ve been bullying him for a long time, and Peter always needed to escape their attacks.
However, the situation described in The Swan is hard to escape. Nobody is around, Peter is in an open field across a lake, and the bullies have already targeted him. So he tries to second them, avoiding bigger problems and waiting for the situation to evolve in his favor. Ernie and Raymond kill a swan, then cut his wings and stick them on Peter’s arms. Their idea was to force Peter to climb a tree and then make him jump, inviting him to fly with his new wings.
Here is where The Swan slowly turns into a fantastic tale. Peter climbs the tree and stays still while Ernie and Raymond shout at him, doing everything they can to make him jump. Ernie will use his rifle to shoot at Peter, and the second shot hits him on the thigh. That’s the moment when Peter’s “indomitable spirit” comes out: he spreads his wings and flies away. People from the village see “a great white swan” flying in the sky: it was Peter, who managed to escape his bullies and headed towards home.
The short movie by Wes Anderson ends with Peter crashing in the garden of his house. The narrator (interpreted by Ralph Fiennes) explains that his mother, Mrs. Watson, comes out of the house and cries: “My darling, my darling boy, what’s happened to you?” The short film ends here, and we don’t know Peter’s fate. So the curiosity is natural: does Peter die in The Swan, the book by Roald Dahl?
No, Peter doesn’t die in the book The Swan written by Roald Dahl. After Mrs. Watson rushes out of home and asks, “What happened?” Peter answers her: “My leg hurts.” Then he faints, and his mother calls an ambulance. Roald Dahl uses the word “faint,” indicating that Peter is still alive. His short story ends with the mother using a pair of scissors to cut the swan’s wings stuck to Peter’s arms.
The Swan is one of the short stories from the book The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More, published by Roald Dahl in 1977. You can find a practical summary of each story here on Wikipedia. The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar, the other Wes Anderson short film released on Netflix in 2023, was inspired by another short story from the same book, and it’s also based on a true story.