During middle school or high school I seem to recall reading a story where guests at a dinner party or party sit down at a table. However, shortly after dinner begins, none of the guests are able to leave the table, nor are they able to leave the room.

The guests might also (1) turn into animals or (2) go completely silent. I seem to remember that they are frozen in place and cannot leave the table.

I realize there are a couple of Buñuel films about this idea (The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeouise / The Exterminating Angel), but the story I seem to recall was written, perhaps as a short story.

Does anyone recall what this story might be?

Years in middle school/high school: 2006-2012. Story was definitely older (i.e. was not a modern young adult novel).

It may have been titled something as simple as 'The Dinner Party'.

  • 1
    Hi, welcome to SF&F. Just to be clear, since you've tagged this with "movie," you're not actually looking for a movie? Since we don't know how old you are you should tell us what years this might have been instead of your age.
    – DavidW
    Commented May 5, 2021 at 3:01
  • I don't think this is your story (so just a comment), but it reminds me of a section from Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Commented May 5, 2021 at 13:34
  • Again, probably not the answer, but it would match the tea party in chapter 7 of Alice In Wonderland, in which most of the participants already are animals, and it's perpetually tea-time.
    – gidds
    Commented May 5, 2021 at 16:06
  • The first thing that came to mind when I read your description was the closing scene in Orwell's Animal Farm. Commented May 5, 2021 at 18:46
  • 2
    It's not Dozois's "Dinner Party".
    – shoover
    Commented May 6, 2021 at 3:32

1 Answer 1


Perhaps "The Ultimate Catalyst", a novelette by "John Taine", the pen name used by the mathematician Eric Temple Bell for his science fiction stories. It was first published in Thrilling Wonder Stories, June 1939, available at the Internet Archive.

The dinner party is a banquet hosted by the dictator of the fictional South American country of Amazonia:

The Dictator shoved his plate aside with a petulant gesture. The plate, like the rest of the official banquet service, was solid gold with the Dictator's monogram, K. I.—Kadir Imperator, or Emperor Kadir—embossed in a design of machine guns round the edge. And, like every other plate on the long banquet table, Kadir's was piled high with a colorful assortment of raw fruits.

This was the dessert. The guests had just finished the main course, a huge plateful apiece of steamed vegetables. For an appetizer they had tried to enjoy an iced tumblerful of mixed fruit juices.

There had been nothing else at the feast but fruit juice, steamed vegetales, and raw fruit. Such a meal might have sustained a scholarly vegetarian, but for soldiers of a domineering race it was about as satisfying as a bucketful of cold water.

"Vegetables and fruit," Kadir complained. "Always vegetables and fruit. Why can't we get some red beef with blood in it for a change? I'm sick of vegetables. And I hate fruit. Blood and iron—that's what we need."

The "ultimate catalyst" which turned the diners into plants was in the final course of beef-flavored fruit prepared as a surprise by the biochemist in an assassination plot:

"Three weeks ago I discovered the organic catalyst to hasten the replacement of the iron in your blood by magnesium and thus to change your animal blood to plant blood, chlorophyll. The catalyst is merely a chemical compound which accelerates chemical reactions without itself being changed.

"By injecting a minute trace of chloride of gold into the fruits, I—and the living plant—produced the necessary catalyst. I have not yet had time to analyze it and determine its exact composition. Nor do I expect to have time. For I have, perforce, taken the same medicine that I prescribed for you!"

"Not so much, but enough. I shall remain a thinking animal a little longer than the rest of you. That is the only unfair advantage I have taken. Before the sun sets we shall all have ceased to be human beings, or even animals."

[. . . .]

"Rooted to the spot, Kadir! You are taking root already. And so are the rest of you. Try to stand up like human beings! Kadir! Do you hear me? Remember that blue fungus we saw in the forest? I have good reason for believing that was your friend Juan. In less than an hour you and I and all these fools will be exactly like him, except that some of us will be blue, others green, and still others red—like the thing you stepped on!

  • 2
    Added further clarification! The version I read was not in French. Commented May 5, 2021 at 17:43
  • 2
    excellent guess but after re-reading the story Kadir does not seem quite right. I added a bit more detail to the description: 'I seem to remember that they are frozen in place and cannot leave the table.' Commented May 5, 2021 at 18:54
  • 3
    I do not understand the comment at the top of the answer suggesting that people remove their upvotes. A good answer is a good answer, and may help someone looking for something similar, even if it is not the answer the OP is looking for. A 'correct' answer which just states the name of the matching story, with no explanation, may be accepted as the correct answer but get few upvotes, because it is not a well written answer. If I understand correctly, 'correctness' (indicated by the OP accepting the answer) and 'goodness' as an answer (indicated by upvotes) are two different things.
    – Basya
    Commented May 6, 2021 at 8:37
  • 1
    I think it's a great guess and maybe will help others. What's more frustrating is that I have found the story in the past, so I'm sure it is out there. Going to pour over my favorites - maybe I have a note to self hidden somewhere. Commented May 7, 2021 at 17:14
  • 2
    @user14111 "Our purpose is to find the true answer which is out there." Your purpose may be so, but I and others certainly value good, but unaccepted/unacceptable answers.
    – Lexible
    Commented Jun 13, 2023 at 0:46

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.