Roald Dahl

“The Great Automatic Grammatizator”

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Plot Description

This angry little satire is very “meta” and constantly draws attention to itself as a work of fiction. Take the main character’s name for example: Adolph Knipe. Not only is it hard to say (and has unfortunate associations with Adolf Hitler), it also bears a suspicious resemblance to one of Dahl’s own publishers, Alfred Knopf. But Knopf was the company that published Someone Like You, the anthology that contained this story! Is Dahl trying to tell us something here?

Another example is the paragraph where Knipe explains that nearly every writer makes a practice of inserting one long archaic word into each story to make himself sound smarter. When Mr. Bohlen asks where these words are stored, Knipe “epexegetically” answers “in the ‘word-memory’ section.” It took me at least three readings to notice that Dahl was making a subtle joke simply with that one word, which I repeatedly skimmed over. (It means “by way of explanation,” in case you’re wondering.) It could also be a clue that this story itself – regardless of the first-person section at the end – was actually created on the Great Automatic Grammatizator.

Spoiler warning! Adoph Knipe is a computer genius but has always longed to be a writer. He convinces his boss, Mr. Bohlen, to let him build a computer that will write stories. Knipe succeeds and sets up a publishing company as a front for this new mass-produced literature. Later they modify the machine to write novels and begin making thousands of dollars. The final step in their domination of the publishing industry is to buy out real authors and pay them to never write again. The surprise in the story comes at the end, when the narrator reveals that “over half of all the novels and stories published in the English language” are now created by Adolph Knipe on the Great Automatic Grammatizator. The conclusion of the story is written in first-person, as a struggling writer listens to his nine hungry children cry and tries to resist the lure of Knipe’s “golden contract.” “Give us strength, Oh Lord,” he prays for all true artists, “to let our children starve.”