“Lucky Break”

Sections: Information | Plot Description


Plot Description

This isn’t really much of a story. It’s mostly just Dahl’s advice for becoming a writer and anecdotes about how he fell into the profession. A lot of the school passages seem to be reproduced in Boy.

Spoiler warning! Dahl starts off by giving advice to people who want to become full-time professional writers. He says that you have to have another day job to start, and he gives a list of qualities that you should possess. Then he flashes back to his days at St. Peter’s Prep School, where boys were savagely beaten for any infraction of the rules. He looks over some of his school reports trying to see any hint of his future career, but most of his teachers give him horrible marks in English Composition. His only good memories of those school years were the Saturday afternoons when the teachers would all go off to the pub and a local woman, Mrs. O’Connor, was brought in to watch the boys. Instead of merely babysitting them, though, she taught them about the entire history of English literature. By the time Dahl left for Repton, he was an insatiable reader. Repton was even worse for him, and when he left school he decided to work for Shell and visit exotic lands. He was posted to East Africa, but left in 1939 to join the R.A.F. and fight in World War II. He tells of his training and of the horrific crash that eventually got him invalided home. Then the R.A.F. decided to send him to America as “Assistant Air Attaché”. While there, he was contacted by the famous author C.S. Forester, who wanted to write a story about the crash. Dahl wrote down everything he could remember and sent it to Forester, who responded, “Did you know you were a writer?” The story was published “without any changes” in the Saturday Evening Post. Dahl goes on to talk about The Gremlins and how he was eventually able to meet Franklin Roosevelt. At the end of the story, Dahl talks about the red notebook that he wrotes down all of his plot ideas in. He even shows the reader the blurbs that eventually become Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and “Henry Sugar”. And that, he says, is “how I became a writer.”

“The Hitchhiker”

Sections: Information | Plot Description | Teacher Ideas


Plot Description

The narrator of this story is never named, but it sounds very much as if it’s Dahl himself. What do you think?

Spoiler warning! The narrator is driving to London is his lovely new BMW when he picks up a hitchhiker. The man, who looks rather like a rat, mentions that he’s going to the horse races, but not to bet or work the ticket machines. The narrator is intrigued and says that he’s a writer. They get to talking about the car, and the narrator proudly states that it can hit one hundred and twenty-nine miles per hour. The hitchhiker doubts that, so once they hit a straight patch of road, the narrator steps on the gas. They’re almost there when a policeman on a motorcycle zooms past and signals them to stop. The cop is a bit of a bully and threatens to have the narrator thrown in prison. He takes down his address and also the address of the hitchhiker. Then he gives them a ticket and leaves and they continue on their way. The narrator is worried about the ticket, but the hitchhiker says it will be fine. They begin talking about their careers again, and eventually the hitchhiker announces that he is a “fingersmith.” He is so skilled with his hands that he even manages to remove the narrator’s belt without him noticing. He attends the races and steals money from the winners. “That policeman’s going to check up on you pretty thoroughly,” the narrator says. “Doesn’t that worry you a bit?” The hitchhiker responds that no one will be checking up on him, as policemen have notoriously bad memories. “What’s memory got to do with it?” the narrator asks. “It’s written down in his book, isn’t it?” The hitchhiker proudly announces that he’s stolen both books from the policeman. “Easiest job I ever done.” They pull off the road to burn the books.

Teacher Ideas

“The Great Automatic Grammatizator”

Sections: Information | Plot Description | Reviews


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.”