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Saturday, October 17, 2009

The big Lie - ROALD DAHL

Roald Dahl, of children's novel fame, particularly Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach. He also wrote some titillating adult novels.

As we all know the "big lie," a term coined by Hitler in his autobiography, roughly goes: The bigger the lie, the more people will believe it. As a corollary, it should also be noted that the bigger the lie, or the more monstrous the crime, the less likely people will want to know about it, or at least know the real truth.

My introduction to this concept came via Roald Dahl's children's novel Matilda. The story centers around a child genius who bears the book's title as her name. She's roughly first grade age, and it is her first year at school. Her school's name is "Crunchem Hall." The principal, or headmistress, is named "Miss Trunchbull." She is the textbook example of a gigantic holy terror (even parents and teachers are frightened of her) as exemplified by this illustration:

Miss Trunchbull has a pet peeve against ponytails ("pig tails" in merry old England). One day at recess, she targets a most unfortunate girl named Amanda Thripp:

And orders Amanda to "chop of her pigtails and throw them in the dustbin!" before the next day.

When poor Amanda nervously stammers back. "B..b...but... my mummy likes them." Miss Trunchbull barks back: "I don't give a tinker's toot to what your mummy thinks!"

At that point grabs the girl by the ponytails and picks her up, then begins to spin her whole body round and round in a circle, and like fan blades, the girl becomes a blur; needless to say, the girl is screaming bloody murder, and the entire playground of children is watching, spellbound. Then to conclude, Miss Trunchbull lets go of the girl on an upward trajectory and the girl shoots off like a rocket hundreds of feet, clear over the playground fence and into the open field beyond.

Watching the whole scene are Matilda and her friend Lavender. Here is the conversation that ensues:

"How can she get away with it?" Lavender said to Matilda. "Surely the children go home and tell
their mothers and fathers. I know my father would raise a terrific stink if I told him the
Headmistress had grabbed me by the hair and slung me over the playground fence."

"No, he wouldn't," Matilda said, "and I'll tell you why. He simply wouldn't believe you."

"Of course he would."

"He wouldn't," Matilda said. "And the reason is obvious. Your story would sound too ridiculous to
be believed. And that is the Trunchbull's great secret."

"What is?" Lavender asked.

Matilda said, "Never do anything by halves if you want to get away with it. Be outrageous. Go the
whole hog. Make sure everything you do is so completely crazy it's unbelievable. No parent is
going to believe this pigtail story, not in a million years. Mine wouldn't. They'd call me a liar."

"In that case", Lavender said, "Amanda's mother isn't going to cut her pigtails off."

"No, she isn't," Matilda said. "Amanda will do it herself. You see if she doesn't."

When I first woke up to 9/11 being an inside job, one of the very first things my mind thought of was the above scene and ensuing conversation. Just as most parents of first graders would find it extremely difficult to believe a principal could be so unimaginably cruel and insane, most "dyed in the wool" Americans (including myself at first, and too many still to this day) would "not in a million years" believe that their own leaders could be so unimaginably cruel and insane as to kill 3,000 people for money, oil, and power.

As a final postscript, it seems I'm not the only one who remembers this scene. What do you know, it is alluded to on Wikipedia's entry on "The Big Lie."

When a whole social structure depends on some injustice or other, then people will tend not to admit the injustice. I imagine slavery in the U.S. was like that, largely.

And now it is natural resources, and power grabs to keep them flowing. Or so I see it.

To maintain our lifestyle, this county had no choice but to invade both countries we are now at war in. Isn't it so? Iraq's oil; Afghanistan's pipeline route. Alternatives are too far off. The need is for right now.

Therefore, people sort of "must:" believe in the pretext for those wars. And it becomes more than uncomfortable for anyone to question the story-line behind those pretexts.

But I am not sure what to do with this reasoning. If it is correct, what is the honest and appropriate response?

Roald Dahl was an interesting character
He was a spy during the Second World War and a good friend of Ian Fleming.
He covertly worked for the mysterious Canadian William Stephenson - the man called Intrepid - in Washington and New York and helped write the secret history of Stephenson's organization.
IE - Dahl had access to most secret files that were never to be made public.
Who knows if what he knew sometimes made its way into his fiction.
(Conant - The Irregulars. Macdonald - The True Intrepid)

13 September 1916 – 23 November 1990) was a British novelist, short story writer, and screenwriter.

Born in Llandaff, Wales, to Norwegian parents, Dahl served in the Royal Air Force during the Second World War, in which he became a flying ace and intelligence agent. He rose to prominence in the 1940s with works for both children and adults, and became one of the world's bestselling authors. His short stories are known for their unexpected endings, and his children's books for their unsentimental, often very dark humour.

Some of his most popular books include The Twits, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Matilda, The Witches, and The BFG.
Roald Dahl was born in Llandaff, Cardiff, Wales in 1916, to Norwegian parents, Harald Dahl and Sofie Magdalene Dahl (née Hesselberg). Dahl's father had moved from Sarpsborg in Norway and settled in Cardiff in the 1880s, and his mother came over to marry his father in about 1910. Roald was named after the polar explorer Roald Amundsen, a national hero in Norway at the time. He spoke Norwegian at home with his parents and sisters, Astri, Alfhild, and Else. Dahl and his sisters were christened at the Norwegian Church, Cardiff, where their parents worshipped.

In 1920, when Roald was still only three years old, his seven-year-old sister, Astri, died from appendicitis. Weeks later, his father died of pneumonia at the age of 57. Dahl's mother, however, decided not to return to Norway to live with her relatives, but to remain in Wales since it had been her husband's wish to have their children educated in British schools as he felt they were the best in the world.

Dahl first attended The Cathedral School, Llandaff. At the age of eight, he and four of his friends were caned by the headmaster after putting a dead mouse in a jar of sweets at the local sweet shop, which was owned by a "mean and loathsome" old woman called Mrs Pratchett (wife of blacksmith David Pratchett). This was known amongst the five boys as the "Great Mouse Plot of 1924". This was Roald's own idea.

Thereafter, he was sent to several boarding schools in England, including Saint Peter's in Weston-super-Mare. His parents had wanted Roald to be educated at a British public school and at the time, due to a then regular boat link across the Bristol Channel, this proved to be the nearest. His time at Saint Peter's was an unpleasant experience for him. He was very homesick and wrote to his mother almost every day, but never revealed to her his unhappiness, being under the pressure of school censorship. Only after her death in 1967 did he find out that she had saved every single one of his letters, in small bundles held together with green tape. He later attended Repton School in Derbyshire, where, according to his autobiography Boy: Tales of Childhood, a friend named Michael was viciously caned by headmaster Geoffrey Fisher, the man who later became the Archbishop of Canterbury and crowned the Queen in 1953. (However, according to Dahl's biographer Jeremy Treglown, the caning took place in May 1933, a year after Fisher had left Repton. The headmaster concerned was in fact J.T. Christie, Fisher's successor.) This caused Dahl to "have doubts about religion and even about God".

Dahl was very tall, reaching 6'6" (1.98m) in adult life, and he was good at sports, being made captain of the school fives and squash teams, and also playing for the football team. This helped his popularity. He developed an interest in photography. During his years there, Cadbury, the chocolate company, would occasionally send boxes of new chocolates to the school to be tested by the pupils. Dahl himself apparently used to dream of inventing a new chocolate bar that would win the praise of Mr Cadbury himself, and this proved the inspiration for him to write his third book for children, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which was released in 1963 and he also included references to chocolate in other books for children.

Throughout his childhood and adolescent years, Dahl spent his summer holidays with his mother's family in their native Norway, mostly enjoying the fjords. His childhood and first job selling kerosene in Midsomer Norton and surrounding villages in Somerset are the subject of his autobiographical work, Boy: Tales of Childhood.

After finishing his schooling, he spent three weeks hiking through Newfoundland with a group called the Public Schools' Exploring Society (now known as BSES Expeditions). In July 1934, he joined the Shell Petroleum Company.

Following two years of training in the UK, he was transferred to Dar-es-Salaam, Tanganyika (now Tanzania). Along with the only two other Shell employees in the entire territory, he lived in luxury in the Shell House outside Dar-es-Salaam, with a cook and personal servants. While out on assignments supplying oil to customers across Tanganyika, he encountered black mambas and lions, amongst other wildlife

In August 1939, as World War II impended, plans were made to round up the hundreds of Germans in Dar-es-Salaam. Dahl was made an officer in the King's African Rifles, commanding a platoon of askaris, indigenous troops serving in the colonial army.

In November 1939, Dahl joined the Royal Air Force. After a 600-mile (970 km) car journey from Dar-es-Salaam to Nairobi, he was accepted for flight training with 20 other men, and was one of only three who survived the war, as the other 17 died in combat. With seven hours and 40 minutes experience in a De Havilland Tiger Moth, he flew alone; Dahl enjoyed watching the wildlife of Kenya during his flights. He continued on to advanced flying training in Iraq, at RAF Habbaniya, 50 miles (80 km) west of Baghdad. Following six months training on Hawker Harts, Dahl was made a Pilot Officer.

Dahl began writing in 1942, after he was transferred to Washington, D.C. as Assistant Air Attaché. His first published work, in the 1 August 1942 issue of The Saturday Evening Post was "Shot Down Over Libya", describing the crash of his Gloster Gladiator. C. S. Forester had asked Dahl to write down some RAF anecdotes so that he could shape them into a story. After Forester sat down to read what Dahl had given him, he decided to publish it exactly as it was. The original title of the article was "A Piece of Cake"—the title was changed to sound more dramatic, despite the fact that the he was not "shot down".

During the war, Forester worked for the British Information Service and was writing propaganda for the Allied cause, mainly for American consumption. This work introduced Dahl to espionage and the activities of the Canadian spymaster William Stephenson, known by the codename "Intrepid". During the war, Dahl supplied intelligence from Washington to Stephenson and his organisation, which was known as British Security Coordination. Dahl was sent back to Britain, for supposed misconduct by British Embassy officials: "I got booted out by the big boys," he said. Stephenson sent him back to Washington—with a promotion. After the war, Dahl wrote some of the history of the secret organisation and he and Stephenson remained friends for decades after the war.[10]

He ended the war as a Wing Commander. His record of five aerial victories, qualifying him as a flying ace, has been confirmed by post-war research and cross-referenced in Axis records, although it is most likely that he scored more than that during 20 April 1941 where 22 German aircraft were downed.[11]

He was also revealed in the 1980s to have been a clandestine agent for MI-6, the British Foreign Intelligence Service, serving in the United States to help promote Britain's interests and message in the United States and combat the "America First" movement, working with other well known men including Ian Fleming and David Ogilvy.[12]

Roald Dahl died in November 1990 at the age of 74 of a rare blood disease, myelodysplastic anaemia (sometimes called "pre-leukemia"), in Oxford,[17] and was buried in the cemetery at the parish church of Saint Peter and Paul. According to his granddaughter, the family gave him a "sort of Viking funeral". He was buried with his snooker cues, some very good burgundy, chocolates, HB pencils and a power saw.

Matilda is a novel by Roald Dahl and illustrated by Quentin Blake. It was first published in London in 1988 by Jonathan Cape. It was adapted into a film in 1996.

The parents of five-year-old Matilda Wormwood have no interest in their daughter. Although she exhibits strong signs of being a child prodigy, they pressure her to watch television instead of her preferred activity of reading. At one point, she asks her father for a book. Her father merely points out that they already have a television and tells her that asking for a book will make her spoiled. Matilda, undaunted, goes to the library and, under the watchful eyes of the librarian, Mrs. Phelps, reads every single children's book in the library. After asking for something to read next and stating her opinions of the books she previously read, Mrs. Phelps gets a classic for Matilda to read: Charles Dickens' Great Expectations. Within six months, Matilda reads a great many books, including works of Rudyard Kipling, Jane Austen, and George Orwell. Her parents put up with her reading for a while, but when Mr. Wormwood presents an arithmetic problem to his son, who has difficulty answering it, Matilda correctly answers it. She is accused of cheating, and then decides to get back at her father. She puts super-glue into his hat and then sits back and allows everything else to be taken care of. No one even thinks about the fact that she may have been involved. Later, Mr. Wormwood is already in a grouchy mood and can't stand the sight of Matilda reading. He yells at her and then tears up the book she is reading. Using her friend's parrot, Matilda gets back at her father by making her entire family think that there's a ghost in the house. She later switches her father's hair tonic with peroxide, changing his hair color. After witnessing Matilda's great intellect in the classroom, her benevolent teacher, Jennifer "Jenny" Honey, appeals to have Matilda moved up, but the cold and bitter headmistress, Miss Trunchbull, refuses. Miss Honey is alarmed by how unpleasant Matilda's parents are when she turns up at their house to suggest that Matilda should prepare for university.

Throughout the book, Miss Trunchbull's treatment of her students is nothing short of child abuse; she seems to believe that intimidation is the best method of teaching. She says her idea of a perfect school would be "one in which there were no children at all." Trunchbull stops short of beating the children with her riding crop, but only because it is now illegal; she often voices regret that she is no longer able to punish the children in this fashion. She often acts sadistically to her pupils, ploughing straight through children so that they "bounce off her left and right", making regular visits to classes to show the teachers a few tips on discipline, throwing students out of windows and locking wrongdoers in a torturous contraption known only as "the Chokey." Matilda is once threatened by "the Trunchbull" with this punishment, but she is saved by Miss Honey. Trunchbull also tries to exploit students' weaknesses, like forcing an obese child who stole her cake to eat a large, multi-layered chocolate confection in one sitting. To make matters worse for Matilda, Miss Trunchbull has bought a second hand car that barely works from Matilda's father's car company and takes out her rage at Matilda's father on Matilda, while claiming that he was "right" to warn her about the bad conduct of his daughter.

Meanwhile, Matilda discovers she has psychokinetic powers, a secret which she confides only to Miss Honey. She learns this inadvertently when her best friend, Lavender, puts a newt in Miss Trunchbull's water. When the Trunchbull blames Matilda for it, Matilda becomes so angry at the injustice that she tips the glass over with her mind. Miss Honey is very surprised about Matilda's powers and she takes Matilda to her home.

They arrive at her cottage, where Matilda discovers that Miss Honey lives in poverty. Matilda asks why, and Jenny, her first name, explains how when she was 2 years old her mum died and her dad, Magnus, was a doctor who needed someone to look after everything at home, so he invited his sister-in-law (who is in fact Agatha Trunchbull) to come and live with him. Not surprisingly, she treated her niece very poorly when not in the presence of Magnus. Jenny was 5 years old when her dad died, and although the police declared the death a suicide, it is implied that Trunchbull killed him. Jenny had become her aunt's slave and did all the household work: cooking, cleaning, ironing. When Jenny was an adult, she wanted to go to university but her aunt forbade it; however, there was a teachers' training college in the local area and she went under the condition that she would keep up with her duties. When she found a job, the aunt demanded that she pay all her salary to her except for an allowance of £1 pound a week as payment for food, shoes & clothes, and Jenny, so terrified of her aunt, that she agreed. She found the tiny cottage and rented it from a farmer for 10p a week, and when she moved out of her aunt's house, she finally got her freedom.

With this information, Matilda formulates a plan as to how she can get rid of the Trunchbull for good.

When Miss Trunchbull imposes herself on Miss Honey's class and even threatens her, Matilda uses her powers to pose as the spirit of Magnus, scrawling on the blackboard, as if by an invisible hand, a promise of grisly revenge unless Trunchbull relinquishes his daughter's house and inheritance money. Terrified by this seemingly supernatural apparition, Trunchbull collapses and is carried out of the classroom by the other teachers.

The day following the chalkboard incident, Miss Trunchbull disappears, abandoning her brother-in-law's house. Magnus' will is found proving that Miss Honey is the rightful heiress to his property. Miss Honey then moves back into her father's house, and with the Trunchbull gone, Matilda is moved into the top form where she loses all of her powers. Miss Honey believes that Matilda's brain now has to work hard instead of accumulating spare "brainpower" the powers would need: this, the two of them agree, is a good thing, as Matilda would not care to "go through life as a miracle worker".

Meanwhile, the police are alerted to Matilda's father, who has been selling stolen cars. He decides to move the whole family to Spain (Guam in the movie version), but Matilda asks them to let her remain with Miss Honey. They agree, as it is less of a bother, and drive away forever.

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