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The Little Book That Lost Its Author

Oliver Killig/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

Amber Caron | Boulevard | Spring 2019 | 16 minutes (3,262 words)


In Roald Dahl’s 1953 short story, “The Great Automatic Grammatizator,” Adolph Knipe, the story’s protagonist, invents a computer that can provide the answer to a math problem in five seconds. His invention is a technical masterpiece, and his boss sends him on a weeklong vacation to celebrate his good work. Knipe, however, doesn’t travel and doesn’t even celebrate. Instead, he takes a bus back to his two-room apartment, pours himself a glass of whiskey, and sits down in front of his typewriter to reread the beginning of his most recent short story: “The night was dark and stormy, the wind whistled in the trees, the rain poured down like cats and dogs.” It’s not a promising beginning, and Knipe knows it. He feels defeated, nothing more than a failed writer, when he’s suddenly “struck by a powerful but simple little truth, and it was this: That English grammar is governed by rules that are almost mathematical in their strictness!” His fate isn’t to write stories, he realizes, but to build a machine that can write stories for him. Read more…