In the early 1940’s a young RAF pilot, Roald Dahl, en route to join his squadron, was forced to crash land his plane in the desert in Libya. The plane hit a boulder and crumpled on to its nose. The semi-conscious Dahl, overalls alight, was able to survive by hauling himself out of the burning plane.
Some seventy years later, in 2010, a middle-aged British politician, Nigel Farage, was in a light aircraft trailing his party’s banner through English skies. Suddenly aeroplane and banner got entangled and the aircraft nose-dived abruptly into the field below. Dazed and bleeding, Farage, not quite alight but covered in fuel oil, was able to clamber out of the wreckage – another survivor.
Dahl claimed that it was his crash in Libya that changed the course of his life turning him from a young adventurer into a writer. Farage, in a recent interview with The Guardian newspaper, has noted only a minor alteration to his own – that he tries to be more mindful of others.
Many of the rest of us have noted something else and that is that it seems as if one of Dahl’s creations – the Fantastic Mr Fox – was tipped out of that wreckage in England in 2010.
The original story, published in 1970, sets three rich, successful farmers (Boggis, Bunce and Bean), against a wily, cornered fox who they know is eating into the gains they’ve carefully stashed away. The farmers are forced to team up to try to beat the fox and his family, to drive them from their neighbourhood. First the farmers use shotguns, then shovels, then tractors, then their workmen armed with all kinds of horrible weapons – but still the fox evades them losing only his tail to their efforts.
As the fox gets thinner and craftier his enemies get crankier and more frantic by the day.
“Bean’s face was purple with rage. Bunce was cursing the fox with dirty words that cannot be printed. Boggis came waddling up. ‘Dang and blast that filthy, stinking fox!’ he said. ‘What the heck do we do now?'”
The drama tingles for those who turn the pages. The fox doesn’t just survive he makes the farmers even madder – he tunnels beneath their feet right into their very heartlands.
“The work went much more slowly now. Yet they kept at it with great courage, and little by little the tunnel began to grow.”
We’ve watched The Great Escape. We know whose side we’re on. We burst with Mr Fox into ‘Boggis’ Chicken House Number One‘. We’re right with him when he takes enough for a feast and then presses on for the cider in Bean’s cellar. We know we’d follow that fox anywhere – right up to the edge, just to make a point.
And who among us didn’t have to smack down a cheer when we heard that the Ukip fox was in the Westminster hen house?
Nothing against Westminster hens it’s just that daring in the face of slinging, sloppy politics has a Dahlian magic that’s hard to resist.
It’s no wonder that we recognise that fox Farage. Again and again we’ve been inside the stories of Roald Dahl where gifted, off-beat heroes and heroines take on the great, grey, way-things-are and come up with something startling – we all know Farage has done just that.
We might not have made up our minds yet whether or not we should live as cut off from the ‘outside‘ as the Fantastic Mr Fox suggests at the end of his story, but we do like a survivor.
“‘Thank you,’ said Mr Fox, grinning hugely.”