By Velvet BellTree
I recently read a great book and saw a great movie which have inter-related themes. The book is Blackout/All Clear by Connie Willis. This was published in 2010 as two books but is really one continuous novel. It was broken up because together it is nearly 1,100 pages long.
Usually, I shy away from books of this length (though I did buy and read Ken FollettÕs Fall of Giants which was about 1,000 pages) but this one is worth every page — no padding, no diminished interest, continuous great writing. The movie, The KingÕs Speech, is not fiction (though poetic liberties have been taken).
The novel is part of WillisÕ series about historians at Oxford in the 2050s-2060 who do their research via time travel. According to time travel theory, the historians would not be able to do anything to alter history. The continuum doesnÕt allow them to go to times/places which are considered divergence points. Or so the theory saysÉ
The main characters are young historians sent back to observe England during World War II. They participate in the childrenÕs evacuation, the evacuation of Dunkirk, the London Blitz, the disinformation campaigns, the V-1 and V-2 attacks and V-Day (what we call VE-Day).
According to WillisÕ dedication, the novel is a tribute to all the ordinary people — the shopgirls and showgirls and shelter canteen workers and air raid wardens and ambulance drivers and everyone else who did their bit. She shows how everyoneÕs actions can have an effect. She shows how these people rise to the occasion. Does everybody act as one would wish them to? No, but most do.
Things, of course, do not go according to plan. The historians find that they are getting involved with events and worry that theyÕve done things that will cause the allies to lose the war. But what actions will affect the war adversely? Will saving someoneÕs life cause that person to make a mistake in battle and bring on disaster? Or will that person become a hero and contribute to the allies winning the war? Or maybe it will have no effect.
I donÕt want to tell you anything more, because I hope youÕll read this novel and I donÕt want to spoil it. Suffice it to say that Willis addresses the issue of the importance of each individual and how one can affect history.
The KingÕs Speech is about King George VI and his interaction with Lionel Logue, the speech therapist who worked with him and cured him of his stammer. If WillisÕ novel is about the Ōlittle peopleĶ doing their bits, the movie is about the guy at the top doing his bit. Albert (known to his family as Bertie) who became George VI, was a reluctant king. His stammer made public speaking a painful ordeal. The movie culminates in his radio speech just after the declaration of war. It was a speech that rallied the people to the cause and influenced them to all do their bits. You can hear a recording of it on YouTube:
Another connection with WillisÕ novel is what seems to me to be the vagaries of history. The movie covers the death of George V, the ascension of Edward VIII and the abdication of Edward. As everyone knows, Edward abdicated to marry Wallis Simpson, a twice-divorced American woman. Simpson is so unsuited to marry royalty, she makes Camilla Parker-Bowles look queenly. She looks like a dominatrix and acts as if she were royalty and David (EdwardÕs family name) the commoner.
The point is that George VI was a pillar of strength throughout the war, making speeches and leading the people by the example of his fortitude. In one of WillisÕ epigraphs, the queen explains that the princesses wonÕt leave because they wouldnÕt leave without her, she wonÕt leave without the king, and the king would never leave. One canÕt imagine Edward, a weakling and Nazi sympathizer, acting as his brother did. So, perhaps instead of demonizing Wallis Simpson, we should thank her for causing Edward to abdicate and turning the British Empire over to his brother.
Once again, I cannot recommend the novel and movie highly enough. Read, watch, learn and enjoy.