Thursday, August 20, 2009
Bored of the Rings by Harvard Lampoon
In a small corner of the world, tucked away from the great nations, there lives an isolated community full of colorful, down-to-earth people. One of those, considered a hero by some and an oddball by others, is getting ready to face the greatest challenge of his life - delivering a Ring of Power into the fires that made it, thereby saving not only his soul, but the world along with it.
Yes, you know the story. Just not like this.
The young Frito Bugger, a Boggie of the Sty and nephew to the famed Dildo Bugger, has been tapped by Goodgulf the Magician to return the Ring of Power to the Zazu Pits in the center of the deadly kingdom of Fordor. It is only then that Sorhed, maker of the Ring and the greatest threat to Lower Middle Earth, can be defeated.
The first time I read this book, I nearly soiled myself laughing. And I wasn't even a real fan of the originals at this point, either. I knew enough, though, to see how well the venerable trilogy was being skewered, and I loved every minute of it. Since then, I've read this book more times than I've read Lord of the Rings. Partly because it's much funnier, but mostly because this volume only clocks in at 150 pages.
As with all comedy, repetition kind of diminishes the effect, but there are still laughs to be had. Just from the beginning, when Dildo Bugger throws a party for the gluttonous freeloaders of the Sty, and then foists his Magic Ring off on his hapless nephew Frito, you know things can only go wacky.
Much like in the original, this Fellowship travels across a land fraught with peril, and despite the funny names, their journey is recognizable to anyone who knows the story. The folks at Harvard Lampoon did a brilliant job here, warping the characters of the original story (with the utmost love and respect, of course, for the money they're making from sales of the book) into funhouse mirror-images.
Thus brave Aragorn, son of Arathorn becomes Arrowroot, son of Arrowshirt, wielder of Krona, Conqueror of Dozens, whose foolproof strategy for dealing with overwhelming odds is to play dead. Or wise and resourceful Gandalf becomes Goodgulf, the shifty con artist and 32nd degree Mason who is all too willing to let the Shadow win if it means he can escape with his hide and the majority of someone else's gold. Legolas and Gimli become Legolam and Gimlet, sniping at each other with the kind of accuracy we could have only wished for in the films, and Merry and Pippin twist into Moxie and Pepsi, the blundering brothers who wish they were dead. And so does everybody else.
What really differentiates this book from a lot of other parody books is that the Harvard Lampoon writers have allowed these warped characters to evolve in their own right. Instead of forcing them along the path of the original story, the writers have broadened the guidelines a bit. We see new relationships evolve, and old ones twist into new shapes. Some parts of the story vanish entirely, while others take on whole new significance.
In other words, if you're looking for a one-to-one event correlation with the original books, you'll be disappointed. But the major events and characters are all there. A lot of the themes have been inverted, of course, for comic effect. The great friendship and loyalty that defined the original Fellowship are sorely lacking in this volume, but they were never meant to be there in the first place. Probably the reason I found it so funny was that the twisted versions of these characters resemble a lot of my attitude towards them when I first read Lord of the Rings - Merry and Pippin as an obnoxious pair of bumblers, Gandalf as a manipulative old coot, Boromir as utterly disposable and, of course, Tom Bombadil as, well, himself.
I never could stand Bombadil in the original books, but Tom Benzedrino? Him I could read over and over again without hesitation....
As I think about this, I wonder how many people read this and actually got offended. People talk about LotR and J.R.R. Tolkien as though they are perfect in every form, untouchable and Not To Be Criticized. I remember watching the DVD special features, and the son of Tolkein's editor said, "You simply did not edit Tolkien." That kind of reverence must certainly feel good for a writer, but it doesn't produce good writing. Every writer, whether it's Tolkien or Rowling or King or anyone else who's really made it big, needs people willing to take them down a peg.
Look at the Harry Potter books for example. When they were relatively unknown, they were slim, tight little volumes that moved at a good pace and could be devoured on a long bus ride. As soon as Rowling made it big, however, they became massive tomes that required ten minutes of warm-up time just to pick up, and an occasional shot of caffeine to get through. Don't get me wrong - I like Harry Potter. I like it more than I like Lord of the Rings, in fact. I just don't think that fame or literary pretensions should make an author exempt from vicious editing. Or vicious parody.
A book like Bored of the Rings is not a criticism of the story, or of the dream that Tolkien had - it's a vindication of it. It's a testament to the book's strength that it can be ripped apart with such wild abandon, yet still maintain its popularity. Every author should be so lucky as to have a book like this written in their honor.
So just sit back and enjoy it. Whether you've read the books or just seen the movies, as long as you're not one of those who worship at the altar of the Unassailable Tolkien, you should be able to get a lot of good laughs out of this.
"Observing this near impossible escape from certain death, Frito wondered how much longer the authors were going to get away with such tripe. He wasn't the only one."
- from Bored of the Rings
Bored of the Rings on Wikipedia
Harvard Lampoon on Wikipedia
Bored of the Rings on Amazon.com