Most literary parodies are destined for short shelf-lives with a limited appeal to cult audiences. Anyone remember Adam Bertocci’s 2010 Two Gentlemen of Lebowski: A Most Excellent Comedie and Tragical Romance, a take on the Cohen brothers 1998 film The Big Lebowski? On the other hand, the new The Hunger Pains: A Parody by The Harvard Lampoon will likely appeal to a much wider readership as The Hunger Games book and film franchise is a current hot property. But will any of these books or parodies of them resonate with readers 40 years or more from now?
Speaking of the Harvard Lampoon, their new edition of their 1969 Bored of the Rings proves that some humor can remain funny long after the original publication. It certainly helps that the books of J.R.R. Tolkien have remained popular since the debut of Bilbo Baggins in 1937. It also helps that, this year, Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was conveniently released at the same time as the Bored of the Rings re-issue. Of course, the book has never really been out of print, the most recent previous edition coming out in 2001.
It also helps that, unlike other parodies, Bored of the Rings isn’t top-heavy with dated topical references or any attempt to satirize then current events. Instead, the authors engaged in considerable wordplay and creating comic dialogue that anyone familiar with the Tolkien books should understand. Character names are a demonstration of the playfulness in the parody, especially with allusions to brand names: Dildo and Frito Bugger of Bug End, Goodgulf the Wizard, Spam Gangree, Moxie and Pepsi Dingleberry, Arrowroot of Arrowshirt (the rightful King of Twodor), hunchback dwarf Gimlet (son of Groin), Legolam of the Elves of Northern Weldwood, and Bromosel, the man with pointy shoes. Heroes all, if you consider the strategy of playing possum and ratting-each-other-out strategic defenses. Along the way, we also meet the slithering creature Goddam who has the ability to put listeners to sleep by telling his life’s story.
Henry Beard, who along with Douglas C. Kenney was one of the original authors, admits in his new introduction, “bore”ward,” that the Harvard Lampoon gang had no lofty themes in mind when composing Bored of the Rings. They wanted to make some cash. This seems appropriate as their most oft repeated jabs are at consumer products and commercials of the day. For example, the travelers can’t see the prophetic visions in a magical pond until after watery commercials are shown. The Naugahydes, a taller and wispier breed “than the other boggles”—the Lampoon’s twist of Hobbits—”lived in the forests, where they maintained a thriving trade in leather goods, sandals, and handicrafts.” These guys are an obvious take on the artificial leather Naugahyde.
I admit, once I got the gist and the rhythm of the book, I found sections where I was becoming bored with Bored of the Rings. Had I not been obligated to read it for review purposes, I might have put the nonsense aside. I’m glad I didn’t. Some of the funniest sections come near the end. In particular, before the big battle, we meet the giant “Green General” who booms out jolly “Ho ho hos.” His name is “Birdseye.” He leads an army of vegetables against, well… I hesitate to use the word spoiler in this context, but readers should indulge in this epic carnage in the privacy of their own kitchens.
In addition to the Beard foreword, the book is full of supplementary material only obliquely related to the text, including a map of Lower Middle Earth which no one follows in the story, and a teaser sample at the beginning which is sexually explicit, but not part of the actual text. There’s an introduction from Frito Bugger himself. Among other matters, he updates us on what happened to his company:
“Legolam the elf took off for Vegas, where he tapped his rockabanshee music roots to perform such all-time hits as ‘You Ain’t Nothing but a frog,’ ‘All Spooked Up,’ ‘A Ghoul Such as 1,’ and ‘Let Me Be Your Poltergeist’ while dressed in gaudy sequin-studded enchanted-forest duds as part of a memorable over-the-top lounge act that spawned a host of Elvish imitators; the dwarf Gimlet, son of Groin, moved to Montana where he opened the first of the now more than one hundred outlets of Gnome Depot, the phenomenally successful chain of cave-improvement stores catering to off-the-grid survivalists and back-to-the-earth ground huggers.”
Ho ho ho–Bored of the Rings is full of such belly-laughs whether you love or hate Hobbits, dwarves, or look Elfish or not. Again quoting from Frito Bugger’s introduction, “…to paraphrase Spock, my fellow fictional pointy-eared weirdo, may you live long so I may prosper!” As long as we’re reading Tolkien, odds are the Harvard Lampoon will prosper as well.