Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Wobbit

So, one of the things I read on the Kindle while on my recent trip to Arkansas was neither a book by nor about Tolkien but a parody thereof: THE WOBBIT, by Paul A. Erickson [2011]. So far as I can tell, this is apparently only available as an e-book (http://www.amazon.com/Wobbit-Parody-Hobbit-ebook/dp/B004ZR9ELK), not in print form.

Earlier parodies of Tolkien's work, like the mysteriously popular Harvard Lampoon BORED OF THE RINGS (which I thought had overstayed its welcome thirty+ years ago) and John Ellison's wonderful re-write of THE HOBBIT as a Jeeves-and-Wooster story, have tended to be relatively short. The same is true of pieces like "The Picnic" (published I think in an early issue of ORCRIST) and the online-only VERY SECRET DIARIES, suggesting that, where Tolkien is concerned, brevity is the essence of comedy.

This makes THE WOBBIT all the more unusual, in that while shorter than the book it parodies, it's still pretty long, and re-writes THE HOBBIT chapter by chapter, often paragraph by paragraph (e.g., cf. Chapter 7: Queer Lodgings for a Straight Wobbit). Erickson's humor comes from three sources:

(1) re-casting the plot of THE HOBBIT into terms of the recent fiscal meltdown, with the Chairman of the Board and board of directors of SmithiBank replacing 'Thorin & Co.' Thus, in what' probably THE WOBBIT's funniest line, Smaug's attack on the Lonely Mt & environs is described as a hostile takeover:

"As happens from time to time, a dragon showed up
& adjusted the market . . . [Smaug's arrival caused]
a huge loss of equity, & then Lake City property devalued.
Investor confidence failed . . . "

Similarly, Bilbo is hired to do "a quick bit of consulting", the Mayor of Lake City is

". . . v. excited w. the prospect of reducing unemployment,
stimulating the downtown business area & rebuilding his tax base",

and the human/elf siege of the Mt is viewed by the dwarves as a run on the bank:

"I suppose we cd fortify the entrance
& kill anyone who tries to close their account . . .
Paperwork & delay may yet win the day".


(2) having his version of Tolkien's characters talk like cartoons, comic book characters, personalities, and the like. Here's a not-quite-complete listing (I forget which character talks like Foghorn Leghorn):

--The trolls (Wm, Tom, Burt) = The Three Stoogies, with 'Joe, Harry, & Shirley' in place of Moe, Larry, & Curly.

--Gollum = Lady Ga-Ga (talk about a cultural reference with a ten-minute expiration date)

--the wargs = Scooby-Doo

--Beorn = the Incredible Hulk

--the first Mirkwood Spider = Charlotte (from CHARLOTTE'S WEB)

--The Elvenking = Schwarzenegger

--Bard = Dirty Harry


(3) Finally, the whole is written in a sarcastic style that's sometimes grating but once in a while throws off an effective line, as when the river-barrel stream exit to the Elvenking's Halls is described as

"a sort of riparian service drive"

Other examples include

. . . a fortnight, wh is what they call two weeks in Lake City . . .

the characters leave at 1st light and return at 1st dark

or the following line about Gollum:

"I don't know where he came from, or who or what he was,
but I'll try to make something up if I write a sequel."


Overall
My initial evaluation of this book was twofold:

(1) 'I read this book so you won't have to.'

and

(2) Erickson is no Terry Pratchett or Douglas Adams;
he's not even a Tom Holt!*

Mulling it over a month later, I now think that's too harsh. I certainly don't think this book is a successful effort -- but then I'm a hard sell, and others might get more (or less) out of it than I did. And there were a few funny lines; it's just a matter of whether you personally find it worth reading through to find them.

--John R.

....................
*I'm thinking here of Holt's later works, like FLYING DUTCH, in which he lapsed into flaccid faux-Pratchett self-parody, not his early EXPECTING SOMEONE TALLER and WHO'S AFRAID OF BEOWULF, which are really quite good (esp. the latter). The man has talent -- his GOATSONG is quite possibly the best historical novels I've ever read -- which makes it all the more annoying that he apparently made a deliberate decision not to use it.


UPDATE( 3/9-12)
I've gone back in and corrected the spelling of "riparian" (from 'reparian'), as per David's comment; the error was entirely mine, not the author being quoted. So too with the abbreviations, which reflect my usage, not his. Generally I wdn't use abbreviations in direct quotes; in this case I was transcribing pencilled notes from my pocket notebook, not citing directly from the e-book source. I shd have taken more care to make that clear. --JDR



6 comments:

David Bratman said...

Bringing up the length of parodies raises the question of whether you've read the "A.R.R.R. Roberts" The Soddit and The Sellamillion. They're quite long, and to a large extent are really not parodies at all, but spinoffs more like Pat Murphy's There and Back Again.

In discussing the characteristics of The Wobbit, you don't specify the - if your transcriptions are literal - incredibly annoying practice of liberally abbreviating words. Also, "a sort of reparian service drive" would be funnier if he could spell riparian.

Robert said...

There's also Sauronsblog.com, written by someone familiar with more than the movies, among the online satires.

John D. Rateliff said...

Hi David.
"reparian" is entirely my mistake, which I've now gone in and corrected.
The abbreviations are also my own, as I shd have pointed out. Normally I'm more careful to keep my usage distinct from that of any source I quote, and I shd have done the same here.
As for THE SODDIT and SELLAMILLION, I'd forgotten about those. I've never read either and they quickly drifted down to the box room, where they've stayed since shortly after arriving.

Glancing at them now, I find that I don't own Roberts' SELLAMILLION after all but THE SILLYMARILLION by D. R. Lyold, a book I find literally unreadable. Given the choice between SILLYMARILLION and FINNEGANS WAKE on a desert island, I'd . . . well, I'd be v. unhappy. It's that bad.
THE SODDIT, on the other hand, I might actually read someday, if I run out of better books.

Hi Robert: I'll check out Sauronsblog.com sometime.

--JDR

David Bratman said...

Well, that's embarrassing. I hasten to add that a few abbreviated words in a blog post are vastly less annoying than they would be in a full-length work of fiction.

I looked at that sauronsblog that Robert mentioned, and it's quite amusing in small enough doses, but it does go on for quite a while, and far from done yet.

Paul Erickson said...

John-

Thanks for reading and reviewing my book, The Wobbit A Parody. I glad that there were parts of it you found funny.

I also appreciate that your review was as positive a review as I could ask for, given that you didn't actually enjoy the book. A lesser reviewer might have taken some cheap shots, but you took the high road: you quoted the lines you liked the best and let your readers decide from there.

I'm glad you put me in the company of Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams, if only for an unsuccessful comparison. You could have lumped me together with D.R. Lyold. (I, too, own a copy of The Sillymarillion.)

Thanks also for including a link to my book on Amazon. Kindle and Amazon have been very good to me. As a result of my Kindle promotions, I caught the attention of an editor from Piper Verlag, who will be publishing The Wobbit this November, in German. I'm hoping they can sell the English language rights soon. Until then, I will be the David Hasselhoff of parody writing.

Both you and I are passionate about Tolkien's writing. My hope is that my love for The Hobbit is apparent in my parody of it.

Thanks again for your review.

-Paul

Paul Erickson said...

John-

I saw your name on Pieter Collier's website, and thought that you might be able to help me. I'm putting together a Tolkien Reading Day fundraiser (thewobbitaparody.com). I plan to raise money for a community group called Opportunity Knocks (opportunityknocksnow.org). They serves young people with developmental disablilities. I have an idea I'd like to discuss with you. I'm sorry to post this on your blog, but I had no other way to contact you. Please feel free to respond at thewobbitaparody@sbcglobal.net.