We had so much fun talking about overlooked books for Mystery Month, we thought we’d keep the discussion going. The rules are simple: the book can be in any genre, and it has to be relatively unknown, but also relatively easy to hunt down.
W.E. Bowman’s The Ascent of Rum Doodle, an hysterical parody of mountaineering memoirs, fits the bill perfectly. It was published in Britain in 1956, and has been reprinted only a few times since then (most recently in 2010, in a Vintage Classics edition).
With 3,000 porters carrying several tons of scientific equipment, crates of champagne, and other essentials, seven adventurers set off on an expedition to conquer the world’s tallest mountain (40,000 1/2 feet). Binder, the cheerfully clueless team leader, is accompanied by experienced men like Jungle, the route-finder who keeps getting lost on his way to the planning meeting; Prone, the physician who’s always suffering from one thing or another; and Shute, the expedition photographer who seems incapable of capturing any actual images on film.
The great thing about this book is that it’s so funny, you can turn to pretty much any random page and find something quotable. Like this:
The team had clasped each other around the shoulders and, still in line, capered sideways on the ice like a row of chorus girls, singing ‘Don’t Put Your Daughter On The Stage, Mrs Worthington’. Poor fellows, they were still slightly hysterical from the effects of their ordeal.
The North Wall is a sheer glass-like face of ice broken only by rock, snowfields, ice-pinnacles, crevasses, bergschrunds, ridges, gulleys, scree, chimneys, cracks, slabs, gendarmes, Dames Anglaises, needles, strata, gneiss and gabbro.
Parody isn’t easy to do. If you’re too broad, or if you move too far away from the format of the thing you’re parodying, you run the risk of falling flat on your face. The Ascent of Rum Doodle succeeds not just because it has wacky characters and plenty of silly goings-on, but because it looks like a mountaineering book.
If you’re looking for another excellent parody that sticks tightly to the format of its target, check out Henry Beard’s The Dick Cheney Code (2004), a spot-on spoof of The Da Vinci Code that makes the reader shake with laughter while pointing out just how silly Brown’s novel is, if you really look at it.
There’s also The Shroud of the Thwacker (2005), Chris Elliott’s very funny take on the historical-mystery genre. Like Bowman and Beard, Elliott takes something familiar and turns it inside out.
Now go forth and read The Ascent of Rum Doodle. Let us know what you think.