Thursday, January 3, 2019

The Ascent of Rum Doodle

Bill Bryson introduces the 2001 edition of W. E. Bowman's The Ascent of Rum Doodle (orig. pub. 1956) as "one of the funniest books you will ever read." He gives us great expectations of the delights that await us as we read Bowman's parody of the great mountain-climbing expeditions of the early 20th Century. "Binder" (as our narrator is code-named for the group's walkie-talkie usage) is the leader of this grand adventure and tells us the story of the eight brave men and 3,000 Yogistani porters who tackle the true highest peak in the Himalayas. The group is actually the greatest collection of misfits with misnomers ever assembled. Binder most certainly does not bind his group together. Burley is not the epitome of health and strength that one might expect. And so on... It a miracle that any of them ever reach the peak of anything...or do they? You'll have to read to find out.

Something tells me that reading this book is something like what I would experience if I were to decide to actually climb a large mountain...like Everest or that taller mountain, Rum Doodle. It would go something like this

~Boy, isn't this fun? I'm having a great time.
~Still enjoying myself. Nice scenery. Great adventure.
~What? Oh, yes, I am getting a little bit tired...but this is fun. I can totally do it.
~Hmmm. That bit of mountain ahead looks remarkably like that bit of mountain back there. Only steeper.
~Puff. Puff. It's getting a little difficult to get my bearings. And I'm getting a little light-headed. Why do I feel so tired?
~Goodness this is getting repetitive. And I'm really getting tired of climbing. When do we get to the peak?
~Seriously...are we there yet?
~I'm certain I thought this was a good idea when I started...but...does anyone know why?
~I don't think I can take another step...I mean it...Oh, wait. Is that the top? We're there? But I can't see anything with all those clouds in the way. Are you sure this was worth it?

I really enjoyed the first third or so. The British humor was humming along nicely and I was gently chuckling away to myself. But then just like the mountain bits that looked remarkably like other mountain bits only steeper...the humor was very repetitive and it got worse as we went along. Binder imposing himself on one of his men and forcing him to tell the "story" of his childhood...or his fiancee...or his broken heart just wasn't funny any more. And it was no longer funny that the reader knew that Binder's climbing buddies were leading him up the garden path and telling him the most incredible nonsense and yet Binder was taking it as the gospel truth. And Jungle getting lost for the 153rd time was no longer funny. And the fact that the number 153 was the magic number for everything. And the constant movement from Base Camp to Advance Camp 1 (and 2 and 3 and 4 and...) and back again became irritating nonsense instead of comical nonsense. And the fact that no matter what they did they couldn't lose Pong, the Yogistani cook with a knack for turning the most desirable delicacies into the most nauseating mush, for love or money. 

This would have been a heck of a lot funnier if Bowman had had more strings to his bow (so to speak)--if he hadn't harped on the same exact jokes every step of the way up the mountain. ★★ But there are several four- and five-star ratings out there on Goodreads, so your mileage may vary.


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