Apr 4, 4:24pm
Thanks for continuing this discussion, dernwyn. It’s needed now more than ever as the world takes to its screens in lieu of any other entertainment or human interaction. Yes, by pumping air back into the deflated tire that is the poor old Reading Room, even the Bored of the Rings discussion is doing its bit to curven the flat.
Not socially distant enough, it seems
"Foolish dotard," growled Goodgulf later in their room at an inn. ...
"Psychotic too," mused the Wizard. "I bet he's got a lot of suicidal psychoses. Self-destructive. Textbook case."
"Suicidal?" said Pepsi with surprise. "How do you say that?"
"It's just a hunch," Goodgulf replied distantly, "just a hunch."
A. Compare this to the scene in RotK where Gandalf and Pippin are taken to their chamber after their meeting with Denethor. Do you sense the same "fountain of mirth" in Goodgulf here?
Ha! No, it’s certainly the same scene, but it’s not the same emotional vibe. As usual with this stuff, I feel like I’ve read this dialogue somewhere else, as some villain in a murder mystery or the authority figure in a comic short story works his way towards a solution involving murder as faked suicide. The humor isn’t original; what’s original is deploying clichés in a new direction, that of spoofing the ever-so-spoofable, ultra-serious, Prof. Tolkien.
Likewise with the concluding “just a hunch”. This comes from somewhere, I don’t know where. But I did see it deployed yet again at Harvard in the late 1970s, in a comic parody musical of The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, written by folks from the Lampoon, titled “Gars and Goyles”. (Yes.) At one point Quasimodo makes a cryptic prediction about what may happen next, and straight-woman Esmerelda said, “But how do you know that?” And Quasimodo turns to the audience and says … wait for it … “I don’t know, Esmerelda. Let’s just say -- I’ve got a hunch.” [ba-ding] Fountain of mirth, indeed.
The news of the Old Steward's suicide that evening stirred the city. ...
Within a remarkably short time, Goodgulf had galvanized the sleepy capital into a drilling militia. Marshaling Minas Troney's resources, the Wizard personally drew up ration lists, fortification plans, and lucrative defense contracts which he himself filled.
B. Well, this certainly condensed a couple chapters of text into a couple of paragraphs! What do you think of Goodgulf taking matters into his own hands? Isn't this exactly what Gandalf did (except maybe for the "lucrative defense contracts")?
Well, it certainly anticipates the ‘whacking’ of Denethor in the New Line films, doesn’t it? Not for the first time do the ‘Poonies anticipate the adaptationist logic of Jackson and the gang.
The situation also cleverly recaps the rise of the original scullery boy to the post of Steward, that we read earlier in the chapter. Those that live by a fork in the back, shall die by a fork in the back – or similarly contrived ploy: “…entire staff had mysteriously disappeared,” you say? Remember “Finally there was no one left in Minas Troney who was either eligible or willing to wear the accursed crown, and the rule of Twodor was up for grabs.”
At first there was a clamor of protest against Goodgulf's extraordinary powers. But then an angry black cloud began growing over the city. This, plus a few unexplained explosions in Opposition newspaper offices, silenced "those damned isolationists," as Goodgulf dubbed them in a widely publicized interview.
C. Shades of the Vietnam War protests. I remember that time! Harvard was one of the hotbeds of antiwar activism. Remember Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara's visit?
I don’t. I’m of a certain age, but not that certain of an age.
D. Richard Nixon said "opposition to the war in this country is the greatest single weapon working against the U.S.". Nice use of that, ah, observation.
Well, OK, but when I read “damned isolationists” I didn’t think Nixon in 1970, I thought FDR in 1940. But not even FDR blew up the Chicago Tribune offices, any more than Nixon blew up (rather than burglarized) the Dems’ HQ at the Watergate. This over-the-top tactic, both unlikely and unsustainable in any setting other than a parody that is as fond of explosive solutions as a Road Runner cartoon, reminds us that this is a parody not an allegory. No doubt Beard and Kenny cordially disliked allegory in all its manifestations.
Soon after, stragglers from the eastern provinces told of hordes of narcs attacking and overwhelming Twodor's border outpost at Ohmigoshgolli. Soon, Twodor knew, Sorhed's dogs would be sniffing at the city's very pants cuffs.
E. I'm delighted by the renaming of Osgiliath as "Ohmigoshgolli"! It certainly fits the moment, don't you think?
It’s got the big O, the s, the g, the i, and the l. Looking up the exact phrase to see if it occurs in some forgotten corner of US culture, all I found was the lyrics to a song that Frank Sinatra made famous: Faith Evans’ ‘Mistletoe and Holly’:
“Oh, by gosh, by golly So that’s not an exact match. Now I am puzzled why Twodor’s border outpost couldn’t have been Ohbigoshgolli, which everyone who got most of the jokes in the book in 1970 would have gotten as well. Maybe it’s too obvious a quote? Maybe the stem of the b sticking up ruined the orthographic pattern, which m doesn’t do? Maybe back then people actually said omigosh as one word? I’m out of ideas here. And that is all to the good, as Strider put it.
It’s time for mistletoe and holly…”
Gotta love the sheer vulgarity of “Sorhed’s dogs would be sniffing at the city’s very pants cuffs” – a classic-style metaphor that mocks Tolkien’s epic seriousness with another round of potty humor.
Moxie and Pepsi fidgeted impatiently in the waiting room of Goodgulf's palace offices, their feet dangling a foot or so short of the plush carpet. ...
The shapely elf-receptionist shifted the torques in her clinging blouse indifferently.
"I'm sorry," she said for the eighth time that morning, "but the wizard is still in conference." ...
Goodgulf made a deep sigh and bade the languid sylphs withdraw.
F. Instead of Pippin waiting at Denethor's door, we have the two Boggies waiting at Goodgulf's. Does this remind you of "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying", or other such stereotypical sixties-business-office scenarios? (I've never watched "Mad Men", is it similar to that?)
It’s absolutely a takeoff on the executive suite culture of the Mad Men era. Remember the ironic song “A Secretary is Not a Toy” from How To Succeed ...?
(3-minute YouTube clip from the 1967 film version)
Gotta laff at the vocab:
mickle itchy (mickle = greatly, mightily; as in Tolkien’s Michel Delving, “Great Hole” for the Shire’s capital!)
shifted the torques in her clinging blouse (treating the movable female figure as a horny dork’s engineering project and strip-tease show in a single phrase)
speaking tube (paying respects to the pre-technical society being spoofed, even as the spoof is entirely modern in setting)
bleached-blond sylphs (modern cosmetics meets the vain and airy female spirits of Enlightenment poetry and alchemical theory)
in conference (the universal corporate euphemism for ‘come back tomorrow’)
black caviar (symbol of expensive and over-cultured taste in a bourgeois setting)
"Well, well," Goodgulf said with strained affability, "what can I do for you?"...
"We grow fearful," said Pepsi as he plunked himself down in an expensive troll-hide chair. "Rumors run through the city of narcs and other foul fiends approaching from the east. A black cloud has appeared over our heads and utilities are down eight and a half."
G. The idea of a Troll-hide chair gives me the creeps. But then, there's always the wag who wonders how many Naugas it took to make one naugahyde chair.
Or, in Tolkien’s world, a Fallohide chair (see BotR Prologue “Concerning Boggies” for the requisite Naugahyde joke).
Goodgulf blew a fat blue smoke ring.
"These are not matters for small ones," he said. "Besides, you're stealing my lines."
"But the black cloud?" Pepsi asked.
"Just a few smudgepots I planted in the Knockon Wood. Keeps the folk hereabouts on their toes."
So that terrifying blackness out of Mordor, that dominates most of Book V in the original, becomes a few smudge pots! Now, I always thought smudge pots were those curious spherical torches they used to put out on highways to mark dangers or obstacles before battery-powered lights replaced them (the “Toledo Torch Highway Lantern”, thank wikipedia). But I find now that smudge pots are actually the oil-powered heating ovens with tall chimneys that orchards long used to prevent frost damage. Those actually put out a lot of oily smoke, on purpose; the roadwork pots didn’t produce smoke but rather the light of an open flame, and were called smudge pots only because their basic operation was the same as the orchard ones.
Hmmm… now which ones did Goodgulf put out in the Knockon Wood? I vote the road ones, despite their lack of actual smoke, because those are the ones I grew up with, and also because as black iron spheres they so closely resemble the mallomar-like magical device he used to make Benelux’s door disappear!
"And the rumors of invaders?" said Moxie.
"Simply that," said Goodgulf. ...
The surprise attack at dawn the next day caught everyone in Minas Troney by surprise. ...
Hundreds of narcs, their minds aflame with cheap muscatel, threw themselves at the gates. ... A sight most horrible to behold.
These two paragraphs about the overwhelming army that attacks Minas Troney have the requisite jokes, but for some reason I’ve never really cracked up here. Perhaps it’s because the comic vocab (cheap muscatel, rogue pandas, psychotic banshees, niblicks and mashies, clerk-typists, etc.) is mixed right up amongst the satirical reuse of some of Tolkien’s actual language (aflame, tramped, slavering, shrill, loathsome, bloodthirsty, horrible, etc.). Also, this is the second spoof of Tolkien’s siege-language, and the first one (the Vee-Ates’ attack on Serutanland) was cleverer with a more unified satirical device.
But I do like the “Red Nose of Sorhed” gag to replace the Red Eye. For one thing, a nose can actually be red, conveying comic images from sunburn to chronic inebriation to nasal congestion. Secondly, Sorhed’s wraiths are already called the Nozdrul, so of course they serve the Red Nose! And finally in the coming climax to the attack the Black Rider will summon his flame-throwing dragon with a nose-whistle (blatt!).
This, Goodgulf, Moxie, and Pepsi watched from the walls. The boggies were much afraid.
... Goodgulf wore an old deep-sea diver's suit of stoutest latex. Only the well-trimmed beard was recognizable through the helmet's little round window. In his hand he carried an ancient and trusty weapon, called by the elves a Browning semi-automatic.
H. Putting on the full armor - and a bit of wound-infection-prevention. Putty knives can be pretty effective (I've gotten a puncture or two from them).
I’m surprised you’ve found putty-knives dangerous, as the joke here is they’re practically the only kind of knife that actually doesn’t do what knives are supposed to do. (Not that that will protect any number of narc-corpses, as we’ll see in the next reading.)
I. And now we have the deep-sea diver's suit which Goodgulf is wearing on the cover of BotR. Why this, and not a full suit of armor?
Like a lot of the imagery in this book, the classic diver’s suit with its round-windowed helmet has a permanent place in the public imagination, right up there with steam trains and the Model T Ford, long after their retirement from their workplaces. Looking it up, I find this kind of diving suit was phased out in the 1950s, but I suspect readers even today know what Goodgulf is wearing here.
And it is a full suit of armor in its own way, but absurdly comic—as actual knight’s armor would not be at this point. It’s the boggies who are donning medieval armor (greaves, corslets, etc.), that becomes football armor (shoulder padding) at the end of the list!
J. Browning semi-automatics, those ancient and trusty shotguns, perfect for hunting snark.
I had to look this up as your comment confused me. Turns out I’ve been reading this reference incorrectly since childhood. I had always thought Goodgulf was hefting a Tommy gun, the infamous gangster’s friend from the Prohibition days, but here identified by its less-well-known brand name! Well, now I know what a Browning semi-automatic is for the first time in my life. Never too old to learn from Bored of the Rings.
But this joke, arming Tolkien’s heroes with some equalizing real-world firearms, reuses the classic gag from the Prologue about Dildo having a snub-nosed revolver in his pocket, and so isn’t quite as funny as it should be.
Well, that’s all I have the energy for just now. Time for some more social distance. I’ll be back.
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