Bored of the Rings versus Bill the Galactic Hero

Has anybody read Bored of the Rings? Yes, I typed that right. It’s the Harvard Lampoon parody of the well known fantasy trilogy by a certain Oxford Professor.

This is the edition I own (image via Wikipedia).

One of the funniest scenes – for me, anyway – is where the adventurers are attacked by a Thesaurus, a monster with a pronounced gazetteer and large dangling participles. The hilarity that ensues has to be read to be believed (especially the Thesaurus’s dialogue, scripting, wording, monologue, back-chat, see repartee), proving along the way that Bored of the Rings isn’t just a parody of You Know What,  it’s also a brilliant comic novel in its own right.

That’s the thing about parody novels. It’s too easy to simply riff on the plot, characters and setting of the original. To me that reduces such things to little more than fan fiction with jokes. The best parodies actually add something more – often a lot more. In the case of Bored of the Rings that included a relentless succession of jabs at the pop-culture of the late 1960s.

Which brings me to Harry Harrison’s Bill the Galactic Hero.

The book was a parody of Robert A. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, with special skewering reserved for the libertarian fascism with which Heinlein had implicitly wrapped his material (explicit in the Verhoeven movie version). Heinlein noticed, of course – and apparently never spoke to Harrison again.

But the book was significantly more than that. It remains one of Harry Harrison’s funniest novels – a sharp satire on military life, dark and filled with ironic humour. ‘What is this, bowb your buddy day?’ demands a soldier in powered armour as he sinks helplessly into a swamp while others look on, not moving to help. ‘Every day’s bowb your buddy day’, someone retorts as the soldier drowns. Along the way Harrison also riffed on Asimov’s Trantor, a world engulfed wholly by a city. Harrison’s version posed the obvious question: where does all the effluent go?

Oh, and the word ‘bowb’ – the most offensive word that could be uttered in Harrison’s milieu – was never defined. That made it much ruder, of course. The thing was that Harrison was being original, despite ripping into Heinlein – as, indeed, were Messrs Beard and Kenney, authors of Bored of the Rings, when they devised the Thesaurus.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2017

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4 thoughts on “Bored of the Rings versus Bill the Galactic Hero

  1. I’ve never read Bored of the Rings but I was just young enough to hear it spoken of by older fans, when I was around, and described as either brilliant or juvenile. Bill the Galactic Hero was around and maybe even still getting new volumes, but somehow I never quite tried it. It seems like it fits in a niche that the I Don’t Even Own A Television podcasters pointed out doesn’t quite exist now, of light and amiable spoofs of the big genre tropes.

    1. I remember reading Bored of the Rings and basically laughing uncontrollably, out loud… it was indeed juvenile, AND brilliant. I never read the sequels to ‘Bill’ – I figured the original carried the message and anything else was going to be exploitation.

  2. My husband has that edition of Bored of the Rings. He’s talked about this book a number of times, but I still haven’t read it. I’ve always liked the name Kamakaze Kumquats though. They sound pretty cool. 😉

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