10 Parody Novels That Get the Last Laugh

Ask someone what his or her favorite parody movie is and you'll hear Blazing Saddles, Airplane!, or some other classic of the genre. But ask what their favorite parody novel is and you'll likely get a blank stare. To help you answer this difficult, life-defining question the next time you're asked, here are the stories of a few novels that get the last laugh.

1. Bored of the Rings

J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings has sold more than 150 million copies and been translated into over 35 languages since it was first published in 1955. While it has never reached the original's level of success, the parody novel Bored of the Rings has become something of an institution in its own right. Written by Henry Beard and Douglas Kenney, the duo who would later found National Lampoon, the book has been reprinted and updated since it was first published in 1969, including a new version printed just this year.

As is typical of the Lampoon style, many of the place and character names in Bored use pop culture references, adult humor, or just plain funny substitutions for the originals. For example, the characters include Frito (Frodo), Spam (Sam), Pepsi (Pippen), Legolam (Legolas), Gimlet, son of Groin (Gimli, son of Gloin), and the especially racy for the time Dildo (Bilbo). The oft-updated parody map of Middle Earth, modeled after Tolkein's, includes locations such as "The Land of the Personal-Stereo-Wearing Goblins," "The Bodily Wastes," and the legendary land of "Gonad."

2. Snowball's Chance

George Orwell's Animal Farm tells the story of barnyard animals that throw off the yoke of their human masters and learn to live together, taking only as much of the farm's output as they need. However, their peaceful arrangement is usurped by the power-hungry pig, Napoleon, who ousts the unspoken leader of the group, another pig named Snowball. Soon, Napoleon rules the barnyard with an iron fist, and the animals find they're worse off than they were under their human master.

The book is an analogy of the downward spiral of the Soviet model of Communism and, because of its scathing, political satire, has endured as a classic of the post-World War II era. To many readers, this condemnation of Communism leads them to assume Capitalism is the better solution. What Orwell intended is a topic better discussed in many a high school English paper. However, this common assumption was enough to convince John Reed to write a parody sequel of the book called Snowball's Chance. Reed uses an analogous style similar to Orwell's to tell the story of political events since Animal Farm's 1945 publication in an effort to show that even Capitalism isn't all it's cracked up to be.

At the beginning, Napoleon has died, allowing Snowball the opportunity to return and regain power. Through political connections, he soon converts the farm into a very successful, money-making amusement park called "Animal Farm." As the barnyard's population grows, so does the demand for electricity, which the lone windmill constructed years ago cannot sufficiently supply. So they build a second mill and dub them The Twin Mills. Still, they hunger for power, so they sue their way to a controlling interest in a nearby river to set up power generators. This means the long-standing beaver dams that block the water must be destroyed. Expelled from their land, the beavers instigate a violent resistance movement, offering suicidal recruits the promise of a wondrous afterlife, rewarded with 1,600 trees to chew. The climax details the attack of the buck-toothed jihadists on the Farm and its symbols of power, the towering Twin Mills.

Snowball's Chance brought criticism from the Orwell estate, as well as other Orwell scholars. However, no legal action was taken, most likely to avoid a Wind Done Gone-style commotion that would only boost the book's sales.

3. The Wind Done Gone

While Alice Randall didn't set out to write a parody novel of Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind, by the time her novel was published, that's exactly what she'd done – legally, anyway. Randall's controversial 2001 novel, The Wind Done Gone, was actually written as a "parallel novel," a book written from the perspective of characters that were otherwise peripheral or unseen in the original. Wind Done Gone tells the story of Scarlett, Rhett, and the rest of the characters in Gone with the Wind from the viewpoint of Cynara, a mixed-race slave who was not in the original novel. To help separate the two, Randall never specifically mentions any of the places or characters from Gone with the Wind, but instead has Cynara use nicknames (e.g., "Other" is Scarlett, "R" is Rhett). Furthermore, the book is not a jovial look at Civil War Reconstruction, but actually a fairly serious criticism of this romanticized period in American history.

Still, the Mitchell estate felt the book was too close for comfort and filed a copyright suit in 2001. After a highly publicized courtroom battle, a settlement was reached in 2002. Under the terms, publisher Houghton Mifflin made a donation to historically black college Morehouse and agreed to print a large disclaimer on the front cover saying that the book was an unauthorized parody, to ensure fans of the original novel did not misinterpret it as an official sequel.

4. Cold Comfort Farm

The great thing about parody is there's such a wide range of comedic styles possible. You have your low-brow jokes, like Legolam, but you'll also find very high-brow comedy, like that in the 1932 novel Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons.

Cold Comfort Farm gets its inspiration from a genre of English novels written primarily in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Known as "loam and lovechild" books, examples include Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and more obscure novels like The House in Dormer Forest by Mary Webb and Sussex Gorse by Sheila Kaye-Smith. These stories revolve around a young, usually outcast, woman who leaves the city to live with relatives in the pastoral countryside. There she meets melodramatic characters whose lives are more intertwined than any you'll find on a modern-day soap opera. Inevitably, the characters confront tragedy and heartbreak, but find solace in traditional values, leading to a spiritual reawakening and, through that, a happy ending.

Fed up with all the doom, gloom, and religion, Gibbons wrote her own version of a "loam and lovechild" by borrowing many of the common traits of the genre and turning them on their ear. Her young, female protagonist, Flora, is a Londoner that moves to the country home of relatives after the death of her parents. There she meets a myriad of eccentric characters, including her Aunt Ada Doom, the coddled matriarch of the farm, who stays secluded in the attic because of "something nasty in the woodshed" that she saw years ago. Flora begins helping her new friends and family find their own version of fulfillment, not by using traditional country values and religion, but by consulting The Higher Common Sense, a handbook of modern age concepts and sound advice.

Although it's based on books written over 100 years ago, it's not a requirement that a person read these sources to appreciate the comedy in Cold Comfort Farm In fact, Cold Comfort Farm has been adapted into stage plays, radio serials, and made-for-TV films more often than most other "loam and lovechild" books. In fact, the most famous film version was produced as recently as 1995, starring well-known actors like Kate Beckinsale (Underworld), Rufus Sewell (Dark City), Joanna Lumley (Absolutely Fabulous), Ian McKellan (Lord of the Rings), and Stephen Fry (Jeeves and Wooster).

Dis-Honorable Mention

This is, of course, only a small sampling of the novels out there that are poking fun at best-sellers. Here are a few more that might pique your interest:

5. Alice in Blunderland: An Iridescent Dream

Thanks to the political satire on nearly every page of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, it became a popular vehicle for other political parodists back in the early part of the 20th century. Aside from the 1907's Alice in Blunderland, there's also John Bull's Adventures in Fiscal Wonderland (1904), The Westminster Alice (1902), and Clara in Blunderland (1902).

6. Barry Trotter and the Unauthorized Parody (or, in the UK, the Shameless Parody)

This very popular 2001 spoof of Harry Potter has sold over 700,000 copies worldwide, spawning the follow-ups, Barry Trotter and the Unnecessary Sequel and Barry Trotter and the Dead Horse.

7. Nightlight: A Parody

The first Harvard Lampoon book since Bored of the Rings takes a bite out of the Twilight series. In the book, Belle Goose meets Edwart Mullen and his "reddish, blonde-brown hair that was groomed heterosexually." She suspects he might be a vampire because he doesn't eat his Tater Tots. (Can you blame her?)

8. The Da Vinci Cod: A Fishy Parody by "Don Brine"

A man is found dead inside a museum, a cod stuffed down his throat. Next to his body is scrawled the mysterious message, "The Chatholic Curch Had Me Murdered!" What can it mean? Only "anagrammatologist" Robert Donglan can solve The Da Vinci Cod. (His answer, by the way: "H! The CCC Come Hard, Hurdle a Colt.")

9. Star Warped

This parody novel retelling all six of the Star Wars films features chapters such as "Episode IV: A Nude Hope," "Episode I: The Fans-of-Tron Menace," and "Episode III: Revenge of the Return of the Son of Psmyth Rides Again: The Next Generation – The Early Years." It also has Yoda in lederhosen, yodeling tidbits of wisdom.

10. The Chronicles of Blarnia: The Lying Bitch in the Wardrobe

This is quite possibly the best title of any novel ever published, parody or otherwise.

Do you have a favorite parody novel that didn't make the list? Tell us about it in the comments below so we can add it to our reading list!

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
Animals
How Bats Protect Rare Books at This Portuguese Library
iStock
iStock

Visit the Joanina Library at the University of Coimbra in Portugal at night and you might think the building has a bat problem. It's true that common pipistrelle bats live there, occupying the space behind the bookshelves by day and swooping beneath the arched ceilings and in and out of windows once the sun goes down, but they're not a problem. As Smithsonian reports, the bats play a vital role in preserving the institution's manuscripts, so librarians are in no hurry to get rid of them.

The bats that live in the library don't damage the books and, because they're nocturnal, they usually don't bother the human guests. The much bigger danger to the collection is the insect population. Many bug species are known to gnaw on paper, which could be disastrous for the library's rare items that date from before the 19th century. The bats act as a natural form of pest control: At night, they feast on the insects that would otherwise feast on library books.

The Joanina Library is famous for being one of the most architecturally stunning libraries on earth. It was constructed before 1725, but when exactly the bats arrived is unknown. Librarians can say for sure they've been flapping around the halls since at least the 1800s.

Though bats have no reason to go after the materials, there is one threat they pose to the interior: falling feces. Librarians protect against this by covering their 18th-century tables with fabric made from animal skin at night and cleaning the floors of guano every morning.

[h/t Smithsonian]

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
arrow
Lists
12 Facts About James Joyce
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

June 16, 1904 is the day that James Joyce, the Irish author of Modernist masterpieces like Dubliners and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and who was described as “a curious mixture of sinister genius and uncertain talent,” set his seminal work, Ulysses. It also thought to be the day that he had his first date with his future wife, Nora Barnacle.

He was as mythical as the myths he used as the foundations for his own work. So in honor of that June day in 1904—known to fans worldwide as “Bloomsday,” after one of the book’s protagonists, Leopold Bloom—here are 12 facts about James Joyce.

1. HE WAS ONLY 9 WHEN HIS FIRST PIECE OF WRITING WAS PUBLISHED.

In 1891, shortly after he had to leave Clongowes Wood College when his father lost his job, 9-year-old Joyce wrote a poem called “Et Tu Healy?” It was published by his father John and distributed to friends; the elder Joyce thought so highly of it, he allegedly sent copies to the Pope.

No known complete copies of the poem exist, but the precocious student’s verse allegedly denounced a politician named Tim Healy for abandoning 19th century Irish nationalist politician Charles Stewart Parnell after a sex scandal. Fragments of the ending of the poem, later remembered by James’s brother Stanislaus, showed Parnell looking down on Irish politicians:

His quaint-perched aerie on the crags of Time
Where the rude din of this century
Can trouble him no more

While the poem was seemingly quaint, young Joyce equating Healy as Brutus and Parnell as Caesar marked the first time he’d use old archetypes in a modern context, much in the same way Ulysses is a unique retelling of The Odyssey.

As an adult, Joyce would publish his first book, a collection of poems called Chamber Music, in 1907. It was followed by Dubliners, a collection of short stories, in 1914, and the semi-autobiographical A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (in which Clongowes Wood College is prominently featured) in 1916.

2. HE CAUSED A CONTROVERSY AT HIS COLLEGE’S PAPER.

While attending University College Dublin, Joyce attempted to publish a negative review—titled “The Day of the Rabblement”—of a new local playhouse called the Irish Literary Theatre in the school’s paper, St. Stephen’s. Joyce’s condemnation of the theater’s “parochialism” was allegedly so scathing that the paper’s editors, after seeking consultation from one of the school’s priests, refused to print it.

Incensed about possible censorship, Joyce appealed to the school’s president, who sided with the editors—which prompted Joyce to put up his own money to publish 85 copies to be distributed across campus.

The pamphlet, published alongside a friend’s essay to beef up the page-count, came with the preface: “These two essays were commissioned by the editor of St. Stephen’s for that paper, but were subsequently refused insertion by the censor.” It wouldn’t be the last time Joyce would fight censorship.

3. NORA BARNACLE GHOSTED HIM FOR THEIR PLANNED FIRST DATE.

By the time Nora Barnacle and Joyce finally married in 1931, they had lived together for 27 years, traveled the continent and had two children. The couple first met in Dublin in 1904 when Joyce struck up a conversation with her near the hotel where Nora worked as a chambermaid. She initially mistook him for a Swedish sailor because of his blue eyes and the yachting cap he wore that day, and he charmed her so much that they set a date for June 14—but she didn’t show.

He then wrote her a letter, saying, “I looked for a long time at a head of reddish-brown hair and decided it was not yours. I went home quite dejected. I would like to make an appointment but it might not suit you. I hope you will be kind enough to make one with me—if you have not forgotten me!” This led to their first date, which supposedly took place on June 16, 1904.

She would continue to be his muse throughout their life together in both his published work (the character Molly Bloom in Ulysses is based on her) and their fruitful personal correspondence. Their notably dirty love letters to each other—featuring him saying their love-making reminded him of “a hog riding a sow” and signing off one by saying “Goodnight, my little farting Nora, my dirty littlef**kbird!"—have highlighted the NSFW nature of their relationship. In fact, one of Joyce’s signed erotic letters to Nora fetched a record £240,800 ($446,422) at a London auction in 2004.

4. HE HAD REALLY BAD EYES.

While Joyce’s persistent money problems caused him to lead a life of what could be categorized as creative discomfort, he had to deal with a near lifetime of medical discomfort as well. Joyce suffered from anterior uveitis, which led to a series of around 12 eye surgeries over his lifetime. (Due to the relatively unsophisticated state of ophthalmology at the time, and his decision not to listen to contemporary medical advice, scholars speculate that his iritis, glaucoma, and cataracts could have been caused by sarcoidosis, syphilis, tuberculosis, or any number of congenital problems.) His vision issues caused Joyce to wear an eye patch for years and forced him to do his writing on large white sheets of paper using only red crayon. The persistent eye struggles even inspired him to name his daughter Lucia, after St. Lucia, patron saint of the blind.

5. HE TAUGHT ENGLISH AT A BERLITZ LANGUAGE SCHOOL.

In 1904, Joyce—eager to get out of Ireland—responded to an ad for a teaching position in Europe. Evelyn Gilford, a job agent based in the British town of Market Rasen, Lincolnshire, notified Joyce that a job was reserved for him and, for two guineas, he would be told exactly where the position was. Joyce sent the money, and by the end of 1904, he and his future wife, Nora, had left Dublin for the job at a Berlitz language school in Zurich, Switzerland—but when they got there, the pair learned there was no open position. But they did hear a position was open at a Berlitz school in Trieste, Italy. The pair packed up and moved on to Italy only to find out they’d been swindled again.

Joyce eventually found a Berlitz teaching job in Pola in Austria-Hungary (now Pula, Croatia). English was one of 17 languages Joyce could speak; others included Arabic, Sanskrit, Greek, and Italian (which eventually became his preferred language, and one that he exclusively spoke at home with his family). He also loved playwright Henrik Ibsen so much that he learned Norwegian so that he could read Ibsen's works in their original form—and send the writer a fan letter in his native tongue.

6. HE INVESTED IN A MOVIE THEATER.

There are about 400 movie theaters in Ireland today, but they trace their history back to 1909, when Joyce helped open the Volta Cinematograph, which is considered “the first full-time, continuous, dedicated cinema” in Ireland.

More a money-making scheme than a product of a love of cinema, Joyce first got the idea when he was having trouble getting Dubliners published and noticed the abundance of cinemas while living in Trieste. When his sister, Eva, told him Ireland didn’t have any movie theaters, Joyce joined up with four Italian investors (he’d get 10 percent of the profits) to open up the Volta on Dublin’s Mary Street.

The venture fizzled as quickly as Joyce’s involvement. After not attracting audiences due to mostly showing only Italian and European movies unpopular with everyday Dubliners, Joyce cut his losses and pulled out of the venture after only seven months.

The cinema itself didn’t close until 1919, during the time Joyce was hard at work on Ulysses. (It reopened with a different name in 1921 and didn’t fully close until 1948.)

7. HE TURNED TO A COMPLETELY INEXPERIENCED PUBLISHER TO RELEASE HIS MOST WELL-KNOWN BOOK.

The publishing history of Ulysses is itself its own odyssey. Joyce began writing the work in 1914, and by 1918 he had begun serializing the novel in the American magazine Little Review with the help of poet Ezra Pound.

But by 1921, Little Review was in financial trouble. The published version of Episode 13 of Ulysses, “Nausicaa,” resulted in a costly obscenity lawsuit against its publishers, Margaret Anderson and Jane Heap, and the book was banned in the United States. Joyce appealed to different publishers for help—including Leonard and Virginia Woolf’s Hogarth Press—but none agreed to take on a project with such legal implications (and in Virginia Woolf’s case, length), no matter how supposedly groundbreaking it was.

Joyce, then based in Paris, made friends with Sylvia Beach, whose bookstore, Shakespeare and Company, was a gathering hub for the post-war expatriate creative community. In her autobiography, Beach wrote:

All hope of publication in the English-speaking countries, at least for a long time to come, was gone. And here in my little bookshop sat James Joyce, sighing deeply.

It occurred to me that something might be done, and I asked : “Would you let Shakespeare and Company have the honour of bringing out your Ulysses?”

He accepted my offer immediately and joyfully. I thought it rash of him to entrust his great Ulysses to such a funny little publisher. But he seemed delighted, and so was I. ... Undeterred by lack of capital, experience, and all the other requisites of a publisher, I went right ahead with Ulysses.

Beach planned a first edition of 1000 copies (with 100 signed by the author), while the book would continue to be banned in a number of countries throughout the 1920s and 1930s. Eventually it was allowed to be published in the United States in 1933 after the case United States v. One Book Called Ulysses deemed the book not obscene and allowed it in the United States.

8. ERNEST HEMINGWAY WAS HIS DRINKING BUDDY—AND SOMETIMES HIS BODYGUARD.

Ernest Hemingway—who was major champion of Ulysses—met Joyce at Shakespeare and Company, and was later a frequent companion among the bars of Paris with writers like Wyndham Lewis and Valery Larbaud.

Hemingway recalled the Irish writer would start to get into drunken fights and leave Hemingway to deal with the consequences. "Once, in one of those casual conversations you have when you're drinking," Hemingway said, "Joyce said to me he was afraid his writing was too suburban and that maybe he should get around a bit and see the world. He was afraid of some things, lightning and things, but a wonderful man. He was under great discipline—his wife, his work and his bad eyes. His wife was there and she said, yes, his work was too suburban--'Jim could do with a spot of that lion hunting.' We would go out to drink and Joyce would fall into a fight. He couldn't even see the man so he'd say, 'Deal with him, Hemingway! Deal with him!'"

9. HE MET ANOTHER MODERNIST TITAN—AND HAD A TERRIBLE TIME.

Marcel Proust’s gargantuan, seven-volume masterpiece, À la recherche du temps perdu, is perhaps the other most important Modernist work of the early 20th century besides Ulysses. In May 1922, the authors met at a party for composer Igor Stravinsky and ballet impresario Sergei Diaghilev in Paris. The Dubliners author arrived late, was drunk, and wasn’t wearing formal clothes because he was too poor to afford them. Proust arrived even later than Joyce, and though there are varying accounts of what was actually said between the two, every known version points to a very anticlimactic meeting of the minds.

According to author William Carlos Williams, Joyce said, “I’ve headaches every day. My eyes are terrible,” to which the ailing Proust replied, “My poor stomach. What am I going to do? It’s killing me. In fact, I must leave at once.”

Publisher Margaret Anderson claimed that Proust admitted, “I regret that I don’t know Mr. Joyce’s work,” while Joyce replied, “I have never read Mr. Proust.”

Art reviewer Arthur Power said both writers simply talked about liking truffles. Joyce later told painter Frank Budgen, “Our talk consisted solely of the word ‘No.’”

10. HE CREATED A 100-LETTER WORD TO DESCRIBE HIS FEAR OF THUNDER AND LIGHTNING.

Joyce had a childhood fear of thunder and lightning, which sprang from his Catholic governess’s pious warnings that such meteorological occurrences were actually God manifesting his anger at him. The fear haunted the writer all his life, though Joyce recognized the beginnings of his phobia. When asked by a friend why he was so afraid of rough weather, Joyce responded, “You were not brought up in Catholic Ireland.”

The fear also manifested itself in Joyce’s writing. In Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, the autobiographical protagonist Stephen Dedalus says he fears “dogs, horses, firearms, the sea, thunderstorms, [and] machinery.”

But the most fascinating manifestation of his astraphobia is in his stream of consciousness swan song, Finnegans Wake, where he created the 100-letter word Bababadalgharaghtaka-mminarronnkonnbronntonnerronntuonnthunntrovarrhounawnskawntoohoohoordenenthurnuk to represent a symbolic biblical thunderclap. The mouthful is actually made up of different words for “thunder” in French (tonnerre), Italian (tuono), Greek (bronte), and Japanese (kaminari).

11. HE’S THOUGHT OF AS A LITERARY GENIUS, BUT NOT EVERYONE WAS A FAN.

Fellow Modernist Virginia Woolf didn't much care for Joyce or his work. She compared his writing to "a queasy undergraduate scratching his pimples," and said that "one hopes he’ll grow out of it; but as Joyce is 40 this scarcely seems likely."

She wasn't the only one. In a letter, D.H. Lawrence—who wrote such classics as Women in Love and Lady Chatterley’s Loversaid of Joyce: “My God, what a clumsy olla putrida James Joyce is! Nothing but old fags and cabbage stumps of quotations from the Bible and the rest stewed in the juice of deliberate, journalistic dirty-mindedness.”

“Do I get much pleasure from this work? No," author H.G. Wells wrote in his review of Finnegans Wake. “ ... Who the hell is this Joyce who demands so many waking hours of the few thousand I have still to live for a proper appreciation of his quirks and fancies and flashes of rendering?”

Even his partner Nora had a difficult time with his work, saying after the publication of Ulysses, “Why don’t you write sensible books that people can understand?”

12. HIS SUPPOSED FINAL WORDS WERE AS ABSTRACT AS HIS WRITING.

Joyce was admitted to a Zurich hospital in January 1941 for a perforated duodenal ulcer, but slipped into a coma after surgery and died on January 13. His last words were befitting his notoriously difficult works—they're said to have been, "Does nobody understand?"

Additional Source: James Joyce

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios