After watching National Lampoon: Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead, I began reminiscing about way-back-when and my original reading of Bored of the Rings. National Lampoon, prurient and juvenile as it was, also used satire to attack the culture and politics of its time. I wondered if the teen-aged me had actually missed out on some of the more meaningful humor hidden behind the book’s wordplay. I looked up the title on Amazon and, lo and behold, it had been reprinted* and re-released. Curiouser and curiouser, I read the “look inside” portion of the Amazon pitch, where they preview the original “Forward” and the Prologue, “Concerning Boggies.” I found myself laughing so hard I went and ordered a new (hard) copy of the book.
As I waited for it to be delivered, I read some of the on-line reviews. One reviewer lamented that, when he was twelve, this was riotously funny. Re-reading as an adult, he was disappointed as he no longer shared his own twelve-year-old self’s sense of humor. Twinged with buyer’s remorse, I nevertheless looked forward to the arrival of my copy. Old me, after all, did find that Prologue just as funny as young me.
Perhaps I’ve not matured much over the decades because, the book now in hand, I’m laughing myself to sleep every night. The only exception I’ve found so far is the new, 2012, Forward (or “Boreword”) written as if a modern-day Frito Bugger is giving a “where are they now” update on the original story. I don’t know if Henry Beard’s 67-year-old self doesn’t have the sense of humor as his early-twenties self, or if he needs the cooperation of Doug Kenney to work the magic. Probably some of both. It isn’t really that funny.
Past that, the actual story is as funny as I remember it. What I don’t see is any “deeper level” to the humor than what I would have picked up as a teenager. Its just silly wordplay and somewhat raunchy imagery. The new edition is augmented with footnotes annotating obscure (to many of today’s readers) references from the 1960s. Some of these are helpful even to old-man-me in that there were terms that I probably should have recognized (Orlon, Dupont’s trademarked name for acrylic clothing fibers, here used in place of Elrond), but didn’t.
I also remember the sense, in my youth, that they pushed the joke about as far as it could go and then some. The source material is a long, long set of books. Bored of the Rings is on the short side by any measure. Even still, the sense of humor does start to get a little repetitive a few chapters in. Tom Bombadil was a tough chapter in the original. Converting it to a chapter of bad poetry on drug abuse just isn’t as funny as it might have been in 1968 or 1969.
Fifty years is a long time. It’s held up better than it had a right to.
*It seems primarily intended to be released as an e-book version. Likely the opportunity of a new print run was sniffed out by Amazon’s AIs.