Category Archives: parody

Parodies of other, more famous books.

Review 156: Dave Barry’s Complete Guide to Guys

Dave Barry’s Complete Guide to Guys by Dave Barry

If you’re reading this, and there’s a good chance that you are, you probably know a guy. You may even be a guy, though the way Barry talks about them, you wouldn’t think that guys would be into book reviews. If you know a guy, then this book is for you – it will illuminate some classic guy behaviors and shine some lights into the dark corners that your rational mind has been unable to penetrate. If you are a guy, then this book is also for you. Guys aren’t famous for their introspection, but perhaps it will allow you to understand why it is your wife and/or girlfriend get so frustrated with you from time to time (hint: it’s not her, it’s you).

This book is a tribute to guys (not men – those people have enough advocates as it is) and the ways in which they live. It’s like a documentary in print, really, giving us a rare glimpse into the lifestyle and habits of the modern guy.

So, what exactly is a guy, then? Well, you’re lucky – Barry has included a self-analysis quiz in the first chapter. For example:

As you grow older, what lost quality of your youthful life do you miss the most?
a. Innocence
b. Idealism
c. Cherry bombs

Complete this sentence: A funeral is a good time to…
a. … remember the deceased and console his loved ones
b. … reflect upon the fleeting transience of earthly life
c. … tell the joke about the guy who has Alzheimer’s disease and cancer.

What is the human race’s single greatest achievement?
a. Democracy
b. Religion
c. Remote control

I think you can guess which answers reveal your guyness.

Being a guy means more than just being a man, and in fact there is a very definite difference between men and guys. Men are people we of the male persuasion wish we could be – Superman, Edward R. Murrow, George Clooney. Guys are who most of us turn out to be – Homer Simpson, Bill O’Reilly, Tom Arnold. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with this. It’s just that as long as we assume that guys will act like men, we’re bound to be disappointed. Guys are terribly misunderstood in modern society despite the very important role they play.

Definitely a guy. (photo by John B. Carnett)

For example: without guys, we wouldn’t have a space program. Don’t believe it? What other type of person would deliberately design a rocket, watch it shoot up and then say, “I wonder if we can make a bigger one?” Guys, that’s who. The Saturn V is a tribute to guyness, as is the space shuttle – an endlessly tinkerable machine that almost never blows up.

Without guys, there would be no professional sports, to say nothing of the parasitic fan industry that has sprung up around sports like a remora. Guys have an undying and unyielding attachment to sports teams – you might see a guy leave his wife of twenty years and the children they raised together, but I’d be willing to bet that he would sooner die than switch his team allegiance from, say, Red Sox to Yankees. The unshakable, irrational dedication of these guys is what keeps modern sports afloat despite scandal and disappointment. Now I’m not a sports fan, I’ll admit, but I can certainly relate – I’ll support NASA until the last breath leaves my body, and no force on earth will ever get me to switch from DC Comics to Marvel, no matter how badly DC messes with the characters that I’ve always loved, the bastards.

I also don’t get to play a part in the endlessly frustrating relationship that exists between guys and women, seeing as how I’m, well, into guys. As a side note, The Boyfriend is also a guy, but less than I am – he cleans, for example. And I don’t mean that he cleans the way a real guy cleans – spray a little, wipe a bit and say, “Good enough.” He actually cleans. Like, every day. I know – weird, isn’t it?

Her: "I wonder what he's thinking about right now...?" Him: "Juuuuust sit right back and you'll hear a tale / a tale of a fateful ship..."

Women and guys will always frustrate each other, you see. Women love to read meaning into every nuance of conversation, every raised eyebrow or dropped word. Women want to know what the guy in their life is thinking. The answer is that he probably isn’t thinking. At least, not about what she would want him to think about – her and the relationship they share. In fact, as Barry takes pains to point out, he may not, technically, be aware that he’s in a relationship at all. You ladies have a lot of work to do if you’re hooked up with a guy.

But before you go thinking that the life of a guy is sweet ignorant bliss, think again. You ladies will never know the pain of the Urinal Dilemma, or the feeling of knowing that, no matter how hard you try, you’ll never be able to fix anything in your own home – your wife will have to call a man (probably named Steve) for that. Guys’ minds aren’t terribly complex, but they do run on certain rules. Know these, and your relationship with the guy in your life will go much more smoothly.

It is true that the man/woman divide is an old one, and it’s a place that nearly every comedian has gone to once or twice. Or three times. Or they’ve just staked a claim right there on the joke and built an entire career out of it. But here, Barry isn’t so much talking about the difference between men and women as much as he’s talking about men and guys, which is a fascinating idea.

He's just so disappointed in you...

As I said before, those of us with XY chromosomes and little dangly bits generally want to be Men (with the exception, of course, of those who don’t), and what’s more are expected to be Men. We’re told as youths to “be a man” or be the man of the house. Our role models are Men, our cultural icons are Men. Even in our commercials, we have the Old Spice Man and the Most Interesting Man in the World.

But most of us are fated to be Guys. And deep down, we know that we’ve somehow missed the mark.

Fortunately, we don’t do introspection really well, so it doesn’t bother us all that much.

This is really one of Barry’s classics, a book that everyone can easily enjoy. Whether you are a guy or just know a guy, there are laughs to be had here.

—————————————————-
“To understand guys, it’s essential to remember that, deep down inside, they are biological creature, like jellyfish or trees, only less likely to clean the bathroom.”
– Dave Barry, Dave Barry’s Complete Guide to Guys
—————————————————-

Dave Barry on Wikipedia
Dave Barry’s website
Dave Barry’s Complete Guide to Guys on Amazon.com

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under Dave Barry, gender, gender roles, humor, jokes, parody, society

Review 41: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies


Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith

Full disclosure: I have never read Pride and Prejudice. It’s one of those novels that you’re really supposed to read, and maybe I did read it back in high school English class, but if I did, my brain has scabbed it over. It’s a book that, for reasons which I don’t understand, is adored around the world.

The original book (according to Wikipedia and what I gleaned from reading this) is a tale of the Troubles of Rich People. It’s a novel of manners, in which the conflict centers entirely around the personalities of the people involved. The protagonist, Elizabeth Bennet, is one of five daughters born to a house of moderate means. Since they’re growing up in a patriarchal society, the only way for them to be at all successful in their lives is to get married – especially so that they might have some chance of inheriting part of their father’s estate someday. Their father seems to resent that they were all born girls, and really wants nothing to do with the family at all. Their mother has but one wish, and that’s to see her daughters all get married.

So when a handsome young man – Charles Bingley – moves into the neighborhood, the Bennet household is all a-flutter over the hopes that he might pick one of their girls to make into an honest woman. Unfortunately he brings his friend with him, Fitzwilliam Darcy, who is immediately unlikable, especially to headstrong and opinionated young Elizabeth.

I don’t know if it was Austen who gave birth to this trope in fiction, but we all know what’s going to happen when two characters are introduced that hate each other from the start.

The story goes on, propelled forward by the ever-evolving relationship between Darcy, whose brusque and unmannered exterior hides a deep and compassionate soul, and Elizabeth, whose independent and free-thinking nature is reined in by the discovery that what she assumes to be true very seldom is. It’s a book about relationships and about passions, about manners and status and about 300 pages too long for me to deal with.

I like to think that I’m a cultured, intelligent person, but there’s only so much I can take of this kind of thing. I find it really hard to care about people I have so little in common with – I have no property to protect, I don’t really care about social class or about artificially inflated systems of manner. I don’t come from a family that is concerned with marriage or status, and so I don’t identify with the characters. In works of this nature the world is alien to me. I can’t relate to the story and, more importantly, I don’t want to relate to the story. I hope that I have better things to do with my life than worry about who has fallen in love with whom and who is hiding dark secrets from their past.

And so, the addition of zombies to the tale is just fine with me.

According to the co-author, Seth Grahame-Smith:

“You have this fiercely independent heroine, you have this dashing heroic gentleman, you have a militia camped out for seemingly no reason whatsoever nearby, and people are always walking here and there and taking carriage rides here and there. It was just ripe for gore and senseless violence. From my perspective anyway.” 

Smith saw a great opportunity, which I’m sure many other people will follow. Since Pride and Prejudice is a book in the public domain, anyone can do whatever they want to it without having to worry about copyright laws. If you want to make a movie or a play or a comic book or a porno movie out of it, you’re free to do so. Smith saw a chance to create, for lack of a better term, a literary mash-up, bringing two types of story together into something completely new.

Now, the Bennet daughters are five of the fiercest fighters in England, devoted to holding back the zombie menace that has gripped the country for five and fifty years. Trained by the greatest Chinese masters in all the killing arts, the Bennet Sisters are famous for their merciless dealings with the unmentionables that roam the countryside, looking for fresh brains to sate their unnatural hunger. Elizabeth Bennet not only has an independent and free-thinking nature, but she’s also not above killing ninjas, ripping out their hearts and eating them.

The combination of the two styles – the regency romance and the ultra-violent zombie mayhem – works rather well. Smith has done a fine job in not just shoehorning the zombies into Austen’s tale, but making sure that the new version of the story is internally consistent. The zombies are a real and present force in this story, waylaying people on the road, occasionally delaying messages and causing very dramatic misunderstandings. And in this new and deadly environment, the dance of misunderstandings between Darcy and Elizabeth goes on, eventually – of course – ending up in the union of two of the greatest zombie hunters in England.

The best part, by the way, is the Readers’ Discussion Guide in the back. In case you want to read this with your book club, the authors have included some ideas for discussion, such as “Does Mrs. Bennet have a single redeeming quality?” and “Some scholars believe that the zombies were a last-minute addition to the novel, requested by the publisher in a shameless attempt to boost sales. Others argue that the hordes of living dead are integral to Jane Austen’s plot and social commentary. What do you think? Can you imagine what this novel might be like without the violent zombie mayhem?” It’s a very nice touch, I have to admit.

With some fantastically period illustrations of zombies, brain-eating and ninja-baiting (as well as a rather odd one of the Bennet sisters’ favorite game, “Kiss Me Deer”), the book is kind of surreal, and I reckon it is one that will entertain a good number of readers, though certainly not all of them. For me, I found that the altered parts of the text – the zombies and the occasional ninja – were the most fun part. The characterization of the Bennet sisters as hardened warriors occasionally given over to fripperies was strange, but entertaining, especially since Graham-Smith made sure to keep the characters consistent. Elizabeth’s thoughts and actions are primarily dictated by her Shaolin training, and many of her decisions are rooted in a deep sense of a warrior’s honor, rather than a society girl’s manners.

Furthermore, this strange new England was well made. It’s a place where the zombies were a threat, but after fifty-five years, they’ve been downgraded to more of a dangerous annoyance. Kind of like FOX News. The zombies are a seasonal menace, less prevalent in the winter when the ground is hard, but like cicadas they burrow out of the ground in the spring to menace travelers and (unlike most cicadas) eat their brains.

The problem for me wasn’t so much the zombies part of the book as it was the Pride and Prejudice part. As I said above, I don’t really identify with what the characters care about, and once they got off the topic of the zombie menace, my eyes started to glaze over a little. Fortunately I knew that there would be another bit of mayhem on the way to perk me back up.

It made me think, though – there must be something that I’m missing. Not only has the book been around and popular for two centuries, but it’s beloved enough that even a drastic modification of it would draw in readers. P&P&Z was a bestseller on the New York Times list and the mere announcement of its existence sent the blog world into an utter fangasm. The addition of zombies to an otherwise beloved tale was met with open arms, a sign that Pride and Prejudice held an honored place in the literary heart of the world. So if I don’t get it, then there must be something wrong with me…. Ah, well. As I said of War and Peace, I’m not in this game to score points. So don’t expect me to try and slog through the original just to see if it holds up to the zombified version.

The big question, of course, is What’s Next? There are so many pieces of classic literature out there, all in the public domain and all just ripe for this kind of treatment. Tom Sawyer and the Wizards of the Mississippi? The Shape-Shifting Alien of Monte Cristo? Anne of Green Gables and the Robot Hordes from the Future? Mark my words, this book is only the beginning….

—————————————————
“No ninjas! How was that possible? Five daughters brought up at home without any ninjas! I never heard of such a thing. Your mother must have been quite a slave to your safety.”
– Lady Catherine, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
—————————————————

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies at Wikipedia
Seth Grahame-Smith at Wikipedia
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies at Amazon.com

3 Comments

Filed under classics, horror, Jane Austen, parody, romance, Seth Grahame-Smith, zombies

Review 32: Bored of the Rings


Bored of the Rings by Harvard Lampoon

In a small corner of the world, tucked away from the great nations, there lives an isolated community full of colorful, down-to-earth people. One of those, considered a hero by some and an oddball by others, is getting ready to face the greatest challenge of his life – delivering a Ring of Power into the fires that made it, thereby saving not only his soul, but the world along with it.

Yes, you know the story. Just not like this.

The young Frito Bugger, a Boggie of the Sty and nephew to the famed Dildo Bugger, has been tapped by Goodgulf the Magician to return the Ring of Power to the Zazu Pits in the center of the deadly kingdom of Fordor. It is only then that Sorhed, maker of the Ring and the greatest threat to Lower Middle Earth, can be defeated.

The first time I read this book, I nearly soiled myself laughing. And I wasn’t even a real fan of the originals at this point, either. I knew enough, though, to see how well the venerable trilogy was being skewered, and I loved every minute of it. Since then, I’ve read this book more times than I’ve read Lord of the Rings. Partly because it’s much funnier, but mostly because this volume only clocks in at 150 pages.

As with all comedy, repetition kind of diminishes the effect, but there are still laughs to be had. Just from the beginning, when Dildo Bugger throws a party for the gluttonous freeloaders of the Sty, and then foists his Magic Ring off on his hapless nephew Frito, you know things can only go wacky.

Much like in the original, this Fellowship travels across a land fraught with peril, and despite the funny names, their journey is recognizable to anyone who knows the story. The folks at Harvard Lampoon did a brilliant job here, warping the characters of the original story (with the utmost love and respect, of course, for the money they’re making from sales of the book) into funhouse mirror-images.

Thus brave Aragorn, son of Arathorn becomes Arrowroot, son of Arrowshirt, wielder of Krona, Conqueror of Dozens, whose foolproof strategy for dealing with overwhelming odds is to play dead. Or wise and resourceful Gandalf becomes Goodgulf, the shifty con artist and 32nd degree Mason who is all too willing to let the Shadow win if it means he can escape with his hide and the majority of someone else’s gold. Legolas and Gimli become Legolam and Gimlet, sniping at each other with the kind of accuracy we could have only wished for in the films, and Merry and Pippin twist into Moxie and Pepsi, the blundering brothers who wish they were dead. And so does everybody else.

What really differentiates this book from a lot of other parody books is that the Harvard Lampoon writers have allowed these warped characters to evolve in their own right. Instead of forcing them along the path of the original story, the writers have broadened the guidelines a bit. We see new relationships evolve, and old ones twist into new shapes. Some parts of the story vanish entirely, while others take on whole new significance.

In other words, if you’re looking for a one-to-one event correlation with the original books, you’ll be disappointed. But the major events and characters are all there. A lot of the themes have been inverted, of course, for comic effect. The great friendship and loyalty that defined the original Fellowship are sorely lacking in this volume, but they were never meant to be there in the first place. Probably the reason I found it so funny was that the twisted versions of these characters resemble a lot of my attitude towards them when I first read Lord of the Rings – Merry and Pippin as an obnoxious pair of bumblers, Gandalf as a manipulative old coot, Boromir as utterly disposable and, of course, Tom Bombadil as, well, himself.

I never could stand Bombadil in the original books, but Tom Benzedrino? Him I could read over and over again without hesitation….

As I think about this, I wonder how many people read this and actually got offended. People talk about LotR and J.R.R. Tolkien as though they are perfect in every form, untouchable and Not To Be Criticized. I remember watching the DVD special features, and the son of Tolkein’s editor said, “You simply did not edit Tolkien.” That kind of reverence must certainly feel good for a writer, but it doesn’t produce good writing. Every writer, whether it’s Tolkien or Rowling or King or anyone else who’s really made it big, needs people willing to take them down a peg.

Look at the Harry Potter books for example. When they were relatively unknown, they were slim, tight little volumes that moved at a good pace and could be devoured on a long bus ride. As soon as Rowling made it big, however, they became massive tomes that required ten minutes of warm-up time just to pick up, and an occasional shot of caffeine to get through. Don’t get me wrong – I like Harry Potter. I like it more than I like Lord of the Rings, in fact. I just don’t think that fame or literary pretensions should make an author exempt from vicious editing. Or vicious parody.

A book like Bored of the Rings is not a criticism of the story, or of the dream that Tolkien had – it’s a vindication of it. It’s a testament to the book’s strength that it can be ripped apart with such wild abandon, yet still maintain its popularity. Every author should be so lucky as to have a book like this written in their honor.

So just sit back and enjoy it. Whether you’ve read the books or just seen the movies, as long as you’re not one of those who worship at the altar of the Unassailable Tolkien, you should be able to get a lot of good laughs out of this.

————————————————
“Observing this near impossible escape from certain death, Frito wondered how much longer the authors were going to get away with such tripe. He wasn’t the only one.”
– from Bored of the Rings
————————————————

Bored of the Rings on Wikipedia
Harvard Lampoon on Wikipedia
Bored of the Rings on Amazon.com

2 Comments

Filed under fantasy, Harvard Lampoon, humor, Lord of the Rings, parody