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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!

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12 Facts About Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness
George C. Beresford/Getty Images
George C. Beresford/Getty Images

Joseph Conrad’s 1899 novella about venturing into the moral depths of colonial Africa is among the most frequently analyzed literary works in college curricula.

1. ENGLISH WAS THE AUTHOR’S THIRD LANGUAGE.

It’s impressive enough that Conrad wrote a book that has stayed relevant for more than a century. This achievement seems all the more impressive when considering that he wrote it in English, his third language. Born Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski in 1857, Conrad was a native Polish speaker. French was his second language. He didn’t even know any English—the language of his literary composition—until age 21.

2. HEART OF DARKNESS BEGINS AND ENDS IN THE UK.

Though it recounts Marlow's voyage through Belgian Congo in search of Kurtz and is forever linked to the African continent, Conrad’s novella begins and ends in England. At the story’s conclusion, the “tranquil waterway” that “seemed to lead into the heart of an immense darkness” is none other than the River Thames.

3. THE PROTAGONIST MARLOW IS CONRAD.

The well-traveled Marlow—who appears in other Conrad works, such as Lord Jim—is based on his equally well-traveled creator. In 1890, 32-year-old Conrad sailed the Congo River while serving as second-in-command on a Belgian trading company steamboat. As a career seaman, Conrad explored not only the African continent but also ventured to places ranging from Australia to India to South America.

4. LIKE KURTZ AND MARLOW, CONRAD GOT SICK ON HIS VOYAGE.

Illness claimed Kurtz, an ivory trader who has gone mysteriously insane. It nearly claimed Marlow. And these two characters almost never existed, owing to their creator’s health troubles. Conrad came down with dysentery and malaria in Belgian Congo, and afterwards had to recuperate in the German Hospital, London, before heading to Geneva, Switzerland, to undergo hydrotherapy. Though he survived, Conrad suffered from poor health for many years afterward.

5. THERE HAVE BEEN MANY ALLEGED KURTZES IN REAL LIFE.

The identity of the person on whom Conrad based the story’s antagonist has aroused many a conjecture. Among those suggested as the real Kurtz include a French agent who died on board Conrad’s steamship, a Belgian colonial officer, and Welsh explorer Henry Morton Stanley.

6. COLONIZING WAS ALL THE RAGE WHEN HEART OF DARKNESS APPEARED.

Imperialism—now viewed as misguided, oppressive, and ruthless—was much in vogue when Conrad’s novella hit shelves. The "Scramble for Africa" had seen European powers stake their claims on the majority of the continent. Britain’s Queen Victoria was even portrayed as the colonies' "great white mother." And writing in The New Review in 1897, adventurer Charles de Thierry (who tried and failed to establish his own colony in New Zealand) echoed the imperialistic exuberance of many with his declaration: “Since the wise men saw the star in the East, Christianity has found no nobler expression.”

7. CHINUA ACHEBE WAS NOT A FAN OF THE BOOK.

Even though Conrad was no champion of colonialism, Chinua Achebe—the Nigerian author of Things Fall Apart and other novels—delivered a 1975 lecture called “An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness” that described Conrad as a “thoroughgoing racist” and his ubiquitous short classic as “an offensive and deplorable book.” However, even Achebe credited Conrad for having “condemned the evil of imperial exploitation.” And others have recognized Heart of Darkness as an indictment of the unfairness and barbarity of the colonial system.

8. THE BOOK WASN’T SUCH A BIG DEAL—AT FIRST.

In 1902, three years after its initial serialization in a magazine, Heart of Darkness appeared in a volume with two other Conrad stories. It received the least notice of the three. In fact, not even Conrad himself considered it a major work. And during his lifetime, the story “received no special attention either from readers or from Conrad himself,” writes Gene M. Moore in the introduction to Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness: A Casebook. But Heart of Darkness managed to ascend to immense prominence in the 1950s, after the planet had witnessed “the horror”—Kurtz's last words in the book—of WWII and the ramifications of influential men who so thoroughly indulged their basest instincts.

9. T.S. ELIOT BORROWED AN IMPORTANT LINE.

Though Heart of Darkness wasn’t an immediate sensation, it evidently was on the radar of some in the literary community. The famous line announcing the antagonist’s demise, “Mistah Kurtz—he dead,” serves as the epigraph to the 1925 T.S. Eliot poem “The Hollow Men.”

10. THE STORY INSPIRED APOCALYPSE NOW.

Eighty years after Conrad’s novella debuted, the Francis Ford Coppola film Apocalypse Now hit the big screen. Though heavily influenced by Heart of Darkness, the movie’s setting is not Belgian Congo, but the Vietnam War. And though the antagonist (played by Marlon Brando) is named Kurtz, this particular Kurtz is no ivory trader, but a U.S. military officer who has become mentally unhinged.

11. HEART OF DARKNESS HAS BEEN MADE INTO AN OPERA.

Tarik O'Regan’s Heart of Darkness, an opera in one act, opened in 2011. Premiering at London’s Royal Opera House, it was reportedly the first operatic adaptation of Conrad’s story and heavily inspired by Apocalypse Now.

12. THE BOOK ALSO SPARKED A VIDEO GAME.

In a development not even Conrad’s imagination could have produced, his classic inspired a video game, Spec Ops: The Line, which was released in 2012.

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Design
A Cartographer Is Mapping All of the UK’s National Parks, J.R.R. Tolkien-Style
Peak District National Park
Peak District National Park
Dan Bell

Cartographer Dan Bell makes national parks into fantasy lands. Bell, who lives near Lake District National Park in England, is currently on a mission to draw every national park in the UK in the style of the maps in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Kottke.org reports.

The project began in September 2017, when Bell posted his own hand-drawn version of a Middle Earth map online. He received such a positive response that he decided to apply the fantasy style to real world locations. He has completed 11 out of the UK’s 15 parks so far. Once he finishes, he hopes to tackle the U.S. National Park system, too. (He already has Yellowstone National Park down.)

Bell has done various other maps in the same style, including ones for London and Game of Thrones’s Westeros, and he commissions, in case you have your own special locale that could use the Tolkien treatment. Check out a few of his park maps below.

A close-up of a map for Peak District National Park
Peak District National Park in central England
Dan Bell

A black-and-white illustration of Cairngorms National Park in the style of a 'Lord of the Rings' map.
Cairngorms National Park in Scotland
Dan Bell

A black-and-white illustration of Lake District National Park in the style of a 'Lord of the Rings' map.
Lake District National Park in England
Dan Bell

You can buy prints of the maps here.

[h/t Kottke.org]

All images by Dan Bell

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