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The Ascent of Rum Doodle by W. E. Bowman

The Ascent of Rum Doodle (original 1956; edition 2003)

by W. E. Bowman

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2981237,648 (3.72)10
Title:The Ascent of Rum Doodle
Authors:W. E. Bowman
Info:Isis Large Print Books (2003), Hardcover, 176 pages
Collections:Your library

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The Ascent of Rum Doodle by W. E. Bowman (1956)

  1. 10
    Annapurna by Maurice Herzog (Stbalbach)
    Stbalbach: Rum Doodle (novel; 1956) is a parody of Annapurna (1952)
  2. 00
    Hours of exercise in the Alps by John Tyndall (bertilak)

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not my kind of thing ( )
  ansate | Oct 26, 2014 |
A classic British comic novel about a shambolic Himalayan mountaineering expedition, - perhaps a forgotten classic. I didn't know it wasn't well-known until I read Bill Bryson's introduction. He compares it with Diary of a Nobody - the narrator is similarly incompetent, though perhaps marginally less pompous. (There's an awful lot happening, so less time to be so.) There's also a touch of Goonish / Pythonesque surrealism and a dash of Ealing charm. And quite a lot of comic repetition. The local sherpas may have been given silly names, but they have personalities just as strong as the Brits and are in many cases more competent. There are also various awkward goings on with their trade union, echoing British films of the era like It's All Right Jack. Knowing the kind of memoirs being parodied may make this funnier, but plenty of reviewers say they enjoyed this regardless of familiarity with climbing books or the sport itself.


I enjoyed this in much the same way as I enjoy old comedy films: sometimes laughing at it, sometimes laughing involuntarily (which is always a nice and strange experience) and sometimes laughing at the idea that people were supposed to find some things funny (which ends up coming across as horribly smug when I describe it but, it's also a kind of simultaneous empathy for past viewers whilst rolling my eyes at the over-seriousness of and quite understanding the views of modern critics of, for example, national stereotypes.) It made me think about 70s farces, though it's more innocent. There is a lot of repetition in the humour, which sometimes got tiresome but more often than not sparked unexpected, involuntary laughter.
Explaining humour - now that is like dancing about architecture.

Enjoyment was marred by having spent too much time on reader-review sites and frequently imagining whilst reading that they would be full of posts complaining about dated humour and implying terrible things about people who still liked it. It turned out that most of the reviewers, on Goodreads especially, rather liked Rum Doodle. I was also wrong in thinking that the book wouldn't be much fun unless you'd at least read a few mountaineering memoirs - it seems that people with no connection with climbing literature or the sport have enjoyed it.

Until reading Bill Bryson's introduction, I'd always shared his assumption that the book was a modern classic - but that's because it was a cult classic among mountaineers, and my parents were mountaineers in their youth. Whereas I was unfamiliar with Diary of a Nobody other than the mere title; Bryson's comparison made me read that, and what a find it was. I'd definitely re-read the Grossmith though not so readily this one.

Read 3-4 Dec 2013 ( )
  antonomasia | Dec 25, 2013 |
It is difficult to sustain parody through the length of a novel, even a short (171 pages) one such as The Ascent of Rum Doodle. Yet W. E. Bowman's subtle humor seldom palls and indeed the book grows funnier the further one reads.
The Ascent of Rum Doodle purports to be a report of a British mountain-climbing expedition, and the tone is perfect. Although it was published not long after the conquest of Everest by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, it is said to have been inspired by an earlier account of an expedition that took place in the 1930s, and indeed has more of the flavor of that earlier time. The account of the struggles of the climbers to learn the use of their radio sets, and their arguments about using oxygen, seem to belong more to the 30s than the 50s (and are extremely funny as well!)
It is not at all necessary to have climbed a mountain or taken part in any sort of expedition to chuckle frequently and occasionally laugh heartily at this book. Bill Bryson, one of the funniest writers working today, says in his Introduction to this edition that it is "one of the funniest books you will ever read," and I can't disagree. It's well deserving of a place in the Comedy category of the Guardian's 1000 Novels Everyone Must Read.
flag ( )
  auntieknickers | Jun 5, 2013 |
Boring and not funny. ( )
  jvgravy | May 2, 2013 |
A flawed masterpiece. Does for climbing what 'Three Men in a Boat' does for boating. ( )
  tonidew | Aug 9, 2011 |
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To George and Margot
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It is with pleasure as well as with a sense of privilege that I associate myself with this account of the climbing of the world's highest mountain.
I scribbled a message: 'Please tell me what to do.' I wrapped this around the neck of a champagne bottle, tied the line round it and lowered it into the crevasse. I gave them five minutes to reply and hauled up the line. The message read: 'Send down another bottle.'
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 071266808X, Paperback)

First published in 1956, The Ascent of Rum Doodle quickly became a mountaineering classic. As an outrageously funny spoof about the ascent of a peak in the Himalayas, many thought it was inspired by the 1953 conquest of Everest. But Bowman had drawn on the flavor and tone of earlier adventures, of Bill Tilman and his 1937 account of the Nandi Devi expedition. The book’s central and unforgettable character, Binder, is one of the finest creations in comic literature.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 17:58:07 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

A funny spoof about the ascent of a 40,000-and-a-half-foot peak. Many thought on first publication in 1956, that it was inspired by the conquest of Everest in 1953. Bowman had in fact drawn on the earlier adventures of Bill Tilman and his 1937 Nandi Devi expedition.… (more)

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