It’s a good time for hobbits. “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug,” the second film adaption (in a planned trilogy) of J. R. R. Tolkein’s enduring classic, OPENS NATIONWIDE NEXT Friday, online retailers are offering hobbit-feet socks and slippers, and the Harvard Lampoon has just published “The Wobbit,” a parody of the tale of Middle Earth.
In the Lampoon’s version, Billy Bagboy’s adventures send him deep into a Widdle Wearth that contains a forest named Gump, as well as the ever-mysterious Land of 1,000 Dances. A mash-up of medieval tropes and modern satire, the book takes particular aim at contemporary politics, business, and entertainment. Clever at times, puerile in spots — just what you’d expect from a humor magazine that calls itself the world’s oldest.
First published in 1876 by a group of Harvard undergraduates, the Lampoon is still very much a collegiate enterprise, produced by students in a whimsical (some say ridiculous) castle-like building on Mt. Auburn Street. But it’s increasingly well known beyond the 02138 ZIP Code for its fame as a kind of finishing school for comedy writers. Conan O’Brien honed his chops there, as did writers for “Saturday Night Live,” “The Simpsons,” and “The Office.”
The satiric magazines “National Lampoon” and “Spy” had roots at the castle, and “The Wobbit” isn’t its first literary parody (an earlier take on Tolkein, 1969’s “Bored of the Rings,” was reissued last year). But when it comes to literary talent with a little more gravitas, one wonders whether the Lampoon is past its prime.
After all, previous members included John Updike, George Trow, George Plimpton, Ian Frazier — all terrifically funny, but equally capable of emotional and intellectual profundity. To which one imagines a hobbit-like voice suggesting a trip down the Charles River (conveniently nestled between Jerkwood and Elijah Wood in the map of Widdle Wearth) to hear the authors read from “The Wobbit” at 7 p.m. on Thursday at the Harvard Coop.
Kate Tuttle, a writer and editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.