Gollancz Fantasy, h/b, £8.99
Reviewed by Carl Barker
Tolkien probably never got around to working out how to translate the phrase ‘blatantly had it coming’ into Elvish, back in the day. But if he had, it would surely have been put to good use by sci-fi author Adam Roberts in this hardback re-issue of his 2003 parody of The Hobbit.
The literary excesses of Tolkien’s often over-cluttered passages lend themselves well to humour of a sort, and from the very first pages, Roberts engages in a full-on rearrangement and refocusing of the original text into something more resembling a Marx Brothers movie. Character and place names are altered as a matter of course, forming a deluge of puns and one-liners, some more funny than others. In addition, Roberts puts footnotes to excellent use as a delivery system for his own distinct narrative voice alongside that of the story, thereby allowing him to poke yet more fun at Tolkien’s penchant for digressing into the detailed history and background of his universe.
Whilst all this slapstick humour and irreverence is initially fun, you can’t help but feel yourself craving something a little more substantial by the time you reach the halfway point of the book. Thankfully though, it as this point that Roberts’ story sensibly begins to deviate from the original book more and more, heading off in an entirely different direction for its perhaps slightly hurried conclusion.
Whilst not adverse to a little Pratchett or Fforde from time to time, I’m not what you might call a serious fan of fantasy humour and where I feel Roberts’ approach works perhaps less well than others’ is in his sometimes too light-hearted approach to the text. Though you may certainly enjoy reading The Soddit, you’ll never quite forget that you are at all times reading a parody, as opposed to losing yourself in something absorbing, which also happens to be funny.