British Empire Books

The Ascent of Rum Doodle

AuthorW. E. Bowman
First Published1956

This is a delightfully funny book. It is a parody of a British mountaineering expedition to conquer the world's highest peak - at 40,000 and a half feet! It was originally published shortly after Mount Everest had itself been climbed - although the book is set more in the era of the 1930s amateur expeditions. Either way, it is a worthy parody of mountaineering and of British imperial adventures in general:

"It was surely all up with us now. I was suddenly seized with an overwhelming sense of pathos of it all. We, who had set off so confidently, who had worked so hard and come so far; we who were our country's hope and a world's heroes; we were to perish miserably in this stern country, far from home and dear ones.

It was so sad that I could not hold back the tears. The tears froze immediately and I found myself stuck to the glacier by two icicles and in an even worse state than before."

The heroes (if they can be called that) are caricatures that many imperialists and mountaineers would recognise instantly - as would be the reliance that the team has to place on the local knowledge of the yogistani porters and bearers. Of course, the expertise of the team even within their own spheres leaves a lot to be desired. One thing that they do all have in common is their fear and loathing for their indefatigable cook. They will go to extraordinary lengths to avoid eating his meals - but he will return the compliment by going to extraordinary lengths to ensure that he cooks for as many of them as frequently as possible. The results lead to some of the funniest sections of the book.

There are not many comedies set in The British Empire (although there are some). However, this one really gets the balance just right. It blends together the ripping yarn attitude of public school amateurism, delusional self-confidence, condescending nature towards the locals and the kind of camaraderie that might just pull the whole thing together.

Of course, Britain has had a long history of glorious and heroic failures in mountaineering and antarctic expeditions. It is clear that inspiration came from Mallory, Scott and Shackleton - combined with the Boy's Own Derring-do writing style of G. A. Henty. The final result is a masterpiece of comic writing.

Buy this book at: Amazon or at Abebooks

Armed Forces | Art and Culture | Articles | Biographies | Colonies | Discussion | Glossary | Home | Library | Links | Map Room | Sources and Media | Science and Technology | Search | Student Zone | Timelines | TV & Film | Wargames

by Stephen Luscombe