Free Selections from Spoofs of The Hobbit
Valerie Estelle Frankel
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What’s the only thing better than parodies? Free parodies! Along with plenty of commentary on pop culture (usually serious, unfortunately) I’m the author of roughly four parodies (sorry about the confusion on the count, but I parodied Harry Potter Book 1, then book 7, then 2–6 — published separately and also in the Harry Potter Special Edition as they’re quite short so it’s somewhat messy). Following this came my parody of the first Hobbit movie — much more straightforward, though to this day there’s no part 2. I’m also including the first chapter of An Unexpected Parody, along with its painful four prologues.
An Unexpected Parody: The Unauthorized Spoof of The Hobbit
Prologue the First: Fandom Rising
It began with the writing of the great book. In the Beginning, the Dawn of Time, round about 1936, the Great Creator set about to make a marvelous work that would last throughout all the generations. And lo! He wrote a children’s novel and it was beloved. Twenty years passed. And the seeds of his planting grew into a mighty trilogy.
Three books were given to the Fans, with many appendices to boot, and from them sprang a mighty genre. Bookstore shelves sagged with the weight of many fantasy series and brave heroes toiled to the ends of the earth and beyond seeking signed first editions. Then the Trekkies came. And lo! Their society lasted long and prospered. The great franchises followed on: the might of the Force rose, and begat a cult of followers in hooded robes. And the two tribes mingled and begat a race of Monty-Python-quoting, sneaker-wearing folk who spent their days designing humorous t-shirt slogans. They loathed the fresh air and hid from the sun in their parents’ basements where the big screen was anyway. United they built a mighty empire and named themselves the Geeks. Their realm thrived. Throve? Thrived. The wise among them gathered to meet in cities across the earth, and held mighty debates and sometimes swapmeets.
Many years passed.
Decades later, during the Second Rising of the Force, the Boy Wizard rose up. Marked by a lightning scar and wise in an odd tongue of Latin, Greek, and random additions of Hawaiian, he taught his followers to spend their gold freely, and consumerism swelled under his reign. With him came the midnight releases, and wide-eyed children, cranky from the late hour, uttered the sacred words “Have you read my fanfic?” and thus were converted. Their conferences swelled with screaming fangirls, and many other heroes followed, riding dragons and Greek-speaking pegasi and magical polar bears. Mighty temples of glory soared into the heavens, with amusement park rides, lunchboxes, and trading cards.
But the doom of men is their greed, and movie producers have it worst of all. In their dark halls, deep in the heart of Hollywood, they schemed. For, they reasoned, if a trilogy could control the world, how much more might seven movies, or eight, or nine!
Eight films were offered to the Boy Wizard, and many of his followers lost their way through the tangle and were cast aside. Three additional films were given to the followers of the Force, and lo! they were a letdown. Then another film franchise came, and it was not good, for as fans protesteth, vampires are not meant to sparkle. Then the power of the Force was given to the King of Mice, and many fans did tremble with sorrow. One by one, the free lands fell into despair.
But then a light shined anon from the skinny isle of New Zealand, and the halflings strode forth, in twelve hours of Extended Edition glory, yea, even with bonus features and cast interviews. The saga was quoted on every screen and the seedling of a series, long sacred to the Geeks but unknown to many others, ascended into the gloried halls of pop culture. Elves crowded the renaissance fairs and joy was heard throughout the land.
But the hearts of Men are easily corrupted. Another franchise had grown too powerful, too rich. A further duology was proposed and deep in the dark heart of Hollywood, it began to form. But they were all of them deceived.
It swelled into a trilogy and nine hours were given unto the Geeks, to say nothing of the DVD extras. The halflings’ town in New Zealand was rebuilt, sturdier than before, so the creators might make of it a theme park, and the sheep were driven off. And the Geeks were divided: some clutched the new offering as a treasure and vowed to give it all their devotion as they had its parents, even to the buying of Denny’s meals to get the trading cards. And other Geeks spoke against the first of the films and complained that the rock giants and hedgehogs did not delight them–for it was that they stopped the movie dead.
And thus the fandom was sundered. Among the unsatisfied was a smaller tribe called the Nitpickers, and they were the most dismayed. For, they reasoned, no great creator had the right to fashion rabbit-sledges and elf salads, which were a perversion of the Great Source of All. And thus the sundered fandom did battle in the land of Cyberspace, with the Nitpickers the loudest combatants, for they knew their cause was just.
This is a book for all of them.
Prologue the Second: Bumble and Fumble Tell All
“My dear Fumble, it’s time I told you a story,” Bumble Baglunch said. He was seated by a roaring fire deep in his halfling hole which had the dual purpose of warming his outstretched furry toes and burning the last of his yellowed trading cards.
His young nephew Fumble Baglunch bounced on his rocking troll. “Ooh, ooh, I wanna hear about Aladdin!” The two were halflings, about which more will be revealed soon enough, so let it suffice to say that both were no taller than three feet, and were dressed in tacky red and green like Christmas elves, from their waistcoats to their pantaloons, as halflings need no shoes on their furry feet, though they get very annoyed when someone smashes a glass. Both halflings were hanging out on the set of the other trilogy, waiting for the new story to start.
“No, Fumble, not that kind of story. This one is important because it is true.” Bumble hesitated. “Mostly.”
“Oh.” Fumble’s face fell. “Can we do this later? I have homework.”
“No. Now sit.” Fumble did, loudly crunching on a bag of Halfling Chow. Bumble gazed up above Fumble’s head toward the movie audience. “Did you go to the bathroom yet? You probably should. We’re gonna be here a while.”
After an embarrassing interval, he began. “Once, in a land so rural not even a halfling would want to visit it, stood the Kingdom of Ared’dôr, so named for the tall gray doors, for you see the dwarves were colorblind. Their wealth was not in fabric dying (and lucky for them!) but instead in the treasure of the earth: gems, gold, and fossil fuels. Thristathiklethorrth, He Whose Name Makes the Tongue Twist, was their king, and Torn, his grandson, bore the title Hot Prince of the Dwarves, though his heart was ever divided between his duty to his people and an acting career.
“The dwarves grew wealthy selling barrels of oil to greedy, polluted countries at a high markup, and were known far and wide for their snap-on charm bracelets. Great towers were built and strip malls opened and their kingdom prospered. They treated with the elves and sold them a full brass band of instruments, all of them finely crafted. But the elves discovered that tubas made them sound foolish and the dwarves refused to give them even a base refund. The dwarves built ever larger SUV’s and drove them even to the supermarket just across the street, regardless of consequences to the ever-browning air. They turned the thermostat way up and threw away towers of Styrofoam and plastic bags each day. Still, the dwarves flourished and grew ever richer under the mountain.
“All this is what brought their great doom.”
“They ran from a dragon puppet?”
“Then why are you waving it about?”
“I’m using puppetry to enhance my story. It’s an ancient and noble art.”
“Some of the popsicle sticks are still gummy!”
“Nonetheless. May I resume my tale?”
Fumble made a rude noise. “I’m not stopping you.”
“The pines on the mountain exploded into kindling, and only a few forward-thinking dwarves gathered up the splinters for an alternate fuel source. The dragon known in the old tongue as Erpolushun, or in the common tongue, Smog, had arrived from the wintery north where men huddled in their snowbound huts and spoke Old German. With his terrible breath, like old sauerbraten and burned schnitzel, he flamed the city of Snail, curled helplessly below the Lame Old Mountain. The dwarves blew their tubas with all their might, but this only enraged the creature further and blocked roads with landslides. He laid waste the town and turned toward the Lame Old Mountain, for he knew the dwarves were hoarding the fossil fuels. These the dragon craved above all, for they offered a pleasant laxative effect.
“As he strode into the towering halls–”
“Wait, why do little dwarves need incredibly high ceilings like that?”
“Because the hiho song sounds best with an echo.”
“As I was saying, he strode into the dwarves’ fair halls, and breathed his ferocious breath upon the folk who dwelt there. The stink of sauerbraten, delivered at about 800 Celsius, was too much, and many dwarves melted on the spot. Only smoking boots remained, as is traditional on these occasions. The dwarves fled, for they knew that their strip malls and SUV’s were lost.
“Run! Run for your lives!” Prince Torn cried. Around him, dwarf men and even the dwarf women, usually too ugly to be seen in daylight, were racing to safety. “Look!” one cried. “It’s Director Jack Peterson, and he’s running too. Even he knows we cannot survive!” And all of them wept with despair.
“The elves looked down from the hillside, where their king was riding a moose who looked so embarrassed to be ridden by stately elves that there was, frankly, nothing to parody.
“‘Help us!’ Torn cried. ‘Help us,’ cried the Hot Prince of the Dwarves a second time and a third. He considered a fourth, but decided the heck with that–he had some pride left. But the elves were offended by the tuba incident and by the SUV pollution the dwarves had been churning up. The elves turned their backs (and one moose butt) and rode away.
“The young dwarf prince found work where he could, as a ditch digger and street sweeper, then after he was discovered, in a dwarf cabaret. But he never forgave, especially for the pink sequined tights. Was he the destined hero chosen by fate to reclaim his lands one day? The odds looked slim.
“Of course, years later, fate decided I would take part in their adventure…”
“Fate? Isn’t that just what lazy writers use to pave over plotholes?”
Bumble flung a dishtowel at his errant nephew, who was already halfway to the round door of their shared burrow.
“Great story, Uncle Bumble,” Fumble called.
“Wait, aren’t you gonna stay and be in the movie?”
“Thanks, no. I think I’ll go find a better one.” And Fumble was gone.
The readers squirmed with discontent. Thicker and faster the prologues kept pouring over them, like sludgy custard on the fires of their enthusiasm, delaying the moments before the story might actually commence.
Had the original book begun with the plot? Well, that seemed a silly, old-fashioned contrivance, the author reasoned. Surely more prologues were better. Think how delighted fans would be when to their amazement, something actually happened! And when one got a chilly reception, it could, of course, be split with a dwarf battle axe and thrown on the fire. Thus, the prologues, like a road, went ever on.
Prologue the Third (Really? Third? Honestly?): Gonedaft the Grizzled
It was a bad time to be a wizard. No one seemed to need advice anymore. Gonedaft the Grizzled, Wizard Extraordinaire, sat back in the dwarf pub, allowing the thud of hurling axes and the horrid jangle of dwarf folk music to wash over him. Overhead, someone was swinging off the chandelier, hobnailed boots turning the taller windows into occasional bursts of glass. Iron helmets were hurtling through the air, often with the heads inside. Gonedaft sighed. Even the cultural ambiance failed to excite him.
Upon noting that the bartender in front of him was
A. Missing any law enforcement badges and
B. Holding out a drink
Gonedaft acknowledged with a nod that Gonedaft might just well be him.
“He sent it over.”
Gonedaft turned to spy a dwarf sitting at the next table over, who gave him a hopeful nod. As Gonedaft glanced over the pink spangled tights and dwarf-forged ballet slippers, he reflected that he might be the wrong pronoun in this case. Although, on reflection, the dwarf seemed too good looking to be female. Though Gonedaft had fervently been hoping to the contrary, the dwarf came and joined him for a spell. So to speak. “Gonedaft the wizard?”
“I don’t know what you’ve heard–”
“I am Torn, King who would be under the mountain if he had any choice about it.” Torn stood up on his chair, and his voice grew deep and soulful. “You see, once, in a land so rural not even a halfling would want to visit it, stood the kingdom of Ared’dôr–”
“Stop right there, I just read the prologue.” Gonedaft eyed him. “Dwarf cabaret? Really?”
“It pays the bills.” Torn took off his tiny lavender tutu and blew his nose on it absently. “I had thought to settle down peacefully with my people. However, after being reminded what dwarf women look like, I realized I should attempt the quest and reclaim my homeland.”
Gonedaft sat back in his chair. “Let me get this straight. You’ve come to me in this heroes’ bar to tell me you’re the deposed heir to an ancient kingdom on a mission to reclaim your throne and slay the dragon, a pack of questors by your side, and you’ve figured all this out without a mysterious bearded wizard?”
Thorn blinked. “Why? Did I do this in the wrong order?”
“Oh, a bit,” said Gonedaft grouchily. “Heroes sorting themselves out without the help of ancient and all-discerning wizards? I’ll be out of a job by Thursday.”
“You could come with us,” Thorn suggested brightly. “There’s lots of good work in questing. Slaying monsters with your awesomely arcane powers and so forth. And there’s always die Cabaret.”
“And vanishing at the moment I’m most needed, so you must persevere on your own!” Gonedaft added helpfully. “That’s a mentor’s number one job.”
“That and dying,” Thorn said a bit absently, not noticing how Gonedaft paled. “I’m looking for aid from the greatest powers of goodness in Renfair Earth. Are you with me?”
“Ah.” Gonedaft preened a little.
“But not the snooty elves. Or barbaric humans. And my own folk turned me down. I went to see the rangers, but they already have a deposed king with a cooler sword than mine.”
“So I’m the most powerful person you could find?”
“Since the wizard Sourman wasn’t home, yeah, pretty much.”
Gonedaft considered. “I suppose I could lend a staff. But I still want to start the story off properly. You know, show up at some little blighter’s house and tell him he’s destined for a great adventure.”
“I think that longship sailed with all the prologues.”
Gonedaft frowned. “Nonetheless…”
“You still could,” Thorn offered, with the hasty eagerness of one who sees his most powerful dragon-smiting weapon floating out the door in a haze of alcohol and disappointment. “It’s a quest, right? With casualties. A little dragon fodder never hurts.”
Gonedaft hesitated, gravely and thoughtfully.
“I’ll even throw in the funeral expenses.”
Gonedaft clinked a grimy mug against his. “It’s a deal. Tell me, how do you feel about the British?”
Prologue the Second, Part Two: More Bumble, More Fumble
In a hole in the ground, there was a basement. Above that was a hole, or rather another hole. And the hole thing–er, whole thing–oh sod it all–” Bumble crossed out what he had been writing (and unconsciously dictating to himself loud enough to set off the neighbor’s cats) and replaced it with “I live in a hole.” He considered the next, nodded and smiled proudly. An entire sentence written. Upon further deep thought, he sharpened his pen and wrote below it, dictating all the while, “Here’s what a Halfling Hole looks like.”
“Uncle Bumble? I actually know what a Halfling hole…”
“Oh. I thought you’d left.”
“So you’re writing this for me? I mean, I really know about the care and feeding of your standard halfling–”
“Get out! Wait, is everything ready for my eleventy-hundredth birthday party? Crusts cut off? Wraps wrapped? Soufflés still poofed? Metal detectors on? Car gassed up?”
“Are you going somewhere?”
“No.” Bumble glanced involuntarily from his writing desk to the pile of five stuffed suitcases. “Not at all. Why?”
“No reason.” Since Fumble was hardly the sharpest tool in the shed, and indeed, was near the bottom of the entire tool emporium in that respect, he wandered off and into another trilogy. Without his irritating nephew about, Bumble continued to ramble, only occasionally remembering to write his narrative down.
In this very hole, a halfling lived, or rather, dwelt, for this was Long Ago in Days of Yore. The halflings were one of many species in Renfair Earth, so called because everyone wore Middle Ages or Renaissance Fair garb at all times. “Middle Ages Earth” just lacked something in style somehow. It was a time and place where everyone relied on the laws of magic, not science…rather like Kansas.
His ancestors had named the hole Pápropläctik, or in the common language, Grocery Bag, so named for it lay in a cul-de-sac that resembled one of a halfling’s favorite containers. It was located in Halflingtonfordshire, which would someday be Britain, or at least its younger cousin New Zealand, thus accounting for the tea and scones halflings seemed to eat with every meal.
Halflings are merry folk, fond of the “pull my finger” joke, and whoopee cushions, and other subtle and inventive bits of humor. They enjoy puns and use them to great effectiveness. They often adorn themselves with waistcoats, sashes, little straw hats with ribbons, and other affronts to good taste, as they’ve been doing for close to an age now. In fact, they are descended from a series of improper relations between squirrels and gnomes, and spend their days baking cream-filled cookies in treehouse factories, though they prefer to live in the sides of hills, at least until the woodchopping for their ovens creates serious erosion.
They enjoy eating, and prefer twelve big meals a day when they can get them, to say nothing of crisps and popcorn in front of the television. They are quite fond of kippers, steak and kidney pie, mushy peas, lumpy gravy, and hunks of turnip, swede, and carrot in everything. As apparent by their cuisine, they have difficulty moving quickly, particularly after second breakfast or third lunch. They have many hobbies, from food preparation to eating to drinking, though they are no rivals with dwarves for the last of these. Under duress, they will wash dishes, though this is reserved as a punishment for the slow-witted among them, who have managed to be last out the door.
In the old tongue, they are known as Léprékanns, in Old Norse as the Münchken or on occasion Lilliputians. In England, they are the small folk (though political correctness makes this term a hazard), in Indonesia they are known as H. floresiensis, and for those avoiding copyright entanglements, they are known simply as Halflings.
Bumble was in fact something beyond this: Since his mother was part fairy, and fairies are half angel, half demon, Bumble was actually not a halfling but a quarterling. This meant he was banned from the country club and some of the snootier halflings would blow their noses as they passed him on the street. Nonetheless, he considered himself a refined country gentleman and continued to spread this opinion around. Bumble was a quiet, retiring sort of halfling, content to spend his days searching elfBay for the latest in home entertainment systems and bootleg DVDs, from the time he was in diapers to the time he stopped wearing them around age fifty.
And it is there our story begins, back in the days of yore when Bumble was played by an actor who wasn’t a really old guy, for no more prologues were available for the moment.
Chapter 1: Welcome to Halflingtonfordshire
A gray-bearded wizard trudged up the hillside and Bumble watched him come. He wore a long grey bathrobe embroidered with sequins in hypnotizing, swirling letters that spelled mystic words in a dozen garbled languages and might or might not have been dirty. His sparkly pointed hat added about a yard to his height and boasted a fetching pom-pom on top, like an unsightly New Year’s creation. On his feet, he wore flip-flops of twine and cardboard. In short, he looked like a wizard, but one with sleeves full of doves and a hat full of Aces of Hearts. In fact, he was.
“Good morning,” said Bumble, who had no idea what he was in for.
The old wizard stared at him. “What do you mean? Do you mean to wish I’ll have a good morning or are you saying it’s a nice one? Or perhaps that you feel good on this exact morning. Or maybe you are peddling Good Morning Breakfast Bars, and this is how you ease into the topic.”
“Geez. Pedantic much?” asked Bumble, wishing he’d never opened that jar of worms, or as he called them, pre-appetizers.
“I am rarely pedantic, for I am a wizard of great renown. In fact, I am Gonedaft the Grey, formerly known as Gonedaft the Grizzled, Gonedaft the Gadabout and Gonedaft of the Rainbow Tie-die that He So Can’t Pull Off.” For emphasis, he waved his staff, which was the curliest pool hook in all the land. A few sad sparks shot out the end.
“Gonedaft! You’re famous for dragging halfling kids off to parts unknown. They always come back wide-eyed and trembling with wild stories. Incidentally, aren’t you wanted by the town sheriff?”
Gonedaft eyed him. “I thought you’d be fat, middle-aged, and jolly. Where’s the fruity laugh? I heard your mother was part fairy.”
Bumble looked bored. “That scandal blew through town years ago. It was in the papers and everything. And I thought you’d look like a wizard, not an encyclopedia salesman who sleeps under hedges and was out late celebrating.”
Gonedaft tried again. “Harken to me, Halfling, for I’ve come to take you on a great adventure.”
“Ah. I know this one. I’m actually the heir to a far-distant throne, with great magics at my command that I’ve never even tried to use. But in fact I have an amazing destiny. And you’ve come to bring me my ancestor’s magical sword or glass slipper or something of the sort and whisk me away for training in battling blindfolded and finding my inner tiger and so on.”
Gonedaft blinked. “Quite a movie-watcher I see.”
“Indeed.” The jaded halfling’s expression suggested that there was no surprising him.
“In fact, you aren’t special at all–you’re a run-of-the mill halfling less exciting than a leftover turnip who’s never done anything more interesting than floss between his hairy toes each morning. You are the least magically-inclined person I’ve ever encountered. I’m fresh out of magic swords, and I doubt you could even find the willpower to lift one if I didn’t dunk it in melted cheese. However, I am offering you an adventure nonetheless.”
“Next are you gonna offer me some candy if I get into your carriage?”
“You might win great treasures. Or fame and renown. You might even–” here Gonedaft paused very dramatically indeed. “–be the star of a movie.”
“I was already in three.”
Gonedaft waved a hand dismissively. “Bit parts. And you weren’t in the middle one. Not even in the DVD extras.”
“Nonetheless. I don’t want any adventures, thank you.”
“Maybe I’ll consult with the Brownies then,” Gonedaft said, in a voice that suggested he regretted using such a cruel weapon. “They live across the road, yes?”
“Say hi for me. And do stop by if you’re passing through in eighty years or so. I’ll likely be dead by then. But I suppose you’ll look the same. I doubt you could get much more wrinkled.”
Gonedaft eyed him. “A polite halfling would invite me to tea around now. Tomorrow perhaps.”
Bumble met his glance squarely. “Perhaps he might. Good morning.” This last word was said with such quelling finality that Gonedaft felt no need to get pedantic again.
“Good morning. But I must warn you, you have not seen the last of me.”
“Say that again…to my newly acquired low-hanging chandelier!”
Bumble popped inside, and lowered his chandelier to the worst possible height for visiting Biggers, as he called them. Though he hoped he’d seen the last of the wizard, there was no point in taking chances.
Gonedaft, in his famous craftiness, began to spray-paint words on the door in a moment of petty vandalism, but Bumble dialed the cops, who soon ran him off.
That evening, Bumble had just finished flossing his toes and was settling into his bubble bath when he heard the 1812 overture chiming tinnily on his doorbell. Muttering to himself, he donned a silken dressing gown and opened the door. There, to his surprise, was a ticking bomb.
“Waaaaaaaaaaahh!” Bumble managed, frozen in place.
“Sorry, just my little joke!” a dwarf popped out from behind the doorframe where he’d been waiting to see if Bumble would soil himself (the dwarfish sense of humor is similar to the halfling one). He was festooned in crochet from head to toe: scarves, vests, earmuffs, and even a few antimacassars. “Bobbin, at your table.”
“My table? Don’t you mean my service?” Bumble knew all about how dwarves spoke from watching midnight wrestling on Channel Six.
“Your table service maybe. He he.” Having inflicted the pun, Bobbin strode into Bumble’s house as if he owned it.
“Brother!” cried the loud voice of Noggin behind him. As a dwarf of superior intellect, it was his job to subtly drop bits of exposition on the quest. This dwarf apparently had no use for knitting, preferring instead to wear odd magnifying goggles with copper gears woven into his beard plaits. He was bald with odd mathematical symbols tattooed on his head (from when he’d run out of notepaper).
“Yes, you are!” Bobbin cried. “Thank you for supplying that fact to our readers!” The dwarves indulged in their classic head-butting to ensure that neither might have an advantage over the other in the brains department. Then they crowded into the halfling hole, trying not to trip over Bumble’s piles of autographed headshots, first editions, and movie replicas. Piles of dirt and dust were heaped on the quaint, old-fashioned furniture and memorabilia alike, slightly muting the intensity of the decor. Halflings enjoy bright colors, and Bumble’s combination of stripes and checks, mostly in green, purple, and gold like a Mardi Gras display, was no exception. His rainbow of a patchwork dressing gown only compounded the effect. “Where are we, Laddie?” Bobbin wondered. “Badger’s hole in The Wind in the Willows?”
Noggin shook his head. “Too muddy for that. But perhaps I could invent a sort of primitive vacuum cleaner…”
Next came another pair, Hottie and Spottie, with perfect matching ponytails. Hottie was dreamboat handsome, with large soulful eyes that seemed to take up the entire space between his ears. Spottie’s face was more taken up with, well, spots. Soon on their heels were the rest of the dwarfish company.
“Let’s see,” said Gonedaft, striding into the room and tripping over Spottie. The others helped him to his feet and he continued as if nothing untoward had happened. “We have Bobbin and Noggin. Rover and Clover. Sloppy, Ploppy, and Frappe. Hottie and Spottie, of course. And Quaff, Sloth, and Ezekiel.”
“Ezekiel?” Bumble managed, still stunned by the sudden house guests. His silent alarm hadn’t even gone off.
“It’s from the Bible!” the tallest dwarf said importantly. Ezekiel’s beard drifted nearly to his toes, like one of those ancient prophets unacquainted with scissors. “No one told my da we were doing rhyming names, all right? You should see my cousins–seven of them, all named for attributes like goofy and dopey.”
Bumble found himself staring as Rover scratched vigorously behind one ear.
Sloppy laughed uproariously as if it was the funniest thing he’d ever seen, not noticing how much blood was oozing from the small axe in his head. “Rover’s half dog, Clover’s half leprechaun. Different mothers. In fact, we’re all siblings or cousins, or both at once you know.” Rover and Clover nodded. Clover had a bright green hood with yellow shamrocks, while Rover’s looked more like a pair of floppy ears. Beside them, Quaff and Sloth were bristling with weapons, spikes, studs, and other shiny metal bits.
Gonedaft tried to step further into the room, and this time wanged his head on the chandelier. He let out a faint groan while Hottie and Spottie cooed about what a wise and perceptive wizard he was. He stood, whacked his head harder, and went down once more.
Meanwhile, Ploppy, who had a face that was puffed like Popeye’s and dented like Popeye’s would have been after a dozen spinach-related brawls, whacked Sloppy on the head, sending the axe blade a bit deeper. Sloppy didn’t seem to notice. “Move it, bro. Or cousin. Or half-uncle-once-removed. Whichever. You’re, like, blocking the way to the grub.”
“Food? Oh. Yes. Well, I suppose I could order from the curry take-away…” Bumble began.
It was too late. The dwarves had already found the pantry.
Bumble’s larder spewed forth cottage loaves, stilton, Yorkshire pudding, muffins, and crumpets. From the pudding closet came plumcake, treacle tart, apple dumplings, and about thirty kinds of custard. They soon discovered his bomb shelter with its year’s supply of canned goods, and immediately reduced it to a day or two’s supply, if that person ate less than a halfling at least.
What followed was a maelstrom of mastication, food fights, and odd Germanic sing-alongs, all with beer steins thumping on the table. After the fourth round, there was more splashing than actual quaffing, dropping much of the beer into their beards to be thriftily saved for later. Traditional dwarf beer tasted of battery acid, and dwarf ale of chipmunk leavings. Halfling wine was a notable step up.
Bumble, crouched in the corner and sadly watching the vanishing of an entire day or two of his supplies, marveled much at the dwarves, from their habits to their language. Dwarves are known for their strength and they have fierce tempers, owing to the fact that everyone goes around mentioning how short they are, whereas they know that they are the perfect height and everyone else is too tall. Dwarves, it is said, wear the weight of history on their massively stalwart shoulders, whereas elves tend to coast over most of it, only tuning in every thousand years or so, and halflings don’t tend to look outside their boroughs or even read the newspaper. But for the dwarf, it’s like being at the pointy end of an upside-down pyramid, with the immense density of ancestral anger, duty, honor, and so forth pressing on their shoulders. This of course is why they are built more compactly than willowy elves or gangly humans.
When Sloppy came over to fill his mug, Bumble eyed the axe sticking out of his head. “Have you had a terrible accident?”
“Oh, yes, I just spilled porridge on my coat. And your couch. Kind of you to notice.”
Bumble dropped the matter, though he was nearly certain the blade hadn’t been in the appendices. “Why is it that you don’t speak dwarfish except when you’re cursing?”
Sloppy laughed and poured the entire contents of a mug down his gullet and burped heavily enough to shake his entire body. “Ah. We were once a proud and noble people. Only, like many of our youth, we couldn’t afford proper dwarf school, and learned it all on the streets.”
“How did you survive?”
Ploppy winked at Sloppy. “We totally became a circus act. Want to see our plate throwing?” They began a delicate and delightful hurling of dishes through the air, perfectly in rhythm with their uproarious singing.
Quaff and Sloth got out the trough
To fetch a pail of water
Quaff hates washing stuff
And said hey enough
And smashed all the cups right after
At that lyric, a few dishes dribbled to the ground.
Up got the dwarves, and sold replica swords
On Elfbay and shopping networks
And the fans adored,
And they replaced the dishes but didn’t learn rhyme or meter.
As they regaled Bumble, it was clear that they’d been charming singing performers, at once soulful and melodious. As it turned out, they were less than successful jugglers. It was clear, in fact, how Sloppy had acquired the axe. The satisfying wobble of stacked plates was soon eclipsed by the musical clink of smashed crockery.
“My commemorative movie glassware!” Bumble shrieked.
Gonedaft scowled. “When did commemorative movie glassware become so important to you?
“Are you kidding? They’re worth thousands!”
“Despite your fixation with the trivialities of life, I think you would do well to come with us. Destiny says–”
“Destiny is a word writers use to pave over plotholes. What’s the real reason?”
Gonedaft hesitated, and then leaned in and beckoned Bumble closer. “I saw your satellite dish from the road.”
Gonedaft poked his belly (which was soft, though not reaching santaclausian proportions). “You seem like a sedentary fellow, lots of free time in your bachelor quarters. Watch a lot of television, do you?”
“Well, yes,” Bumble said, surprised. Most wizards questing for their chosen one never seemed to have used a channel clicker before.
“Collect comic books? Autographed headshots? Action figures?”
“Yes,” Bumble said meekly. Collectables were all the rage in Halflingtonfordshire.
“Know how quest stories work?”
The other shoe dropped. (Halflings know of shoes; they’re just not terribly interested). “Ah. I see.” Gonedaft pointed up the stairs. Several dwarves had torn down strips of wallpaper to create a battle plan for fighting Erpolushun. It seemed to consist of a big mountain fortress and little figures running up the side of it towards the main entrance. One dwarf had sketched the dragon blowing a gust of flame down the entire mountainside, with beautifully artistic swirls of red ketchup and yellow mustard against the black and white page. “Ah.”
Gonedaft gazed into Bumble’s beady eyes. “You are to be the voice of common sense. When there is danger, you will run and hide. When there is a dark tunnel, you will announce you won’t be going down it. You will squeal and flee and beg and humiliate yourself on a daily basis, all in the name of pacifism.”
Bumble considered. “I can do that.” He paused. “Are you saying these dwarves have no common sense?” He glanced at the dwarves. Clover was juggling knives. Rover was hurling them at his brother with no regard for the broken windows he kept shattering by mistake. Then he was jumping through the glass to fetch them. Frappe was attempting to eat a cheese bigger than his own head. “Wow. Are you sure, though? I mean, I’m not one of those ruggedly handsome heroes, threadbare yet gleaming with nobility through his well-worn leathers, teeth glinting like diamonds, with a commanding gift of leadership that would make women swoon and men cross the earth to be his subjects. Probably just as well, though. We really covered that in the other trilogy.”
Suddenly, all voices went quiet. Outside, thunder thundered even though the day was cloudless. The birds stilled. All Bumble’s jam jars came to life momentarily and performed a stately elf dance. Then Torn Teepeeshield walked in.
He was ruggedly handsome, threadbare yet gleaming with nobility through his well-worn leathers, teeth glinting like diamonds, with a commanding gift of leadership that would make women swoon and men cross the earth to be his subjects. His eyes were sharp and clear, his beard was black and free of foodstains. He was King of the Dwarves, proving that a stately nobility and shining teeth will always beat an economic plan and resume full of experience. He gazed impassively at the dwarves, then Gonedaft, then finally Bumble.
“So this is the Halfling,” said Torn.
“You said it, you said the movie title,” squeaked Spottie. “This moment must be significant!”
Torn eyed him from head to toe. “So it is. It was foretold: Once the original trilogy makes millions upon millions, once the Boy Wizard and the Sparkly Vampire have finished their franchises–then has come the time to return to Renfair Earth. And return we must: The white dragon stole my city and my Beegshinee’gem Stone and my rare collection of dwarfish etchings! We must reclaim our land!”
“Eh? I thought we called it Lonely Mountain,” Bobbin said.
One of the others cuffed him. “Shaddup!”
Torn nodded. “Yes, Ared’dôr may not have had the art scene…or running water…but it was ours. It was built with the finest child labor–all the children Rumpelstiltskin and the other elves managed to cart off. Elf and reindeer labor too. I want my home back…even more than I want revenge. Or the treasure. But I want those too. I’m so torn!” A look of terrible angst clouded his face.
“We know, we know,” the other dwarves chorused.
“But we shall prevail! Even though there’s only fifteen of us. Even though most of us can’t even fight, even though Spottie’s–stop that! Really, it’s disgusting! As I was saying, we shall prevail. And Gonedaft is a wizard–he must’ve killed lots of dragons.”
“Ah, that. I was planning on more of a consulting role.”
Torn eyed Gonedaft. “That’s all?”
“Well, there’s this. Your father ‘gave’ it to me,” said Gonedaft, producing a large key on a long chain. Torn eyed it. “Pewter,” he said disparagingly, and hurled it into a corner.
The air around Gonedaft grew dark, as if he’d sprayed the air with a sooty mist, available at joke shops for a quite reasonable markup. “Do you know how long I’ve been hauling that thing around, trying to see if it opened anything valuable? Do not disdain the gift of a wizard, Torn Teepeeshield, for while I’m quick to anger, I’m not terribly subtle!”
Gonedaft sighed. His temper fizzled out as fast as it had come. Bumble sprayed some air freshener around, and the darkness dissipated. “And there’s this!” Gonedaft held up a map with a flourish. He didn’t get the response he’d expected.
“Th-the-the first word there is thee!”
“Gosh, it’s all pictures!”
“Look at the letters–they’re all different shapes.”
“I can’t read joined-up writing yet.”
“Where’s the X?”
“It’s not a proper treasure map without an X!”
Gonedaft sighed once more, and then a third time. All his quests seemed to involve recruiting from the shallow end of the gene pool. “And yet, if you look at the margin, there is a message here in dwarfish runes.
Whoever is reading this definitely has too much time on their hands, if theyre painstakingly translating this, or have learned Norse runes as a hobby. If you just have the ebook, fair enough.
Bumble squirmed close. He loved maps, and maintained an avid hobby of geocaching. Further, he knew three dialects of dwarf, two of elvish, and several more obscure tongues like Welsh. “It doesn’t mean anything–it’s gibberish.”
“I know,” said Torn. “My grandfather was illiterate.”
Bumble turned it over. “Oh look, there’s something more written on the back. It’s the list of movies you could’ve been in instead of this one!”
Gonedaft, who was mildly loathing the fact that he was having to quest across Renfair Earth all over again, and at his age, grimaced. “Nonetheless, we’re stuck here. Well, Bumble, will you join our quest? You’re in the title, after all.”
“Sorry, I haven’t read the whole script. Quest for what?”
“To reclaim our gold from the dragon known in the old tongue as Erpolushun, or in the common tongue, Smog.”
Torn shrugged. “Don’t read it, no one ever does. Just type your credit card number on the dotted line and pray we don’t charge it.”
“Wait, this says that I get a share of the treasure up to one-fourteenth? Isn’t a farthing for instance, up to one-fourteenth?”
“Huh. Guess it is.”
“All right, I see I get my own trailer and makeup artist, though you seem to have forgotten the obligatory cheese tray.” He quickly penciled in that part. “Merchandising, my head on several varieties of action figure, all good.” The phrase “certain death” floated in front of his cowardly eyeballs, but was momentarily set aside for a burst of parsimony. “And what’s this part here about a cheap funeral? Forget it. I’ll miss too much television. Besides, I’m no warrior.”
“We don’t want one,” Gonedaft said. “We want a thief. And possibly a paladin if you have one around. Halflings have a magic invisibility power we’ve never seen used before.”
“Sure, why not.”
“And think how happy Smog will be with an appetizer,” Sloth added.
“Gonedaft, can I try on your hat?” Fumble asked.
Gonedaft cuffed him. “Shut up! You haven’t been born yet! We need Bumble for the comic relief, and more, to be the everyman on this quest.” He eyed the dwarves. “Our franchise is losing interest. People would rather dress as the Boy Wizard or Archery Girl for Halloween. And having seen our twelve-hour saga a few times, fans have tucked it on the shelf to gather dust and resemble the attractively bound classics no one ever reads. Only a few renaissance-fair-visiting, Norse-rune-reading fantasy purists still care. We need another adventure.” Firmly, Gonedaft grasped Bumble by his belled collar and dragged him down to the basement, or as the halfling called it, emergency cookie storage.
Once there, Gonedaft eyed the shrimpy halfling. This would require all of his craftiness and guile. Luckily he’d once sold vacuum cleaners door to door. “Bumble, the world isn’t on the science fiction channel! It’s out there.”
“Yes, but in here is a five-course dinner. And modern plumbing.” Bumble hesitated. “Can you promise that I’ll come back?”
“No. And if you do, you won’t be the same…”
“I won’t? Because I’ll be famous throughout Renfair Earth, with my face on birthday party paper plates and rubber Halloween masks and so forth, or because I will have discovered some artifact that saps slowly at my humanity?”
“One of the two, I suppose.
Bumble hesitated. This was the crossroads of his life. The moment of choice. The ultimate smorgasbord. Up above, he heard dwarfish singing. Louder than the rest was Torn, chanting gently:
A pocket full of flagons;
It all fell down.
We dwarves do like to sing songs
That are quite copyright-free
And dwell on our past troubles
And forget about high tea.
A pocket full of flagons;
It all fell down.
Oh we will quest and tumble,
But not perish till part two.
For if we go on cable
We’ll find fans we can accrue.
A pocket full of flagons;
It all fell down.
We’ll sing the exposition
And whistle all the day,
But if you mix our names up,
With our axe blades we will play.
“And cut…off…your…face…” Ploppy added on in a high falsetto.
The dwarves chimed in on the next few choruses.
As they sang, Bumble felt the love of stealing other people’s possessions course through him. He imagined what it would be like to have his face on calendars and tie-in editions, his outfits available in the tackiest of costume shops. And a longing came over him to see other areas of New Zealand and wear a sword, or at least an eating knife, instead of his usual lobster bib. Aloud, however, Bumble continued to express reluctance, though less so after every drink Gonedaft pressed on him. By the twelfth, he was beginning to think that an adventure might be quite a jolly idea, in fact.
Then he passed out.
When he woke in the morning, the dwarves were gone. So were all the small valuable items. Bumble sighed. Everything was back to normal, or would be after he hid a few more items and then filed a false insurance claim. He dressed himself carefully in his customary outfit of green velvet knee breeches, and green jacket over a red waistcoat and red and white striped stockings. Ignoring how much he resembled Santa’s favorite helper without the pointy cap, he nodded enthusiastically at the mirror, which promptly cracked. Bundling in his patchwork dressing gown for extra coziness (and giving himself bonus points for the clashing colors), he cooked himself a light and modest breakfast of sausages, bacon, fried eggs, mushrooms, baked beans, fried bread and fried potatoes (which are a New World food, but one cannot have Britain without them!), and ate it all, with much relief. Then he heard a knock at the door. “We’re here to repossess your house!” It seemed the bank’s scouring of the neighborhood had begun.
In an instant, Bumble was flying down the road, all his possessions in the world strapped to his back.
Down the path, a troupe of ponies decked out in colorful circus gear stopped to look at Bumble. He appeared to be dressed worse than they were. On their backs, thirteen dwarves watched with equal skepticism.
“Oh, wow, look, it’s whatshisname,” Ploppy said. “The Christmas gnome.”
“Everyone stay perfectly still. Maybe he won’t spot us,” Sloth muttered.
“I’ve decided to come with you,” Bumble said. “You guys convinced me last night. With your talk of stirring adventures.”
“Fine, get him a pony,” said Torn. He patted the neck of his own Rainbow Delight with fuzzy pink coat and sparkle wings.
“Actually, I’ve never ridden.”
“Then strap him underneath,” Torn said, clearly secure in the knowledge that the next day Bumble would offer to ride on top.
“Just give me a minute to put on a coat,” Bumble said. “I can’t run around having adventures in my dressing gown.
“Really? You look like you’ve done it before,” said Gonedaft.
“I haven’t even brought my camping toilet paper.”
Ploppy considered, and ripped a wad off his beard. “Here.”
They strapped Bumble to the underside of Flitterbuff the pony, bathrobe and all, and they were off. Riding uncomfortably, Bumble felt his heart leap. An adventure at last! Somewhere inside him, his narrow little soul, heretofore content with watching adventures on the big screen, was actually expanding. In short, he felt that one chapter of his life was ending and another beginning.