The Ascent of Rum Doodle

Loosely modelled on a 1937 account of Bill Tilman’s Nanda Devi expedition, The Ascent of Rum Doodle riotously parodies the familiar tropes of 1950s mountaineering literature. Bowman’s intrepid cast of characters may come from all walks of life, but are similarly at a loss when it comes to their supposed specialties – Prone, the expedition’s doctor, is constantly incapacitated by sudden illnesses; Jungle, charged with navigation, is forever losing his way and cabling for money from obscure locations; and Constant, who alone speaks the native language of their guides and porters, through linguistic error provokes not just one but several riots. Led by Binder, whose narration would have you believe his crew and mission to represent nothing short of historic bravery and grit, these daring incompetents cut their path to the summit (sort of).

Though W.E. Bowman was a civil engineer and published little in his lifetime, The Ascent of Rum Doodle proves itself a classic parody, sustained with winning humor and charm. Rescued from obscurity by writer and humorist Bill Bryson, it is now revived for the enjoyment of readers, and is listed among James Mustich’s 1,000 Books to Read Before You Die (Workman, 2018).

 

Wonderful…Rum Doodle does for mountaineering what Three Men in a Boat did for Thames-going or Catch-22 did for the Second World War.—The Sunday Times

W.E. Bowman (1912-85) was an unassuming civil engineer from Guildford who, though he enjoyed writing and wrote often, published little during his lifetime.) He served in the RAF during the Second World War and from 1947 to 1950 worked for the International Voluntary Service helping to rebuild Germany. In 1950 he joined an engineering firm in London for which he designed bridges, power stations and other imposing structures, filling his evenings by writing. The Cruise of the Talking Fish was his only other published work.

Bill Bryson is author of many books ranging in genre from travel, nature, and language, all told with his characteristic charm and humor. These titles include his acclaimed A Walk in the Woods (1997) and A Short History of Nearly Everything (2003).