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Does parody work? Imagine 309 pages of dragon puns

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The Dragon with the Girl Tattoo

By Adam Roberts

Gollancz, 309 pages, $15

THE venerable British publisher Gollancz, obviously feeling over-confident after its success with its Harry Potter parody Barry Potter and the Shameless Parody, has taken a run at another successful literary franchise.

For those awaking this morning from a coma, the late Swedish writer Stieg Larsson's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is the first of three dark and violent Swedish crime novels with a subversively appealing heroine that became an international publishing miracle following its 1995 release in Sweden.

The Dragon with the Girl Tattoo, released last year in the U.K. and now exported to our shores, begins with a flimsy juxtaposition of the original title and immediately roams into the realm of fantasy.

Much of the original plot remains; it's still about a missing rich girl, but the lead characters have turned from Swedes to dragons.

Lizbeth Salander, the original's sassy heroine, becomes Lizbreath Salamander, and all the other characters follow scaly suit. The journalist Blomqvist turns to Brimston and Henrik Vanger turns to Helltrik.

It's as if Windows had an program that found words and replaced them with similar words that sound reptilian.

The author is Adam Roberts, a British sci-fi writer with credibility and also several other parodies under his belt, including Dr. Whom and The Da Vinci Cod. But this exercise seems particularly cynical.

Remember the chocolate bar commercial where the chocolate carrier collides with the peanut butter carrier? How this fantasy/dragon/crime collision took place is better staying a mystery.

What's not taken whole from the Larsson novel is borrowed from Norse sagas, most notably tales of The Ring of the Nibelung.

It's like one of those horrible fantasy epics with Nicholas Cage, except it goes on for 308 pages more than it should.

If you think it would be hard to imagine filling 309 pages with dragon puns, you'd be right. So frequently Roberts gives us his commentary on how badly written his previous sentence was.

This is done for comic effect. It's a stream of consciousness riff on past sentences and is always a symptom of a looming deadline and an absent editor. To wit:

"The Vagnar's Floating Island -- Doorbrack -- was unmistakably there in the sky, a vast hanging planet half a mile over the city, a rough egg shape. What I meant, with the 'rough egg shape' line, was that Doorbrack being an elongated oblate sphere approximated the shape, though not the texture, of an egg. I wasn't trying to imply that it was exactly shaped like a rough egg."

Alas, Roberts lays these rough eggs often in this odiferous book.

Doubly, alas, the novel is not narrated in the first person, so these digressions jump out without warning. Meant to evoke a smile or even a laugh, they don't.

One thing is necessary, too, of any parody, especially those done well, such as those in Mad Magazine, National Lampoon or the paperback classic Bored of the Rings (even the title of the Tolkien takeoff is funny).

The new work must hold some interest to the reader with no familiarity with the source material. So, if you don't know why the title The Dragon with the Girl Tattoo is a kneeslapper, you're not going to like this book. If you do know, you'll like it even less.

Al Rae, a parody of his former self, runs the Winnipeg Comedy Festival, which takes place April 1-10.


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 26, 2011 J9

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