Friday, June 20, 2014

Three Men in a Boat: Favorite Jokes Project, part 3

Chapter 10:

Remember what I said about how inanimate objects are against these three men? Chapter 10 gives us two shining examples of that, with the tent attachment to the boat viciously counter-attacking during their attempt to set it up; and the curious case of a tea kettle that will never boil if it knows that you want hot water for tea.
It is a good plan, too, if you are in a great hurry, to talk very loudly to each other about how you don’t need any tea, and are not going to have any. You get near the kettle, so that it can overhear you, and then you shout out, “I don’t want any tea; do you, George?” to which George shouts back, “Oh, no, I don’t like tea; we’ll have lemonade instead—tea’s so indigestible.” Upon which the kettle boils over, and puts the stove out.
Though I should add that there are quite a few times in this book where the humor departs for a very 19th-century style of sentimentality: beauty of nature, salve of sorrow, etc. Today, that seems a slightly odd mix, since so often Jerome punctures his sentimentality with some humor, and sometimes lets it stand.

Chapter 11:

Similarly, there are moments--or at least one moment in chapter 11--where the humor departs for a little history lesson on the signing of the Magna Carta. There's one joke in the title of the chapters, which list all the major actions of the chapter, since this part is called out as being "specially inserted for the use of schools." Still, not quite enough of a joke to explain why this chunk is there.

But my favorite two related jokes are probably (1) when the three think that the river looks too cold to swim; but then J falls in and tries to trick his friends into swimming with him. (Is there a certain sense of meanness to humor? Or British humor?) And then (2) there's the realization that J is wearing George's shirt and getting it soaked, which instantly turns George's good-humor to annoyance.

Which might be a way of saying that chapter 11 causes smiles, but not too many guffaws. (Not that I'm the guffawing sort.)

Chapter 12:

Like chapter 11, chapter 12 has a chunk of history, which may be explained, if we believe the Wikipedia page on Three Men, by the fact that this book started as a non-humorous travel guide (much in the same way as Dr. Strangelove began as a serious Cold War thriller).

But chapter 12 also has what may be the funniest and most famous episode in the whole book, when these three valiantly struggle with a can (tin) of pineapple:
We are very fond of pine-apple, all three of us. We looked at the picture on the tin; we thought of the juice. We smiled at one another, and Harris got a spoon ready.  
Then we looked for the knife to open the tin with. We turned out everything in the hamper. We turned out the bags. We pulled up the boards at the bottom of the boat. We took everything out on to the bank and shook it. There was no tin-opener to be found.  
Then Harris tried to open the tin with a pocket-knife, and broke the knife and cut himself badly; and George tried a pair of scissors, and the scissors flew up, and nearly put his eye out. While they were dressing their wounds, I tried to make a hole in the thing with the spiky end of the hitcher, and the hitcher slipped and jerked me out between the boat and the bank into two feet of muddy water, and the tin rolled over, uninjured, and broke a teacup.  
Then we all got mad. We took that tin out on the bank, and Harris went up into a field and got a big sharp stone, and I went back into the boat and brought out the mast, and George held the tin and Harris held the sharp end of his stone against the top of it, and I took the mast and poised it high up in the air, and gathered up all my strength and brought it down. 
It was George’s straw hat that saved his life that day. He keeps that hat now (what is left of it), and, of a winter’s evening, when the pipes are lit and the boys are telling stretchers about the dangers they have passed through, George brings it down and shows it round, and the stirring tale is told anew, with fresh exaggerations every time.  
Harris got off with merely a flesh wound.
Damn, that's worth stealing, from the tiny detail of irony (unhurt tin rolls over and breaks a teacup) to the build-and-skip of that final joke where we don't hear how George's straw hat saved him.

Chapter 13:

As a dog person--half man, half dog--I greatly appreciate most jokes about dogs and their people; and this chapter has a bunch of recognizable issues. There's the dog who seems innocent to its owner but causes great discomfort to other dogs and people--just go to any dog park and find the person who acts like their dog jumping on other dogs is great fun for every one involved; and there's the dog who finds his match in the unmovable cat. But I'm going to stick with Connie Willis, who highlights this line:
I never see a steam launch but I feel I should like to lure it to a lonely part of the river, and there, in the silence and the solitude, strangle it.
Chapter 14:

It may be common, but a joke about someone playing an annoying instrument badly often works:
George got out his banjo after supper, and wanted to play it, but Harris objected: he said he had got a headache, and did not feel strong enough to stand it. George thought the music might do him good—said music often soothed the nerves and took away a headache; and he twanged two or three notes, just to show Harris what it was like. 
Harris said he would rather have the headache.

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