From the beginning? Are you certain? The beginning is pretty dull, you know. All of the violence comes later. The beginning is just sex and blood and guts, and— yes, right, I see it now; fair point.
Let’s see… it began with that dwarf. At least, I think he was a dwarf. He may have been a child. I don’t honestly pay much attention to the jesters they hire. Mostly, they are little more than jingling bells in the background. I know he was very short. Wait! He had a beard. One of those awful, disgusting sort that grow scraggly and in patches. Looked like he’d glued stringy chunks of carpet to his cheeks; do you know the sort?
Yes, had to have been a dwarf.
A tale of an attempted apocalypse, a quest to thwart it, love (or something like it) in bloom, love (or something like it) in trouble, and the aftermath of it all. It may not sound like fodder for comedy, but in Clay Johnson's hands, it is.
A royal feast ends abruptly, and in a disturbing way (although the way it's narrated, its pretty humorous). And then soon, horrible things (mostly involving blood in places and amounts no one wants) start happening all over. Naturally, citizens, royalty and everyone in between demands answers -- so they turn to a wizard to tell them what's going on and how to stop it. The wizard has no clue (this will be a recurring theme), but sets off on a quest to find out. He takes his girlfriend, a swordsman, and a redshirt (the wizard has a strong sense of self-preservation). He soon regrets all of these choices -- his girlfriend spends most of the time upset with him, the redshirt is a mopey kid who writes horrible poems (and is never used as cannon fodder), the swordsman deserts them. Thankfully, a better swordsman, and a drunken elf queen in training join up after that. Really, very little goes well on the quest.
Meanwhile, the Demon Lord who started the whole thing, really didn't mean to -- he was actually trying to do something else, and it went horribly wrong (I'll leave it to you to learn what) -- and he spends most of the book trying to ameliorate the situation and get his original purpose back on track. Very little goes well for him, either.
In the end, things are a giant mess, so a Royal Inquisitor is sent out to investigate it afterwards, and the book is a edited together compilation of transcripts of his interviews with witnesses, the quest party, the villains of the piece, and others. The mutually contradictory takes on the events given by the various interviewees are hilarious -- each person has a strong voice, you pretty much get to the point where you skip the text identifying who's speaking, you can tell who it is just from their language. It doesn't take long for the reader to suss out how to take the competing versions and get to a pretty good idea of what really happened.
I don't remember the details, and am short on time, so I can't look for them. But somewhere, C. S. Lewis talks about why it's appropriate (well, at least not totally inappropriate) to laugh at bawdy jokes if they're cleverly told, involve some creative word play, and so on -- not at the vulgarity of them. Given that cover by the noted apologist, I can freely admit that I laughed plenty at this. Johnson's characters, their dialogue, and his creative use of words and imagery are wielded so well, that you just could help but laugh (even a few times when I knew Lewis wouldn't approve of it). This is what Franco, McBride and the rest were going for in the movie Your Highness a couple of years ago -- a funny fantasy. The Princess Bride for those who appreciate rated-R comedies.
For example, there's a moment that got me laughing out loud -- a lot -- where someone inadvertently invents/coins one of the seven words you can't couldn't say on TV. The effect that word has on the most hardened criminals in the kingdoms was fantastic -- it's a moment that'll stick with me for awhile.
From time to time the narrative started to drag a little bit, and I'd start to wonder if anything was actually going to happen. But within a page, I'd chuckle at something again and forget about the slow plot.
In the end, it was a little too off-color for me, but Johnson pulled it off in such a way that I was able to put that aside and enjoy his story and his story-telling. Really, Off to See the Wizard is the funniest thing I've read this year -- and I can't imagine much topping it.
Disclaimer: I received this book from the nice folks at Ravenswood Publishing in exchange for an honest review.