By Jean Lotus
Hairy-footed Hobbits are not allowed into the restaurants along Madison Street in Forest Park, because they never wear shoes. But they're welcome for just one day, Tuesday, March 25, at Defiant Comics, to celebrate International Tolkien Reading Day from 7- 9 p.m.
Organizing the event is Oak Park banker-turned-fantasy parodist Paul Erickson, the author of two Tolkien parody books, The Wobbit A Parody (of Tolkien's the Hobbit) and Superfriends of the Rings. The event, celebrating everything J.R.R. Tolkien, is a fundraiser for Opportunity Knocks, a local social program for disabled adults.
Erickson, 55, describes himself as a "huge Tolkien fan" who grew up on Dungeons and Dragons games in Oak Park during the 1970s. He read National Lampoon's Bored of the Rings in 1974 as a teenager. In college he donned tights and strummed a lute at the Bristol Renaissance Faire. Graduating with a BA in Philosophy, he went into banking.
Erickson started his parody novel after losing his job in the banking industry during the downturn. His protagonist, Bulbo Bunkins, is an unemployed financial services worker, too, living in a down-at-heels Wobbit apartment and slinging lattes as a barista. Bulbo is shuffled out of his apartment and into an adventure by a shaggy wizard named Pantsoff.
"It's a loving parody," he said. "I wanted to appeal to the hardcore fans that love the book." Erickson said he's proud of the parody songs he penned for the project based on everything from the 'Ballad of Jed Clampett' to songs from Les Miserables.
Looney Toons rooster Foghorn Leghorn is the inspiration for the character of Gollum.
"My Precious, lookey here, I said my Precious," the character says in the book.
The party will feature a costume contest, with Erickson dressed up as Bulbo himself. A "Moria Plinko" game, based on the magical underground world in Tolkien's Middle Earth, will dispense prizes.
Erickson said he wrote The Wobbit as an ebook in 2011, because the first Hobbit movie was about to be released by Peter Jackson. A German company, Piper Verlag, came across the book and asked to publish it in paperback in 2012, Erickson said. That gave him the chance to commission a friend to create a "freaky seventies paperback" cover. Piper Verlag published the first of his Lord of the Rings trilogy Superfriends of the Ring in 2013. He'll be following soon with The Two Towers Strike Back and The Revenge of the King Returns.
Erickson's life as a humorist took a strange turn last summer when he noticed on Amazon.com another book with a similar title, The Wobbit: A Parody. It turned out to be another Tolkien parody, this time by Harvard Lampoon.
There was some legal posturing on both sides with letters sent back and forth.
"It turns out you can't copyright titles," Erickson said. "It was a coincidence, I guess. We both came up with the same great idea," he said.
The Lampoon people haven't had a runaway best seller, Erickson said, and that's a comfort, of sorts.
"It would have been devastating if they'd made a fortune on it," he said.
The festivities on Tolkien Reading Day will feature readings from both the genuine and the parody versions of the books, Erickson said. Anyone who pays the $5 donation will get a copy of one of the paperbacks, he said.
Erickson's youngest child is a daughter with special needs, and he said he is so happy to support Opportunity Knocks. "They've been so good to my family."
His older daughter has been "politely disinterested" in his career as a Tolkien parodist, he said.
"We read the Hobbit and the [Lord of the Rings] Trilogy to the kids," he said. "The books really are magic. Anything that gets kids to read is great."
Tolkien Reading Day takes place at Defiant Comics, 7234 Madison St. from 7 – 9 p.m. $5 benefit for Opportunity Knocks. Donuts will be served.
This article has been updated to correct the date of Tolkien Reading day.