Saturday, 20 August 2011

The Ascent Of Rum Doodle

This is quite the silliest book I have read in a long time. Well, to be truthful, in a short time. Liz lent it to me Friday afternoon and I had finished it by 9am Saturday.

rum doodle

This is a story of the ascent of a mountain, which is 40,000 [and a half] feet high, in the Himalayas. It involves a team of seven British men and 3000 Yogistani porters. They are led by the under-insightful Binder, and the group includes Dr Prone [constantly ill] and Constant the diplomat [constantly arguing]

“Rum Doodle does for mountaineering what Three Men in a Boat did for Thames-going” said the review in the Sunday Times. Now we’re all very fond of J Klapka J’s book in this family – but Liz, Jon and I have all agreed Rum Doodle is funny, but not that funny. TMIAB is in a class of its own [Bob has yet to read Rum Doodle and give us his opinion]

Originally published in 1956, the author, W E Bowman was a civil engineer, who never climbed higher than Sca Fell Pike. He spent his free time writing, painting and hill-walking. The book is peppered with his own strange illustrations



“Burley was still sleeping-bag ridden, but he still appeared, good fellow that he was, to see me depart” 

The book had bizarre reviews on its initial publication.

  • The Bristol Evening Post mysteriously confused the author with a man who had previously written about airlines
  • The Northern Despatch of Darlington gave a favourable review, but forgot to publish it till 2 years after the book came out.
  • The nice lady at Good Housekeeping admitted ‘being some way into the book before realising it to be a farce’!

However it has achieved cult status among some mountaineering groups, and in the introduction to this edition[Vintage Books 2010] Bill Bryson laments the fact that Bowman died in 1985, aged 73, without enjoying the attention his book deserves.

It is great fun, and I did enjoy it. If you liked Three Men, or spend much time in the Himalayas, then tuck it in your rucksack and curl up with it next time you are in a sleeping bag. But do not blame me if you chuckling keeps the other people in your tent awake!


  1. Well, I'm intrigued... Is this the book to give my very serious mountaineering Brother and Sister in Law, or do you think it's the book to keep out of their sight at all costs?

  2. Ang [still unable to comment on my own blog!]

    I think you should read it first and decide for yourself! I suspect that in a few years time, your boys would enjoy it though.

  3. Angela,
    I came across your website while searching for some Rum Doodle things. You might be interested in the Rum Doodle essay that I put up on my blog today. Go to and read my essay entitled 'A Himalayan mystery - solved?'. Enjoy, and let me know what you think.

  4. thanks Don - will check it out


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