The Armitage Authors Network is delighted to invite Damaris Osborne to reveal a little of how her parody, North & Spoof, came into being. A long-time fan of Richard Armitage, Damaris concocted her spoof shortly after Peter Jackson’s casting announcement that gave Richard the role of Thorin. With inimitable wit and a generous dose of zaniness, she’s combined Thorin and Thornton into the always-brooding Mr Thorinton. Her work is nothing short of gently deranged genuis!
by Damaris Osborne
[This article contains a basic spoiler if you have no idea how The Hobbit ends.]
The parody or ‘spoof’ is a genre that is sometimes sniffed at, because it is not ‘original’, and it is not ‘heavy literature’. Well, sometimes one does not need ‘heavy literature’ but the chance to forget what your superior said about your latest idea at work, or how grim it is queuing in the supermarket when their computer systems are on a go-slow, or how much you hate clearing up fur balls from Godzilla the kitten. At such times, I think we all need something superficially mindless to cheer us up. A spoof is there as ‘comfort food’. Like ‘comfort food’ it is best not taken day after day, not because it makes you fat, but because it jades the palate. However, taken as a treat, an indulgence, it may even be better than ‘a nice cup of tea’ at improving your mood.
It is not ‘original’ since it is parodying something already created. However, there is originality in the manner of the spoofing. Spoof writing is not for everyone. You need to be on top of the material from which you are drawing the ’spoofables’ and you need to be able to look at things through a form of mental mirror that does not simply distort, but also focuses on literal meaning. An awful lot of word ‘jokes’ are founded upon the fact that what we say is NOT what we mean. You then combine what you see with what you know of the contextual material and await what your slightly kooky mind concocts.
North & Spoof just had to be, from the moment Mr Richard Armitage was announced to play Thorin in The Hobbit films. I wrote it in November 2010 before he ever flew to New Zealand. Thorin and Thornton were within a hair’s breadth as names, and I had always thought Margaret Hale’s line ‘I have seen Hell, and it is white, snow white’ really ended with ‘and has seven dwarves’. From that starting point I just did as Top Cat (or Boss Cat) used to say in the cartoons – ‘Mingle, mingle, mingle’.
Tolkien wrote from a deep knowledge of Viking and Anglo-Saxon literature and culture, and this influenced Middle Earth tremendously. The dwarves were especially northern (whilst the elves had quite a lot of Celtic in them). It was therefore proper that a northern mill town would have dwarves, who would be John Thorinton’s kinsmen, although they would be dwarven height, and he was six foot two. You might see this as a problem, but in fact the answer was obvious to me. Mr Thorinton was filled with Longing, which meant he was still a dwarf, but over the centuries Longing had made his blood line grow ‘longer’ and their beards shorter, which meant John Thorinton did a great line in stubble, but never risked getting a beard stuck in the warp and weft. He would also be running a mithril mill, making a form of Crimean War period kevlar equivalent, which made military uniforms tougher against projectiles. With me so far?
I hold my hand up and admit that Terry Pratchett’s concept of dwarves also influenced me, rather more than Walt Disney, who only made me use ’suitable’ names for the seven dwarves ( plus Musically, who works in the office). This set up the environment in which I would poke fun at North & South, and primarily the BBC version, because so many things were known about the making of it. One of those nuggets was that the house the Hales lived in was actually filmed in Edinburgh, so I made their address 14, Lookslikeedinburgh Street, and of course the ‘300 mile look’, where the steps to the Town Hall up which Margaret Hale climbed are 300 miles from the window from which John Thornton saw her. That is, of course, way before we reach ‘the Woman in Brown’ at the station scene. With so much to reference for N&S fans, the opportunities seemed endless. As an example, here is Margaret’s meeting with Mr Thorinton in Middlearth Mills, where she sees him dismissing a worker, with violence. The F word, in this context, is ‘Fire’, the mere mention of which might set the mithril ablaze, and I changed Hale to Hile, because I was longing (not full of Longing) to use ‘Miss Hile’ and ‘crisis’ together.
‘Bully!’ she cried.
‘You do not understand.’
‘No gentleman would shake a man like that.’
‘How would he do it?’
‘Politely, and after asking permission in writing, of course.’
‘Ah, soft Southern ways. Well, here, Miss Hile, we act, not write notes about acting.’ He paused. ‘You should not be here. What is it you desi . ..want?’
‘The key to the cupboard in the basement.’ It sounded a bit silly now.
‘The key to a cupboard? You came right across Millstone for a key to a cupboard.’
‘I, er, needed the walk?’ she suggested.
He looked broodingly at her. My, how well he brooded. She had never seen a soft Southern brood half as fine as this. It was dark, glowering, like chocolate. Once you had a little brood, you wanted more. She shook herself, and it looked as if she had severe dandruff.
‘This place,’ she murmured, ‘how can you stand there and look me in the eye?’
‘By inclining my head downwards a little.’
‘No. I mean, look about you. This is . .. appalling. Those poor children. Have you no . . .’
She stopped, as one of the ‘children’ crawled out from under a loom and stared up at her angrily.
‘Children! Why, you size-ist wench!’
‘Hush, Lowly.’ Mr Thorinton spoke gently to the short and heavily bearded figure. ‘She means no insult.’
‘Sounded an insult to me. We may need to place it in the Grudge Book.’
‘No need. Be about your work.’
‘Aye, Maister John. And thank you for saving us from the F word.’
‘My duty, Lowly. Now, off you go, and tell Grimly, Glumly, Irascibly, Huffily, Curmudgeonly and Cheesedoff that they can take their tea break now.’
His face hardened as he looked at Margaret Hile.
‘You speak of what you do not know. The dwarves are my kinfolk, many generations back. Few will employ them except upon short term contracts, and they are short and contracted enough. There is less work in the mines nowadays.’
‘You? But you are so tall, dark and ha . . . hard to talk to. You cannot have dwarf blood.’
‘I do, but I am filled with Longing.’
‘No. Longing. It is the reason I am six foot two and stubbled, not bearded.’
She lowered her gaze. She had noted the stubble. It was something that in the past she had only seen in cornfields after the harvest. She wondered, suddenly, what it would be like if . . . she swallowed hard.
‘You were cruel.’
‘I have a temper. It is a dwarf thing. But I protect my people. These are my people. I will not let them be claimed by the F word. Long, long ago my ancestors were driven from great riches by a beast that breathed it. I have installed Smaug detectors around Middlearth Mills to protect the place.’
‘Smaug? I thought it was a form of metropolitan fog?’
‘Ha. In the soft South perhaps. But here it is a great dragon that sweeps from its sleep upon the hoard.’
‘How dare you!’ Margaret flushed scarlet.
‘Er . . .’ Mr Thorinton looked confused.
‘To mention such women in front of a lady.’
‘Er . . .’ The penny dropped. He picked it up, since every penny counted. ‘I said ‘hoard’.’
Margaret covered her ears and went lalala. He gave up.
I did say I was a bit kooky, didn’t I?
What I found interesting was that however much I poked fun at the story, John Thorinton’s character was not mocked. That he would be like Thorin in so many ways was not a surprise. From the Gimli of Lord of the Rings, and Thorin from the book form, I made calculated guesses about Mr Armitage’s Thorin. He would bear a Grudge, with a capital ‘G’, have a very strong sense of kindred and duty, a temper, and frown a lot. Hey, that was pretty much John Thornton anyway. There is an integrity to them both with which I never tampered, and I think keeping a core of truth in the lunacy accentuates the madness. Had there been a huge discrepancy in how I saw the two characters, I do not think I would have found the inspiration to create North & Spoof.
It was then a case of working through the story, the scenes and situations, playing with words, stretching concepts. ‘The colour of fruit’ had been something picked up upon by N&S followers, so I used it as a theme, and also the North and South divide, in attitude and in accent. Having lived from the ages of eight to sixteen in a fairly remote area on the coast of the English Lake District, I was painfully aware how real the language problem could be, especially in an era without modern communication. In Britain we hear accents on television and radio from all parts, and become used to them. The Hales/Hiles would have never heard the northern intonation, let alone northern dialect words. The potential for misunderstanding, as with ‘hoard’ and ‘whored’ was too good to ignore. One other aspect I wished to highlight was the way Fanny was very much a peripheral person in Hannah Thornton’s eyes, and in her heart. This was a woman focused on her son, almost exclusively. There was therefore a running joke in which she called her daughter all sorts of names beginning with F except Fanny.
I wrote North & Spoof because it was in my head. That is what happens with wordsmiths, and the head can be a crowded place. With a spoof inside it, well, that really needs letting out as soon as possible. The actual writing of the chapters, and the whole thing is only forty something thousand words, was completed in a few days, after which I returned to sanity ( I hope). It was over a year before I saw Thorin on the big screen, and my guesses were proven accurate. I know the brow was prosthetic, but wow, it furrowed and he brooded! Huzza!
So here we are, in November 2014, a decade on from North & South, though it feels as if yesterday (much like that look seeming a hundred yards not 300 miles), and with the final part of The Hobbit trilogy set for December. Thorin, always the tragic hero, is doomed, but his last fight, his death, is his redemption, and we always knew it would happen, since it was in the book and has been building up in the films. To avoid carrying a large box of tissues to the cinema, and under a compulsion from Mr Armitage wondering about Thorin’s ‘lost love of his life’, I wrote, in far from spoofing form, a back story for Thorin, a back story that then continued, without me knowing how Jackson, Boyens and Walsh would handle it, to the end of the tale. It gave Thorin, in death, reunion in the Halls with his beloved. It even gave a new slant to his changed manner when back in Erebor. It is available to members of the C19 forum only, and is titled “Thorin’s Loss.” There was only ever one hard copy, and so it will remain. I doubt it was read, and I doubt it still exists. I let out my ‘inner dwarf’ for “Thorin’s Loss,” and filled the early part with details of dwarven courting protocols, and a youthful and impulsive Thorin. It was an odd thing to write, because The Words came largely because I felt Mr Armitage had commanded them to do so. It began quite lightly, with things that would make one smile, but then spiralled into the tragic, and in places I had tears running down my face as I typed. It hurt to write, though the tragedy of the loss of Thorin, King Under the Mountain, was tempered by his passing to an eternity with his Sigrid. Tragedy and comedy are two masks of the same face. At least with North & Spoof you get all comedy and a happy ending . . . and the ‘Woman in Brown’ hitting a dwarven station master over the head with her reticule.
North and Spoof is available at Amazon here.