Three Men in a Boat: The Funniest Travel Book Ever?

November 24, 2011
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It started out as a serious travel guide, but by the time Jerome K Jerome finished Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog), it was arguably the most humorous book ever written on travel. Basically a narrative revolving around three friends – the author, George and Harris, (and their dog, Montmorency)  – and their boating holiday down the Thames, the book blended in an enormous amount of humour with local information and characters. The entire book is bathed in humour with fun being poked at just about every activity associated with boat travel – from packing to staying on shore to even trying to open a tin can without an opener. Some of the anecdotes narrated in the book are retold to this day – a tribute to its timelessness. If you are looking for a book that could make you smile, just pick up Three Men in a Boat. It is in fact now available for free download from www.gutenberg.org/etext/308.

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The book made Jerome K Jerome’s reputation as a humourist. It will definitely make you know the Thames better. More importantly, it is guaranteed to make you laugh. If you still have doubts, just take a look at this excerpt about how the three travellers attempted to open a can of pineapple:

“When George drew out a tin of pine- apple from the bottom of the hamper, and rolled it into the middle of the boat, we felt that life was worth living after all.


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.

After that, I took the tin off myself, and hammered at it with the mast till I was worn out and sick at heart, whereupon Harris took it in hand.

We beat it out flat; we beat it back square; we battered it into every form known to geometry – but we could not make a hole in it. Then George went at it, and knocked it into a shape, so strange, so weird, so unearthly in its wild hideousness, that he got frightened and threw away the mast. Then we all three sat round it on the grass and looked at it.

There was one great dent across the top that had the appearance of a mocking grin, and it drove us furious, so that Harris rushed at the thing, and caught it up, and flung it far into the middle of the river, and as it sank we hurled our curses at it, and we got into the boat and rowed away from the spot, and never paused till we reached Maidenhead.”

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