Barry Trotter and the Unauthorized Parody
2001, Fantastic Books, Chicago
The most important thing to remember when reading "... the Unauthorized Parody" is that, unlike its closest literary sibling "Bored of the Rings", it is not primarily a parody; it's a parody with a very specific axe to grind. Whereas the author(s?) of "Bored of the Rings" set out to softly lampoon the characters, setting and action of Tolkien's immortal epic, Gerber is primarily concerned about the impact of the massive merchandising franchise being built upon (and quite possibly supplanting) J.K. Rowling's books. This definitely moves to center stage in the latter part of the book, largely replacing the parodic aspects of the book.
A very engaging aspect of the parody, however, is in how it brings an attractive level of realism to the somewhat sanitized (despite the presence of real Evil) world presented in the original books. The wizards' joke "How many Muddles does it take to see a flying carpet? That was no carpet, that was a weather balloon!" is exactly the style of thing you'd expect real people living in Rowling's bifurcated world to come up with.
The most engaging aspect for me, however, was the surrealism. Probably my favorite part of the book is the cult of mice (worshippers of the mouse Messiah who ate the Philosopher's Scone and became immortal) which torment the human residents of the school and wage war with the tribe of bats which mug students for smokes. The mice only once appear outside of a footnote, but the presence of this unnoticed and antagonistic society in the walls and wainscotting of the school is one of the most brilliant and amusing concepts, especially when I inevitably thought of it in the context of the original books (which honestly makes it much funnier than it is in the context of the parody itself).
The biggest problem with the book is Gerber's motivation. He has trouble maintaining the focus of the parody, especially towards the end, as he gets into explicitly stating his concerns of the commercialization and franchising of the Potter books.
The most important rule of good parody (which, for example, Weird Al Yankovic never breaks) is that to achieve a truly great parody and maximum impact, Never Break Character. Weird Al's parodic songs maintain a very exact relationship to their originals, often to the point that (without the lyrics) it would be impossible to distinguish them, with no wackiness or frivolity other than that which is part of the parody itself. "Bored of the Rings" managed to maintain its focus throughout (though the parody does get listless after a while, it never wavers from its original construct).
Gerber, it seems, did not manage this. In addition to not actually sticking to one plot (and his footnote at the end is aware of this, saying that "postmodern tools in the wrong hands (i.e. mine) can be deadly"), at several points the characters essentially step out of the parody to deliver a speech. While I'll certainly admit that this could have been done well, and in such a way that it continued the parodic thread (Dork Lord Valumart's speech when he has Barry at his mercy could definitely have fit right in with the action), it just doesn't click. It's almost like those bits in some plays where the action stops and one actor steps up to deliver an aside to the audience before the play resumes; it's a technique that can work, it just doesn't seem to here.
It's possible that the heavy-handed nature of the asides is what removes them from the action so much. Another important rule for the ideologically motivated parodist should be: Show, Don't Tell. A good example here, of course, would be Swift (OK, so he was a satirist, and not a parodist; parody is reasonably a subset of satire). While he had a definite message in mind, he structured his writing so that the reader is shown the meaning by the action of the story itself rather than through being told directly. In this way, the message is presented by turning the story into a sort of parable, rather than by turning it into a sociopolitical essay.
Gerber's point, however, is that commercialization and its effects on the source material (and the larger society) are important considerations for the author of any major literary success and for Rowling's sake (and for her work's) I certainly hope that she reads this book and gives serious consideration to its message. The rest of you may want to read it too, but it's quite clear that she's the principle audience for whom it was written.
(If you'd like to look into "Barry Trotter and the Unauthorized Parody a bit more, here are a few links:
I'm sure that as it gets more widely known, you'll see it show up in the press quite a bit; probably under a headline like "Warner Bros. Sues Parodist". ;-)