I bought When the Professor Got Stuck in the Snow by Dan Rhodes off the internet when I kept hearing it recommended by comedians or writers I admire: Robin Ince and Josie Long praise the book on Book Shambles, Stewart Lee blurbs the front cover, Ben Moor cites Rhodes as a writer he admires.
Dan Rhodes, apparently, is a mailman, a vocation that claims proudly that no rain nor snow will stop them. This book, appropriately then, is about a great blizzard that stops everything. It stops the mail. It stops the traffic. It stops the trains. Worst of all, it stops this Professor Richard Dawkins character from reaching the little town of Upper Bottom (or Up Her Bottom, as his wife so frequently mistakes it for) to deliver his lecture on science and the non-existence of God to the Women’s Institute. He and his brand new male secretary Smee are trapped in Market Horten until the weather clears, which could be days. Worse yet, the evolutionary biologist finds himself at the mercy of a kindly retired vicar and his wife. While the vicar is happy to agree to disagree on the existence of God, the Professor struggles between “cordiality first” and a lecture on how they might as well believe in a goblin with a purple face. Luckily, he largely finds his act of defiance in doing good works around town–saving kittens and that–in order to prove that atheists can also be kind and that their kindness is pure because it doesn’t stem from rewards in Heaven. Days later, the thaw still has not begun and it doesn’t look like they’ll reach the Women’s Institute in time. Out of ideas, the Professor bestows onto Smee the task of finding a way to Upper Bottom. If he doesn’t, he’s fired. Will Smee succeed?
When the Professor Got Stuck in the Snow is a very quick read. Having read the fiction of Stewart Lee or Ben Moor, who recommended Rhodes’ work, I expected something more subtle, but the book starts out full speed ahead and maintains pace throughout. The jokes are high volume–from puns and poo to clever turns of phrases or dead-on observations. It’s told in an omniscient style, toggling back and forth between the Professor and Smee, and occasionally some other characters. We feel both the Professor’s desperation to conquer religion and Smee’s doubt creep in as he fills his brain space with feelings of lovesickness. While the book certainly takes a critical eye at the militant atheist attitude of assuming all Christians are literalists who deny any kind of science, you don’t necessarily get the feeling that Rhodes is 100% on the side of religion, either. If anything, it’s a farce version of the whole religion vs. science debate. If you don’t look at it as a farce, you may be turned off by the over-the-topness of it all. The military tank that you see on the cover, rumbling through town. The sewage pit the professor manages to fall into headfirst. The clan of nudists posing for their fundraising calendar. But even so, the two twists at the end make up for any unease you had at the ridiculousness of it all.
I know enough Richard Dawkins stuff to get a lot of the jokes in this book, but I have a feeling that the people who hang on his every word or the people up to date on the latest time a tweet made him put his foot in his mouth would get even more out of it. It’s not really about Dawkins himself, as it’s more a look at the religion debate as a whole, but there are plenty of things in there to make you smile, like the Professor’s claim that he has the best Doctor Who artifact but he won’t say what it is, or my favorite parts in the book when Rhodes nails it with mentions of alternative comedians. The Professor says:
Very bright sparks, that lot, every one of them a huge supporter of mine. If you are looking for an expert to teach you all about how the gaps in the fossil record in no way challenge the Theory of Evolution, you could do worse than call on an alternative comedian. They have all read my books on the subject, and many of them have even memorised several of the relevant long words….I cannot say I am a huge fan of their genre, however; to me it seems to be more of an alternative to comedy….Well meaning as they are, one does tire somewhat of the same old faces: that Ince creature; the Minchin child. They all tend to become a little overexcited in my company.
Anyway, buy a book if you can. It would be good to get some more copies circulating in the USA.