What a title, right?
What young boy scouring the bargain bins of the used book store could resist it? Not me.
I, of course, took off the tattered cover when I read it at home or at break in school.
I fought to stifle my laughter that came with every page.
What can I say?
I was an easy audience:
lonely, ostracized, and yearning for fantastical adventures, courtesy of my discovery of Edith Hamilton's MYTHOLOGY.
Who was Thorne Smith?
Thorne Smith was a massively successful fantasy writer now largely forgotten who posed himself the question,
“What if someone could turn the various Olympian statues in the Big Apple’s museums into flesh and blood?”
Smith’s answer was The Night Life Of the Gods (1931), a cheerful Shaggy Dog of the New York variety,
and a fine example of a book that no modern publishing house would touch with a thirty-nine-and-a-half-foot pole.
I guess which explains why editors treat me as if I were wearing leper robes since Thorne Smith greatly influenced my writing.
If Thorne Smith’s name is sounding suspiciously familiar,
perhaps it should, as he is the earnest scribbler behind Topper (1926),
the very same Topper in which Cary Grant later starred (as a ghost),
and which eventually became a staple of early television, featuring Leo G. Carroll and sponsored by Jell-O.
Night Life Of the Gods unquestionably belongs in the canon of 20th century fantastic fiction
(H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard were contemporaries of Thorne Smith),
but in character and temperament, its closer kissing cousin is Hollywood —
specifically Tinseltown’s beloved screwball comedies,
a genre in which breakneck pace and the witty banter of the endlessly idle rich drove masterpieces like
Holiday, It Happened One Night, and Bringing Up Baby.
Hunter Hawk is a scientist who has discovered how to turn flesh into stone.
His leprechaun love, Meg, knows how to turn stone into flesh.
With Night Life, the banter is almost all that holds the book’s first 150 pages together,
since Smith unfolds his tale as a series of antic but disconnected incidents,
most of which do nothing to advance the story or raise the stakes.
But you are having so much fun with the antics, you really do not care.
Finally, Hawk and Meg visit New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, and first Mercury and then Bacchus are freed from their places.
In short order, and in a total hodgepodge of Greek and Roman families,
Hawk and Meg revivify Neptune, Apollo, Diana, Venus (de Milo), Perseus (complete with Medusa’s severed head), and Hebe, cup-bearer to the Gods.
With nearly all 21st century fictions revolving around the idea
of taking damaged characters and bringing them, if not to a useful epiphany,
then at least to some new phase in life,
it is downright startling to encounter a work where no such considerations ever existed––
where hi-jinks themselves are the only horse in the race.
And truthfully, do we not all stand in need of a fine hour of good-natured laughter?
If you like to laugh, do not pass up this book.
WHAT WAS THE FIRST BOOK
THAT MADE YOU LAUGH OUT LOUD?