J. Thorne Smith (1892-1934) was the author of “Topper / The Jovial Ghosts,” “Topper Takes a Trip,” “The Night Life of the Gods,” “The Stray Lamb,” “Turnabout,” “The Glorious Pool,” etc.
“The Night Life of the Gods” was published 1931.
Public Domain in countries where copyright is Life+70.
Quirky inventor Hunter Hawk strikes gold when he invents a device that will enable him to turn living matter into stone and to reverse the process at will. After a chaotic field test he meets stunning 900-year-old Megaera who teaches him to turn stone into flesh. The two and a bunch of friends set their sights on New York City to bring the Roman gods of the Metropolitan Museum of Art to life. Among other incidents, Mercury shows himself to be an expert pickpocket, while Neptune causes chaos in the fish market.
Thorne Smith's rapid-fire dialogue, brilliant sense of the absurd, and literary aplomb put him in the same category as the beloved P. G. Wodehouse. The Night Life of the Gods — the madcap story of a scientist who instigates a nocturnal spree with the Greek gods — is arguably his most sparkling comedic achievement.
Hunter Hawk has a knack for annoying his ultrarespectable relatives. He likes to experiment and he particularly likes to experiment with explosives. His garage-cum-laboratory is a veritable minefield, replete with evil-smelling clouds of vapor through which various bits of wreckage and mysteriously bubbling test tubes are occasionally visible.
With the help of Megaera, a fetching nine-hundred-year-old lady leprechaun he meets one night in the woods, he masters the art (if not the timing) of transforming statues into people. And when he practices his new witchery in the stately halls of the Metropolitan Museum of Art — setting Bacchus, Mercury, Neptune, Diana, Hebe, Apollo, and Perseus loose on the unsuspecting citizenry of Prohibition-era New York — the stage is set for Thorne Smith at his most devilish and delightful.
[from chapter 2, after a laboratory explosion]
From a corner of the room came the sound of diligent scraping. Presently the head of an animal not totally unlike a dog, yet far from being the living image of one, cautiously appeared above the rim of a table. With deep suspicion two black beady eyes studied the pair on the floor. A moist nose quivered delicately as it sniffed the malodorous air. One tan ear pointed starchily aloft. The other, a soiled white, was not doing nearly so well. The farthest north it was able to achieve was a rakishly tilted flop. As the dog shifted his gaze and looked about the laboratory something like an expression of dismay came into its eyes.
“He doesn’t like it at all,” commented Hunter. “Come here, Blotto, for a minute.”
Blotto placed two putty-like paws on the edge of the table, let go of them, and allowed their weight to drag his rump into view. It was a most disreputable-looking rump, shaggy, unenterprising, and hurriedly patched here and there with odd scraps of black and tan. There was a large tail on the extreme end of it, a willowy object composed chiefly of hair and burrs. Originally it had been white.
When Blotto had finally surmounted the obstruction he undulated across the room and stood looking inquiringly into his master’s face. Hunter took the dog in his arms and felt him carefully, while Blotto, with his tongue sprawling out, gazed from his inverted position at Daffy, the whites of his eyes unpleasantly displayed. Releasing the low-geared, supine creature, Hawk arose and stretched his long legs.
“No bones broken,” he announced.
“All bones broken,” said Daffy, “and flesh bruised.” She followed his example.
Blotto, as if trying to satisfy himself as to exactly what had happened, ranged busily about the room. His tour of inspection completed, he stood at the far end of the laboratory and wagged his tail in appreciation of the fact that he was still alive. Suddenly and most disconcertingly for everybody concerned, but much more so for Blotto, of course, the mop-like appendage refused to wag. For one brief moment it had dipped its extreme tip into the rays of white light on its blinding passage to the little silver ball.
“Look!” exclaimed Daffy, pointing at the dog. “Something has happened to Blotto.”
Something had happened to Blotto. To be exact, something had happened to Blotto’s tail, but just what it was the astounded dog was unable to figure out. Concentrating what little power he had on this recalcitrant member, he strove desperately to make it perform its proper functions. Not a wag. Not even a quiver. An expression of sharp anxiety sprang into Blotto’s eyes. He cocked his head over his shoulder and thoughtfully scrutinized his tail. Yes. He could tell at a glance that there was something radically wrong with it. It neither looked the same nor felt the same. Instead of the white, fluffy brush in which he was wont to take so much pride, the tail was now a formidable, implacable-looking club. Not one hair that contributed its quota of glory to the tout ensemble even so much as stirred. It might as well have been a thing of stone, bereft of life and purpose. And the affair was heavy, decidedly heavier than could be conveniently managed. Obviously it was no sort of tail to go carrying about with one. Apart from the ill-conceived merriment it would evoke, there was the question of fatigue. Would he be forced to remain in one place because of an abnormal tail? Were his amorous excursions at an end? Competition, God knows, was close enough, but with such a tail—impossible!
Unwilling to entertain this tragic thought, the overwrought Blotto made a final effort. This time he completely reversed the familiar order of the operation. Instead of wagging his tail he violently wagged himself. Behind him the tail swung ponderously, so ponderously in fact that Blotto was thrown off his balance and was forced to do some pretty clever footwork to keep from falling over. This was just a little too much for the dog. He sat down heavily and washed his hands of the tail. But Blotto was to discover that no dog can completely wash its hands of its tail. His, for example, clattered noisily on the floor behind him. The dog looked seriously disturbed. He stealthily curved his head back over his shoulder and approached his shrinking nose to the tail. Then with a great effort he touched it with the extreme tip of his tongue. To his horror he discovered that it was as cold and unresponsive as a stone. He suspected it was a stone.
It speaks well for the dog’s strength of character that in spite of his obvious disinclination to have anything further to do with that tail he pursued his investigations to the end. With a tentative paw he reached back and gently pushed the unnatural manifestation. The noise it made as it scraped across the floor caused him hurriedly to avert his eyes. Blotto was sweating. His gaze sought his master. If he wanted a dog with a stone tail it was up to him to do something about it—put it on wheels or something. Blotto could do no more.
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