by Patch O'Furr
Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.
The Stray Lamb, by Thorne Smith.
NYC, Cosmopolitan Book Corporation, November 1929, hardcover $2.00 (vi + 303 pages).
Yarst! I referred in a recent comment here (June 15) to “Thorne Smith-ian comedy magical mayhem”, and I was asked, “Who’s Thorne Smith?” (“You don’t know how old you just made me feel …”)
Thorne Smith (1892-1934) was the author of several mega-popular humorous fantasies during the late 1920s and early ‘30s. Most of them involved statues of Greek gods coming to life in modern NYC (The Night Life of the Gods), or their characters getting drunk and mixed up with magic. Many became comedy movies, such as the 1940 Hal Roach Turnabout with John Hubbard and Carole Landis as a husband-&-wife whose minds switch bodies, and the three 1930s Topper movies about Cosmo Topper, a stuffy banker who is plagued by usually-drunken husband-&-wife ghosts who are determined to make him enjoy life, whether Topper wants to or not. A young Cary Grant played the husband ghost in the first movie. Topper was cleaned up for one of the first TV sitcoms in 1953. (The drinking was given to a ghostly St. Bernard dog.)
Smith’s one anthro classic was The Stray Lamb. This bawdy fantasy was published in November 1929, probably less than a month after the “Black Thursday” stock market crash that set off the Great Depression. This makes The Stray Lamb the only anthropomorphic novel written during and set in the Roaring Twenties, the era of wild Prohibition parties, of sheiks and flappers and bootleggers and bathtub gin. How would anthropomorphized animals fit into this? Very comedically, as Smith tells it.
Lawrence Lamb, a forty-year-old investment banker, is bored with life. It has become a monotonous routine of daily commutes from his large mansion in the NYC suburbs to Wall Street to make more money, then back at the end of the day to spend the evening getting mildly drunk alone in his study. He and his wife have grown to despise each other. She has social pretensions (she likes to be called Sapho), which she indulges by encouraging her artistic hangers-on to attend literary soirees at their home, financed by his money while ridiculing him for making it: