Openers: Peter and Mary lived in the little old house. It was a square house and not at all interesting. To Peter and Mary it had never been interesting. And what's more, it never would be interesting.
It was just like having too much of something you didn't want or wanting too much of something you didn't have -- and never could get.
It was a house that nobody wanted.
And Peter and Mary could not find it n their hearts to blame anyone for not wanting the house. They did not want it themselves.
Certainly not. Why should they?
Even the field mice, who were not al all particular about the houses they visited, turned up their noses at the house in which Peter and Mary lived. Of course the field mice might have done this because there were never any refreshments in the house to make a visit worth the time and trouble, but for all that it does not make you feel any better to have a field mouse turn up his nose at your house. And you don't have to be so very fond of field mice to feel this way about it, wither. It's just a feeling you get.
-- Thorne Smith, Lazy Bear Lane (1931)
Peter and Mary are an elderly unhappy couple living an unhappy life. But then there a knock on the door and the Lazy Bear enters their lives. He may be lazy but he's also magical: he transforms the couple back into children and takes them on a magical journey down an old country lane where the meet up with all the lovely things they thought they lost. Their adventures bring them to a pair of cowardly (and lazy) lion twins, a ship with an all-penguin crew, a sad circus clown, a pretty bareback rider in a pink tutu, and Mr. Budge and his magic basket.
Smith wrote this -- his only children's book -- for his two daughters. It's a marvelous fantasy that can be enjoyed by readers of all ages, full of magic, poetry, and wordplay. For year's after its 1931 publication Lazy Bear Lane was a difficult book to find. After searching for years, I manage to find the book through Interlibrary Loan, but the only copy they could get was from the Library of Congress and I could not take it home, but could read it in the library itself -- something I had no time to do. **sigh** Finally it was reprinted in 2018 and this year bought a copy, something I absolutely do not regret. It's a great tale.
Thorne Smith (1892-1934) was born in Annapolis, the son of a Navy commodore; when he was six his father was fighting in the Spanish-American War. His mother was the granddaughter of Don Jose Maxwell, who name is enshrined in Maxwell House Coffee. His brother Skyring was eight years older than he and, as a result, Thorne Smith basically grew up as an only child. Thorne did not take well to school, liking his English classes and nothing else. Still, he managed to graduate from high school and entered Dartmouth in 1910, only to drop out in two years later. While in school he qualified for the cross country team; it is believed that this may have compounded some health problems rising from early bouts of pneumonia, which eventually led to heart problems he suffered later on in life. When possible, Thorne's father would take him to sea with him, which strengthened the bond between the two, and where he would party most heartily with some of the Commodore's Navy pals. After leaving Dartmouth, Thorne worked at a New York City advertising agency, writing copy for Dr. Lyon's Tooth Powder.
Thorne Smith left the agency and joined the Navy in 1917. He was assigned to work on The Broadside, a Navy Reservist journal and soon rose to become its editor. There he began writing stories about Biltmore Oswald, a hapless Navy recruit. The stories were popular and The Broadside's circulation grew from 4 pages to 50 pages during the time he worked on it. Eventually, the stories were reprinted as Biltmore Oswald: The Diary of a Hapless Recruit (1918) and Out O' Luck: Biltmore Oswald Very Much at Sea (1919). The Oswald books sold more than 70,000 copies. The Broadside also gave Thorne a chance to write poetry, which was his main interest at the time. His only book of poetry, Haunts and Bypaths, was published in 1919.
On leaving the Navy, Thorne went back to advertising, a career in which he could do well had he not hated the corporate life. He met and married Celia Sullivan. And alternating his life between writing unsuccessful poetry and working in advertising. The Commodore died in 1920 and left his estate to Thorne, who gave the family home and some of the money to his brother Skyring. Neither Thorne nor his wife were any good with money and the soon had spent the entire inheritance on a summer house in New Jersey, extravagant trips, and exotic vacations. Soon it was back to the drudge world of advertising. Thorne had been working on a mainstream novel, Dream's End, a serious work with a slight (almost invisible) touch of fantasy, he could not find a publisher for it until 1926 (I have read the book and found it drearily pretentious.) He also had an idea for short story about a dog with just a tail, or a tail without a dog -- not sure which.
The short story evolved into his most famous work, Topper, about a meek, hen-pecked banker who is haunted by two fun-loving ghosts. With that pattern set, Thorne Smith would embark on writing fantastic, slightly ribald, stories that incorporated humor and hard drinking: The Night Life of the Gods, The Stray Lamb, Turnabout, The Bishop's Jaegers, Topper Takes a Trip, Rain in the Doorway, Skin and Bones, and The Glorious Pool. The formula was also used for his sole mystery novel Did She Fall? All of these novels became best-sellers. Most would spawn a number of films. Topper, of course became a popular television show with Leo G. Carroll in the title role and Robert Sterling and Ann Jeffreys as the fun-loving, irresponsible ghosts, George and Marion Kirby. (Fun Fact: The pilot for the television show was written by Stephen Sondheim.)
Not only did many of smith's characters drink, but so did their author. His poor health and his drinking caught up with while he was on vacation in Florida. He died of a heart attack. He was only 42.
In his short life, Thorne Smith became one of America's best-known humorists. His work is still highly readable today.
- Thorne Smith, Lazy Bear Lane. See above.
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