The Stray Lamb; Run for Cover: The Story of the Gene Machine; The Cockroaches of Stay More

reviewed by Fred Patten
©2008 Fred Patten

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The Stray Lamb

Run for Cover

The Cockroaches of Stay More

Cover of Item 1
Title: The Stray Lamb
Author: Thorne Smith
Publisher: Cosmopolitan Book Corporation (NYC), Nov 1929
Hardcover, vi + 303 pages, USD $2.00

   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 Thorne Smith, the extremely popular fantasy novelist of the late 1920s and early ’30s (Topper, The Night Life of the Gods, etc) tells it.
   T. 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 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:

   “Ah!” cried Mr. Leonard Gray with a wild wave of his hand and a smile of an uncertain nature. “Croesus home from his mints. How stands the market today?”
Mr. Lamb saw no occasion to reply to this piece of flamboyancy.
Well, old money-grubber,” said Mrs. Lamb, heaving into a more graceful position, “I suppose your hands reek with greenbacks. You’re late tonight.” (pg. 38)

   Mr. Lamb’s best friend is his twentyish daughter Hebe, a flapper whose wild and free spirit he appreciates. The two have been forced together by Sapho’s disapproval of their lifestyles; of his refusal to approve and participate in her pretentious social activities, and of Hebe’s refusal to act ‘like a lady’. Hebe is currently being abetted by her equally uninhibited friends, Sandra Rush, a lingerie model who has proclaimed her intention to seduce Mr. Lamb, and Melville Long, a lounge lizard (his two accomplishments are playing golf and getting drunk) whom she intends to marry. Mr. Lamb subconsciously yearns to join them, but he is too inhibited by their age difference and his lifetime of respectability.
   (Yes, The Stray Lamb was written during Prohibition. As Smith describes: Already the tables on the lawn were occupied. Other points of vantage were rapidly filling up. Cocktails were circulating freely. All those who dwelt on the right side of the tracks knew exactly the class of people for whom the Prohibition Act was intended. They themselves were certainly not meant to be included. That went without saying. (pg. 77))
   This is the situation when the little russet man appears:

   It was a little russet man, as [Hebe] always afterwards remembered him. A small creature, this person was appareled in an ancient habit of russet hue. Even the umbrella which he carried with some show of elaboration was of the same color. From the rear, his short, plump figure gave one the impression of good living and well being. It was a jolly sort of figure, the embodiment of jocund autumn. Hebe thought of chestnuts and burning leaves, of trees turning and hearths aglow. (pgs. 31-32)

   He is obviously a god, seemingly a cross between Pan and Budai, the Chinese god of humor (Mr. Lamb is seen reading the Kai Lung novels of Ernest Bramah). He is aware of the growing desolation in Mr. Lamb’s spirit:

   “What would you prefer to be?” asked the plump caller, carefully placing his umbrella on the floor beside his chair. “What would you like to do?”
   “I don’t know,” [Lamb] said rather helplessly. “Haven’t the vaguest idea when you put it to me straight. One thing I do know, I’m tired of being a human being. I think I’d like to be things if I could—animals, birds, beasts, fish, any old sort of a thing, just to get another point of view, to keep from thinking and acting always as a man, always as a civilized being, an economic unit with a barrel full of obligations constantly threatening to run up against something and smash.” (pg. 50)

   The next morning, Mr. Lamb wakes up as a horse. Sapho is horrified—she is sure he has done it deliberately to embarrass her, and that the servants will all quit—while Hebe is incredulous but delighted:

   The horse was listening intently, ears pitched forward, and at this last remark he winked slowly and deliberately at Hebe. The girl was amazed. It was her father all over. At that moment she accepted the fact that something strange had occurred.
Then after a few minutes of thoughtful consideration, looking this way and that as if to determine the best way of procedure, Mr. Lamb cautiously got himself out of bed, but not without considerable clattering and convolutions. Hebe watched him with amused interest. She knew it was her father.
   Mr. Lamb thought of his best pajamas, and throwing back his head gave vent to a wild neigh. He was feeling rather wild and at the same time a trifle timid. He had often played horses as a child, but never actually been one. Now he tried to recall just how he had gone about it in those early days. He wondered how he looked, what sort of horse he was, and, remembering his full-length mirror, he stepped delicately across the room and, sitting down in a strangely unhorselike attitude, lowered his neck and gazed at his reflection.
   Bending an eloquent glance upon his daughter, he pointed with his hoof to the mirror. Obediently the girl went over to the mirror and after much shaking and nodding of her father’s head, she adjusted it to his satisfaction.
That’s something like,” thought Lamb, surveying his reflection with no little satisfaction.
He was a fine body of a horse—a sleek, strapping stallion. Black as night with a star on his forehead. He turned slowly, taking himself in from all angles.
Rather indecent, though,” he thought. “Wish I had a blanket, a long one. Oh, hell! I’m a horse, now. Horses don’t mind. Still it doesn’t seem quite—well, I just never did it before, that’s all.” (pgs. 55-56)

   Mr. Lamb spends a week as a horse, impishly playing practical jokes on Sapho’s snooty friends and on his stuffy upper-class neighbors. After that he is a seagull:

   Fluttering lightly to the floor, he observed himself in the mirror. His excitement was intense. What he saw was a smoky-looking seagull with black rings round its eyes. The effect was that of detached thoughtfulness. Mr. Lamb spread his wings and looked with approval on their snow-white lining. He was a good gull.
As gulls go,” he admitted to himself, “I dare say I’m about as good as they come. Wonder how it feels to fly? Don’t know the first thing about it.” (pg. 118)

   Mr. Lamb spends another week as a gull, taking advantage of his aerial abilities to make several drunkards believe that they have developed delirium tremens. Unfortunately, his later transformations are not discretely at home in the night—or when he is sober:

   At a late hour that night he was still drinking highballs and running up a commendable check at a night club for the benefit of Sandra, his daughter, and Melville Long. Mr. Lamb had danced with more diligence than grace. Now, however, he was past dancing. In fact, if the truth must be known, Mr. Lamb was rapidly disappearing, the top of his head being level with the table cloth, and in a few minutes even the little of him with which he saw fit to grace the table was withdrawn from public view.
   The party looked down and saw what the waiter saw—a long, large, tawny tail protruding from under the table.
   “What’s on the other end of it?” asked Sandra.
   Hebe bent over and thoughtfully contemplated the tail.

   “Search me,” she said at last. “I don’t rightly remember ever having had any dealings with a tail like that before.”

   “Perhaps it’s an altogether new and better animal,” Mr. Long suggested enterprisingly.

   He pulled a flask from his hip pocket and passed it to the ladies. The situation called for a drink.

   At this moment Mr. Lamb decided to relieve the tension of the situation. A long, sleek head with a pointed snout appeared above the table, slid onto the rumpled cloth and looked moistly at the three young people. In the due course of time the head was followed by a body, which slumped back awkwardly in its chair.
   “I don’t want to be hasty,” said Hebe, “but roughly speaking, I think my father and our host leans toward kangaroo. What will we use for money now that he has gone?”
(pgs. 154-156)

   The drunken kangaroo causes a brawl which results in a wild car chase and the first of several courtroom scenes with sarcastically frustrated judges. Later transformations, which Mr. Lamb grows increasingly distressed with, include a goldfish, a dog, a cat, and a lion, the last of which becomes handy to protect Hebe and Melville Long when they decide to become bootleggers. Meanwhile, Sapho, who wants to keep Mr. Lamb’s fortune while ridding herself of a husband who is an uncontrollable menagerie, begins considering that it is not murder to kill an animal…
   The Stray Lamb has been in and out of print many times since 1929. It is in most public libraries, and it is out of copyright so there are several free complete reprints on the Internet. The transformations do not begin until fifty pages into the story, but they are witty and hilarious after that.

Complete novel online:

The Stray Lamb

Run for Cover

The Cockroaches of Stay More

Cover of Item 1
Title: Run for Cover: The Story of the Gene Machine
Author: Tom McCaughren
Illustrator: Jeanette Dunne
Publisher: Wolfhound Press (Dublin, Nov 1999
ISBN: 0-86327-779-9
170 [+ 3] pages, IR £7.99

   This sixth and, so far, latest novel in McCaughren’s The Foxes of Sinna series may be difficult to find. Unlike the previous five which were published in Britain, Run for Cover is only available in Ireland. Fans of the Irish foxes Hop-along, Black Tip, Sinnéad, Old Sage Brush, Vickey and the others will probably want to read their new adventures.
   I say ‘probably’ only, which leads to a guess as to why Run for Cover may not have been picked up for distribution in Britain. Unlike Run With the Wind (1983), Run to Earth (1985), and the others which are rhapsodic nature fantasies about talking but otherwise realistic foxes in the Irish countryside, Run for Cover shoehorns the foxes into a science-fiction adventure that is an undisguised polemic against biological experimentation.
   Three-legged Hop-along (he lost a paw in a trap), roaming the countryside looking for prey, finds unusual pawprints and droppings. Then he chases a strange red rabbit into a bush:

   There, to his astonishment, he saw the rabbit stuck fast in the leaves of a giant daisy. At least, it looked like a daisy, but while the flower at the top was white, the leaves at the bottom were pink and hairy, and at the end of each hair was a blob of water. At least, it looked like a blob of water – but, as the rabbit had discovered to its cost, it wasn’t water. It was a sticky substance, and it held the rabbit so firmly that it could hardly move. When it did try to move, more hairs bent over and helped to hold it with their blobs.
   Mesmerized, Hop-along could only stand and watch. For a while the rabbit continued to struggle inside the sticky leaf. Then it was still, and he knew it was dead. The redness of the rabbit began to seep out through the hairs that had trapped it, and he realized it was being eaten by the plant just as surely as it would have been eaten by a fox. (pgs. 13-14)

   Hop-along next sees a two-headed ostrich and other animals so bizarre that he is unsure whether he is hallucinating. He tells the other foxes to stay away from that area, but his warnings are so vague that the cubs Blaze and Firefly go to investigate. The adult foxes follow when they do not return:

   Beyond the trees, the path opened out into a cart-track. At the end of that, a man in a white coat had put down two buckets and was opening the gate of a field enclosed by a high wire fence.
   Hardly able to believe their eyes, the two foxes stood looking at he strangest collection of creatures they had ever seen. Beyond the gate was a tall, grayish-brown bird. It had two long necks and two heads, which, when raised, were higher than the man, and both heads were waiting to be fed. Also waiting to be fed were a deer with a head at each end, a pig with two faces, and a sheep with a horn where it should have had a tail. (pgs. 53-54)

   She-la breaks into the house of ‘the errant scientist’ and rescues her cubs before they can be experimented upon, but the foxes’ escape allows the weird animals to follow them. When the two-faced pig (with three eyes between them) asks Hop-along to help them remain free from the scientist and the circus people who had just arrived to buy them as freaks, the foxes are willing but frustrated by the lack of survival instincts in the wild of the unique beasts. The reader can guess that the foxes will triumph over the humans and the predatory fox-cat hybrid; the big question is what will be the fate of the more sympathetic of the unnatural animals.
   Run for Cover is well-enough written. However, compared to the natural realism of the five previous novels about the foxes, it seems to force them into a glaringly artificial setup. As science-fiction, it is overly shallow and simplistic with its obviously brilliant yet irresponsible and clownishly impractical scientist. McCaughren’s previous Foxes of Sinna novels are recommended for fans of Watership Down with foxes’ fiction, but this one is mainly for the completists of that series.

The Stray Lamb

Run for Cover

The Cockroaches of Stay More

Cover of Item 1
Title: The Cockroaches of Stay More
Author: Donald Harington
Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich (San Diego, CA), Mar 1989
ISBN: 0-15-118270-1
337 pages, USD $19.95

    One time not too long ago on a beginning of night in the latter part of May, a middle-aged gent was walking homeward along the forest path from Roamin Road to the village of Carlott, behind Holy House in the valley of Stainmoor or Stay More. The six gitalongs that carried him were rickety, and there was a meandering to his gait that gave a whole new meaning to the word Periplaneta. This wanderer gave a smart nod, as if in agreement to a command, though no one had spoken to him yet. His wings were not folded neatly across his back and were neither tidy nor black but flowzy and brownish. Presently he was met by a plump parson whose wings were very black and long and trim like the tails of a coat, and who was humming a hymn, The Old Shiny Pin.
    “Morsel, Reverend,” said the flowzy gent, and spat, marking his space. (pg. 1)

   Donald Harington is a prize-winning regional author who has built his literary career on writing about the backwoods Ozark area of Arkansas. He has specialized in the small rural communities that were never large to start with, and that have dwindled since to ghost towns; one of his best-known books is the non-fiction travelogue Let Us Build a City: Eleven Lost Towns (1986). He has set more than ten novels in the fictional village of Stay More, Arkansas, chronicling its rise and decline over a hundred and fifty year period. All except this one have featured Stay More’s human inhabitants. In The Cockroaches of Stay More, it has become a complete ghost town except for two human recluses – and hundreds of cockroaches.

    “Tilt up yore jaws thataway, Squire, and let me look at yore face, Yes, that’s the Ingledew touchers and sniffwhips, I’d bet on ‘em, a little adulterated, ye might say, no harm meant, please sir. Why, you’re descended from ole Squire Jacob Ingledew hisself, the first roosterroach to set gitalong in this valley.” (pg. 3)

   Harington’s dialogue is rich in the dialect and slang of the Ozarks. His cockroaches have adopted the names of the humans who used to live in Stay More. The Ingledews were the social leaders, while the Dingletoons, Whittiers and others were the commoners. In this novel, the Ingledew cockroaches live in ‘Partheeny’, the Parthenon, the town’s former general store. The Dingletoons and others live in Carlott, a slum of bugs in the weeds and discarded human trash (including a stripped old Ford Fairlane) in the yard beside and behind what the roaches call ‘Holy House’. This old house where one of the two humans left in Stay More lives is a social halfway house between Carlott and the Parthenon; a popular spot with the roaches for its spilled food and beer, despite the danger of getting shot when the drunkard who lives there notices them:

    The bullets which Man fired to rapture the chosen Crustians always pierced the floor as well, the wall, the ceiling, a door, or a windowpane of the house, which was called Holy House because of all these holes. Each new hole created a new entrance for more roosterroaches, but it was not permissible for any ‘furrin’ roosterroaches to enter Holy House. Each hole also created drafts, and this past winter had been terrible, causing even Man Himself to take to stronger drink than beer. […] Our Man of Holy House, by contrast, bestowed upon the multitudes a great continuous feast of crusts and crumbs, to say nothing of the countless dregs of beer that kept most Holy Housers nearly as intoxicated as Man Himself. Brother Tichborne was old enough to observe that Man’s use of beer, and of the more poisonous bourbon, was increasing. (pgs. 12-13)

   The Cockroaches of Stay More is a bawdy novel; a combination of hillbilly human social customs and insect instincts. Roach dances and similar social events may start off decorously, but they invariably turn into orgies once the irresistible sex pheromones start filling the air. Despite the hellfire and brimstone sermonizing of Brother Chidioch Tichborne, Stay More’s self-appointed and only preacher, when males and females grab their nearest partners the result is likely to be incest. But almost all that any of the bugs are interested in is food and sex:

    The whole world was changed. The night was twelve shades of blue now, and thirteen shades of ultraviolet, and the air was beginning to fill with lightning bugs. Within range of Jack’s sniffwhips and eyes a lady lightning bug was perched upon the end of a blade of grass, testing and fine-tuning her lantern. Jack paid her no mind although his ocelli twitched at each neon flash of her summons. Choral groups of katydids were serenading in four-part harmony; here and there a cricket could be heard warming up his instrument of challenge, and in the distance sounded a background of countless Hylae peeping and piping.
    The music of the night had its ominous overtones and also its discordant noises: somewhere nearby a huge nightcrawler worm was laboring noisily uphill with many shiftings of gears, backfirings, and faulty rumblings in its transmission. It was sending out signals: “BREAKER ONE OH. DO YOU READ? HOWBOUTCHA, BIG MAMA? UP THIS HUMP HUNTIN FOR BEAVER LOOKIN FOR A NAP TRAP AND GOTTA LOG SOME Z’S.” (pgs 5-6)

    But instead, as very ill luck would have it, a centipede suddenly appeared, Scutigeria forceps, scooting forcibly up the trail in search of prey. This centipede, or Santa Fe, as they call it in the Ozarks, had only twenty-eight gitalongs, not a hundred, but its fangs were already dripping with the deadly poison that kills roosterroaches in an instant. (pg. 8)

   Brother Tichborne has invented the roach community’s Crustian religion, centered around the two human hermits who have come to the abandoned town. The Man who inhabits Holy House is their main deity. He feeds them, but He also raptures them with His gun whenever He feels like it. The Woman who lives in the Parthenon is a more mysterious figure, because the only cockroaches who share her home are the upper-class Ingledews, who do not invite other roaches in. Brother Tichborne is an aggressive sermonizer who hopes to convert most of the roosterroaches who have colonized the Holy House and will not let the riffraff of Carlott enter to share their bounty. Tichborne’s real goal is to become the social leader of Stay More, and to use his congregation to take over the imagined paradise of the Parthenon.
   There are several main characters besides Brother Tichborne: Jack Dingletoon, an amiable drunkard whom Brother Tichborne schemes to use as a pawn to get himself into the Parthenon; Tish Dingletoon, Jack’s innocent daughter who is romantically attracted to both Squire Sam Ingledew and Brother Tichborne’s son Archy; Sam Ingledew, the shy last scion of a prestigious family who is handsome but almost totally deaf; and Doc Swain, the community’s physician, a diehard agnostic. Over the course of the novel the reader will realize who the Man and the Woman really are.
   The first half of the novel sets up the roosterroaches’ social community. When the Man, in a drunken frenzy of rapturing the roaches crawling around his spilled food, accidentally shoots himself; and it is learned that the Woman is a health fanatic who kills roaches on sight, there is a crisis of faith that shakes up and revolutionizes Stay More’s roaches. Harington gets overly cute in the last half with too many extreme changes, including the introduction of Hoimon, the Great White Mouse (an albino lab rat with a thick Brooklyn accent); and having the roaches try to communicate with other humans to summon medical help for the Man. But all in all, The Cockroaches of Stay More is an imaginative and clever tale with a unique anthropomorphic viewpoint. You will learn more about how cockroaches have sex than you ever wanted to know.

The Stray Lamb

Run for Cover

The Cockroaches of Stay More

Anthropomorphic books for review should be sent to Fred Patten, at:
Golden State Colonial Convalescent Hospital, 10830 Oxnard Street, North Hollywood, CA, 91606

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