In honor of the Olympics: an excerpt from Olympian Nights
John Kendrick Bangs was a great comedy writer of the late 1880s and early 1900s, and a humor editor for major magazines as well. Bangs’ work is satirical, but broad, poking fun at society while not being afraid of verbal slapstick. Think of Jon Stewart when “cable” meant a message rather than a type of television.
In this particular book, Olympian Nights (first published in 1902), it’s a first person account of a trip to Mount Olympus. While I don’t believe Bangs explicitly identifies the author as the narrator, the writer in the book is an author. Regardless, everyone reading it would know it was humor.
I was looking for an excerpt about the Olympics, and only one game is described here. I decided to go with this one, though, because I like the part that follows about the Olympian library.
I’m also going to link to two books that are on sale today after this excerpt…
From Olympian Nights by John Kendrick Bangs
“The Royal Arena,” he said, simply. “That is where we have our Olympian Games. There was a football game there yesterday. Too bad you were not there. It was the liveliest game of the season. All Hades played the Olympian eleven for the championship of the universe. We licked ‘em four hundred to nothing; but of course we had an exceptional team. When Hercules is in shape there isn’t a man-jack in all Hades that can withstand him. He’s rush-line, centre, full-back, half-back, and flying wedge, all rolled into one. Then the Hades chaps made the bad mistake of sending a star team. When you have an eleven made up of Hannibal and Julius Cæsar and Alexander the Great and Napoleon Bonaparte and the Duke of Wellington and Achilles and other fellows like that you can’t expect any team-play. Each man is thinking about himself all the time. Hercules could walk right through ‘em, and, when they begin to pose, it’s mere child’s play for him. The only chap that put up any game against us at all was Samson, and I tell you, now that his hair’s grown again, he’s a demon on the gridiron. But we divided up our force to meet that difficulty. Hercules put the rest of our eleven on to Samson, while he took care, personally, of all the other Hadesians. And you should have seen how he handled them! It was beautiful, all through. He nearly got himself ruled off in the second half. He became so excited at one time towards the end that he mistook Pompey for the ball and kicked him through the goal-posts from the forty-yard line. Of course, it didn’t count, and Hercules apologized so gracefully to the rest of the visitors that they withdrew their protest and let him play on.”
“I should think he would have apologized to Pompey,” said I.
“He will when Pompey recovers consciousness,” said my guide, simply.
So interested was I in the Royal Arena and its recent game that I forgot all about Jupiter.
“I never thought of Hercules as a football player before,” I said, “but it is easy to see how he might become the champion of Olympus.”
“Oh, is it!” laughed the Major Domo. “Well, you’d better not tell Jupiter that. Jupiter’d be pleased, he would. Why, my dear friend, he’d pack you back to earth quicker than a wink. He brooks only one champion of anything here, and that’s himself. Hercules threw him in a wrestling-match once, and the next day Jupiter turned him into a weeping-willow, and didn’t let up on him for five hundred years afterwards.”
By this time we had reached one of the most superbly vaulted chambers it has ever been my pleasure to look upon. Above me the ceiling seemed to reach into infinity, and on either side were huge recesses and alcoves of almost unfathomable depth, lit by great balls of fire that diffused their light softly and yet brilliantly through all parts and corners of the apartment.
“The library,” said the Major Domo, pointing to tier upon tier of teeming shelves, upon which stood a wonderful array of exquisitely bound volumes to a number past all counting.
I was speechless with the grandeur of it all.
“It is sublime,” said I. “How many volumes?”
“Unnumbered, and unnumberable by mortals, but in round, immortal figures just one jovillion.”
“One jovillion, eh?” said I. “How many is that in mortal figures?”
“A jovillion is the supreme number,” explained the guide. “It is the infinity of millions, and therefore cannot be expressed in mortal terms.”
“Then,” said I, “you can have no more books.”
“No,” said he. “But what of that? We have all there are and all that are to be. You see, the library is divided into three parts. On the right-hand side are all the books that ever have been written; here to the left you see all the books that are being written; and farther along, beginning where that staircase rises, are all the books that ever will be written.”
I gasped. If this were true, this wonderful collection must contain my own complete works, some of which I have doubtless not even thought of as yet. How easy it would be for me, I thought, to write my future books if Jupiter would only let me loose here with a competent stenographer to copy off the pages of manuscript as yet undreamed of! I suggested this to the Major Domo.
“He wouldn’t let you,” he said. “It would throw the whole scheme out of gear.”
“I don’t see why,” I ventured.
“It is simple,” rejoined the Major Domo. “If you were permitted to read the books that some day will be identified with your name, as a sensible man, observing beforehand how futile and trivial they are to be, some of them, you wouldn’t write them, and so you would be able to avoid a part, at least, of your destiny. If mortals were able to do that—well, they’d become immortals, a good many of them.”
I realized the justice of this precaution, and we passed on in silence.
Two books of note on sale today:
The Kindle Daily Deal for today is Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut for $1.99. While Vonnegut may not be for everybody (you have to like snarky humor and be at least tolerant of fantasy/science fiction), this is a good starting point.
The other one is Amazon price-matching a Barnes & Noble Spotlight Pick.
It’s the first in the Sabina Kane contemporary vampire series by Jaye Wells…for ninety-nine cents. This is getting a tradpubbed (traditionally published) book, digital list priced at $7.99, for the price of ninety-nine cent indie.
Just wanted to alert you to these two before they go back up in price…
This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. Olympian Nights by John Kendrick Bangs was originally published in 1902.