Lizard Music

Were you aware that William Burroughs wrote a young- adult novel starring Encyclopedia Brown back in 1976?  Or that, in their prime, the Firesign Theater produced a whole album involving an invasion by lizard-men from an invisible island?  Or that Roger Corman filmed, in only six days, a script by Roald Dahl based on a lost story by George MacDonald titled At the Beck of the Norse Whim

 

No?  Oh, that's right:  you don't have access to those alternate timelines where such things are solid facts.  But apparently Daniel Pinkwater does.  And once upon a time he shamelessly—I repeat, shamelessly!—ripped off these great works of art in order to produce his outrageously absurd and adolescent-mind-corrupting novel Lizard Music, here reprinted in a handsome new edition by the impeccably discerning New York Review of Books, complete with Pinkwater's own charming illustrations (no doubt plagiarized from some alternate continuum as well).  The fact that this reprehensible crime happened nearly four decades ago, near the start of Pinkwater's admirable career, is no excuse for forgiveness.   We simply must—

 

Wait a minute!  I'm receiving a telepathic bulletin.  (Or my meds have kicked in.)  Pinkwater has no cross-dimensional access!  I was wrong to attribute this majestically strange book to other-reality sources.  Pinkwater fashioned the whole wild-eyed escapade himself!  Now I don't know what to say, except that despite any disputes involving authorship, you owe it to yourself to get this book.  Your life will never be the same.  Or maybe it will, but it just won't feel like it.

 

That's the curious plight that eleven-year-old Victor gets into.  Left alone at home for days on end, he begins to discover that a secret society of lizard people have infiltrated the modern media landscape, with unknowable consequences.  Aided in his quest for answers by the Chicken Man, an African-American street eccentric, he eventually finds himself hosted by the lizard people on their invisible island, where—  But I can say no more, for fear of being silenced by the Pod People.

 

Pinkwater's narrative voice—Victor's voice—is tonally perfect and as droll as Voltaire's (though Victor feels himself to be stating plain facts). The boy's adolescent concerns are skewed by a unique old-soul personality.  Would any other tween find Walter Cronkite to be worthy of idolatry?  Unflappable and wise, empathetic and big-hearted, modest and smart, Victor is a hero anyone should be able to identify with.  He faces his reality-warping challenges with aplomb.

 

Older readers of this book will also enjoy a certain bittersweet nostalgia for 1976.  A time when the whole nation watched the evening news at the same hour!  When a seventeen-year-old could be left in charge of her little brother without intervention from child-welfare agencies!  When that boy could ride public transit from one city to another solo!  Some of this stuff is more fantastical than the part with the lizard people.

 

Finally, did I mention that this book resembles Gene Autry's serial The Phantom Empire, as filmed by Michel Gondry?  That's a big hit where I come from.

 

-PAUL DI FILIPPO


The Speculator

Paul Di Filippo's column The Speculator appears monthly in the Barnes & Noble Review.  He is the author of several acclaimed novels and story collections, including Fractal Paisleys, Little Doors, Neutrino Drag, and Fuzzy Dice.

 

 

Comments
by dpinkwater on ‎02-23-2011 03:02 PM

What do you mean, I have no cross-dimensional access?

July 24: On this day in 1725 John Newton, the slave trader-preacher who wrote the hymn "Amazing Grace," was born.

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