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March/April 2011
 
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The Haunted Pajamas, by Lawrence Perry Elliott (1911)

HIS NAME IS Dicky Lightnut, which in 1911 slang meant "defective idiot," and he's a silly-ass Englishman whose family keeps him far away from England. Living in New York City with his deadpan butler Jenkins, Lightnut receives a package from China: a set of silk pajamas.

When Lightnut puts them on, he suffers a lapse of memory, later awakening to learn that he was strangely absent while Jenkins was terrorized by a pajama-clad Chinese warlord. Later, after acquiring a male houseguest, Lightnut finds his pajamas worn by a beautiful blonde named Frances who behaves tomboyishly, smokes a pipe and insists on spelling her name male-style "Francis."

The confusion mounts as an elderly visitor borrows Lightnut's pajamas and is suddenly replaced by a much younger man who's wanted by the police, and arrested accordingly.

Lightnut discovers the pajamas' secret: whoever wears them is physically transformed into a previous occupant of the same pajamas, yet remains unaware of the change. Unlike the magic ring in Barry Pain's fantasy novel The One Before, which gives each owner the personality of its immediately previous possessor, the pajamas' body-swaps are randomly sequenced.

The relationship between dimwit Lightnut and his poker-faced butler Jenkins is eerily similar, before the fact, to that of P. G. Wodehouse's Bertie Wooster and Jeeves, though the comic dialogue here is far less sparkling. All ends happily, with Lightnut wooing the real Frances while the silk pajamas burn merrily in his fireplace.

—F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre

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