- Author: James Thurber ( 1894-1961)
- Cover: Marc Simont The cover was a disappointment. I used an Puffin bookcover because it is ‘eye catching’. The bland NYRCC cover is at the end of the review.
- Genre: fairy tale classic
- Publisher: The New York Review Children’s Collection
- Published: 1950
- Table of contents: 8 chapters, introduction and foreword from the author, epilogue, 124 pg.
- Dedication: To Jap and Helen Gude (helpful neighbors especially important to Thurber due to his failing health) – “who have broken more than one spell cast upon the author by a witch or wizard, this book is warmly dedicated”.
- Theme: dark vs bright side of life; cold vs warm; THEN vs NOW; to receive from another, we must first learn to give (The villan Duke cannot do this)
- Setting: Once up on a time, in a gloomy castle on a lonely hill….
- Trivia: Thurber sometimes refers to his own impaired vision. (pg 18) “He ( the Duke) had lost one eye when he was twelve….” as did Thurber.
Introduction from the author:
- “I wrote The Thirteen Clocks in Bermuda, where I had gone to finish another book.
- The shift to this one was an example of escapism and self-indulgence.
- Unless modern Man wanders down these byways occasionally,
- I do not see how he can hope to preserve his sanity.“
- The 13 clocks are ‘frozen’ in Coffin Castle by the villan Duke who hates NOW ( warmth and urgency) ( pg 19).
- He has captured Princess Saralinda. Her suitors must perform impossible feats to win her ‘warm’ hand. In truth, the Duke wants to marry her himself when she is 21 yr.
- A mysterious Prince Zorn (disguised as a minstrel) comes to rescue her. He must first complete an impossible challenge: find 1000 jewels and unfreeze the clocks.
- Thanks to the friendly (magical) Golux, Prince Zorn frees Princess Saralinda!
- The eccentric book is riddled with Thurber’s famous wordplays. The book took only seven weeks to write!
- The good wizards ‘played with time’ to effect the end of the story.
- The villian Duke of Coffin Castle declares his hatred of ‘time’. The Duke has a cold smile, hands and heart. He wears gloves morning and night.
- Princess Saralinda is the only person with warm hands in the Coffin Castle.
- Golux is a remarkably modest alter ego for Thurber.
- Golux must try to make Hagga (woman who weeps precious stones) to shed some tears. He needs the gems to free the Princess!
- He tells Hagga funny stories as Thurber would do and she does not cry, Golux gives up and walks away.
- Suddenly Hagga weeps tears of laughter. Golux reacts ( as Thurber would) “I wish that she had laughed at something I had said!” (pg 87)
- Hark ! Whisper ! Listen! : 3 spies of the villan Duke of Coffin Castle. Hark is the most important of the 3 spies.
- Hark represents the Duke´s conscience until the ´spell´ is broken.
- You will have to read the book to learn his TRUE IDENTITY!
- Todal: evil, invisible ´glob creature´ that ´gleeps´ (gulps); an agent of the devil ( pg 51)
- Duke: We all have our faults…mine is being wicked.
- Golux: I am the son of a witch….on the side of good.
Trivia: ( personal)
- I had to laugh on page 30 about … Thurber’s description of the Prince disguised as a minstrel. It is a reference to a song from Gilbert & Sullivan’s MIKADO.
- As a freshman in high-school I was in our school’s production of The Mikado. I can still remember the lyrics!
- Thurber says: “A wandering minstrel I, a thing of shreds and zatches ‘ ( = patches).
Thurber can suprise with his poetry…… Here is an example: (pg 65)
- I can find a thing I cannot see and
- see a thing I cannot find.
- The first is time, the second is a spot before my eyes.
- I can feel a thing I cannot touch and
- touch a thing I cannot feel.
- The first is sad and sorry, the second is your heart.
Limericks: (…with an extra twist!) (pg 86)
- There was an old coddle so molly, (mollycoddle = pampered boy)
- He talked in a glot that was poly, (polyglot = mixture of languages)
- His gaws were so gew, (gewgaw = bauble; trinket)
- That his laps became dew, (dewlap = loose fold of skin)
- And he ate only pops that were lolly. (lollipop = piece of hard candy on a stick)
Power of language:
“ Once upon a time…..” I discoverd in a simple fairy tale all these literary tools and wordplays:
- Alliteration: “taverners, travelers, tale-tellers, tosspots, troublemakers, and other townspeople”. ( pg 24); swift and slippery snakes slid and slithered silkily…”( pg 73)
- Idiom: …the fat is in the fire, the die is cast, the jig is up, the goose is cooked and the cat is out of the bag ( pg 35).
- Euphemism: for being sloshed or drunk, “in one’s cups” (pg 44).
- Ex machina: intended to move the story forward when the writer has “painted himself into a corner” and sees no other way out, to surprise the audience, to bring the tale to a happy ending. Golux is a LITERARY DEVICE. This is mentioned on pg 32: `I´m a the Golux ¨…the only Golux in the world and not a mere Device.` Yet on pg 116 the Duke exclaims: `You mere Device! …You platitude! …You Golux ex machina!`
- Hidden in-jokes: character Hagga mean ‘hag, old woman’ in Swedish — Todal ( evil ‘creature’ that gleeps [kills?]) Tod means ‘death’ in German — Prince Zorn ( Zorn means fury in German) — Golux ( lux means light in latin, Golux leads people to the …..light, happy ending)
- Backward spelling:: “The grim Duke is six feet four and forty-six…” (pg 17), “..feed him water without bread, and bread without water” (pg 39)
- Rhyming sentences: “You’ll never live to wed his niece. You’ll only die to feed his geese.” “For there’s a thing that you must know, concerning jewels of laughter. They always turn again to tears a fortnight after.” (…there ar many more examples of rhyming in the book!)
- Made-up words: “guggle” and “zatch” (pg 55) refer to the belly and the base of the throat, defining the line where a sword would do most damage. “to gleep” (pg 56) the Todal ‘gleeps’. I assume it means ‘to kill or harm’.
- Word play: Names for Duke’s spies do exactly what they are called! Hark!, Whisper! and Listen!
- Strange discovery : Golux: according to a letter written by James Thurber in 1949 this was a ‘green code word’ he heard used by James Gerard (US ambassador to Germany 1913-1919) meaning: “Period”.
- Chiasmus: literary device that involves symmetrical crossover with the pattern A B B A.
- “If you can touch the clocks and never start them, then you can start the clocks and never touch them.” (pg 106)
James Thurber: (1894 – 1961)
- The writer had endured 5 eye operations in eleven months between 1940-41.
- He suffered great pain, a mental breakdown, depression and pneumonia.
- He retained his sense of humor and continued to write with difficulty (eye problems).
- In 1945 he triumphed with “The Thurber Carnival” that remained on the best seller list for nearly a year.
- Thurber wrote “The 13 Clocks” during a four month stay in Bermuda in 1950. It took him only seven weeks to write this book.
- Thurber remains one of America’s most popular authors. He offers humor, satire and criticism.
Bookcover: big disappointment….no creativity, sparkle or pazazz!
- Reading this children´s classic was a great ´learning experience´!
- It was a puzzle to find all the wordplays or literary devices Thurber uses.
- What a wonderful book to read or teach if you want to introduce children to the power of language!
- I would highly recommend the book as a part of an classic literature or creative writing program for all ages!
- Last thoughts: On page 118 Golux ( = Thurber) sums up the essence of his book.
- Thurber had been slowly going blind for the last 16 years. He kept his sense of humor in spite of his fate.
- His words linger..…
- “Keep warm, he said. Ride close together. Remember laughter. You’ll need it even in the blessed isles of Ever After.”
July 9, 1951:
- Thurber sadly sketched his last cartoon due to fading eyesight.
- It is a portrait with his beloved dogs.