The 13 Clocks is a fairy tale told by a twentieth century author. Its themes are clearly statements about the moral concerns of the time and perhaps are intended more for adults than for children, even though James Thurber used the form of a child’s story. One of the story’s meanings is that a true life is in a way being like a child. Adults responded to Thurber’s message: The book sold well, going into nine printings.
Thurber had earlier written fairy tales for children as well as another fairy tale for adults called The White Deer (1945). That book is thematically and stylistically related to The 13 Clocks. Both are filled with personal references. For example, although Thurber is far from being the duke, he makes the duke one-eyed, and Thurber himself was almost blind. Both also display Thurber’s brand of humor. The duke, for example, counting the jewels brought back by Zorn, responds to a criticism by the Golux with the very reasonable statement that “We all have flaws,” something with which all readers would agree; the duke, however, humorously adds, “and mine is being wicked.” The story is filled with Thurberian plays with language and with literary references, from allusions to W. S. Gilbert’s The Mikado (1885); to strange words such as “strutfurrow,” rare words such as “tosspot,” and invented words such as “guggle” and “zatch”; to alliterations, rhythmic sentences, occasional regular metrical passages, rhymes, and wonderful similes, as when the nameless traveler disappears “like a fly in the mouth of a frog.” Thurber also employs deliberate unreality; for example, in the image of the “moon that held a white star in its horn.” He is skilled in the use of revelatory humor such as the Golux’s wavering statement concerning the duke’s actions: “I’m certain he will stay his hand, I think.”
The Golux sums up the themes of the book when he says to the two lovers, “Keep warm. Ride close together. Remember laughter. You’ll need it even in the...
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