Thurber, Fairy Tales, and Language

My own Thurber love is “The 13 Clocks” (illustrated by Marc Simont; New York Review Children’s Collection: $14.95, all ages), an eccentric children’s story that took apart and lovingly reconstructed the fairy tale long before William Steig wrote “Shrek” or William Goldman penned “The Princess Bride.” For years, I gave away copies of a flimsy Dell/Yearling paperback edition that I had bought in bulk. But now, the New York Review Children’s Collection, publishers of a number of fabulous books that had ignominiously fallen out of print, has reissued “The 13 Clocks” in a beautiful hardcover version. It is, if not identical to, then at least reminiscent of the original 1950 Simon & Schuster edition I have. In his introduction to the new edition, Gaiman, himself a writer for impassioned followers of many stripes, calls it “probably the best book in the world.”

Sonja Bolle lovingly recollects this wonderful, wonderful book in her Los Angeles Times Wordplay column: Thurber’s world of wonders. I took adore this book. I turned it into a play for one of my very first classes (long ago at another school). Thank you, NYR Children’s Collection, for making it available again. ( I also love Thurber’s other fairy tales for children and discuss some of them in my CLNE talk on literary fairy tales.)


Filed under Children's Literature

3 responses to “Thurber, Fairy Tales, and Language

  1. The Thirteen Clocks is one of my all-time favorites, and my parents read it to me over and over. We used to run around the apartment threatening to slit each other from guggle to zatch. The todal terrified me. The language is such a joy: clever, witty, but still with so much child appeal.

    I’m so glad to hear this is back in print. I have a very early edition.

    I also loved The Great Quillow, and named an early dog Quillow. As you know, all dogs should be named from favorite children’s books.

    And as for HAIR– my novel-in-progress is set earlier. Levitating the pentagon will be next, okay?


  2. MANY MOONS is my favorite Thurber book. If only we could stay as wise as we were when we were children.


  3. I used to listen to a recording of Peter Ustinov reading The Thirteen Clocks over and over and over — and I, too, once turned it into a play, when I was a camp counselor. We should compare scripts, if I can ever find mine. I still have parts of the book committed to memory.


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