The 13 clocks by Thurber

So, when I decided to join #1951club, a readathon about reading books published in 1951, I went to my local library, looked up all the books they had and said «I’ll take all of them». Some I had heard about, like Agatha Christie and Arthur Koestler’s The Age of Longing, others were a complete surprise. The 13 clocks fell into the last category. I didn’t even know it was a children’s book until I came home. Nor is it published in 1951. I have no regrets.

Time lies frozen there. It’s always Then. It’s never Now.

James Thurber (The guy who wrote The Secret Life of Walter Mitty) wrote this fairytale in Bermuda while working on another book. It’s also clear that his usual foray, while he was not a stranger to children’s literature, was mostly satire and comics.

This fairy tale has everything, a princess under a spell, a wicked uncle, a prince in disguise, a helper that can’t seem to remember anything, a curse around the letter X, spies you can’t see, spies that aren’t really spies, a woman crying jewels and of course the 13 clocks. While the book can be a bit dark, so for the 6-8 year-olds, it isn’t really much darker than most other fairy tales. It’s mostly Disney that makes us think that the fairy tales are so innocent.

Photo by Orchi

(Though I still don’t know how wearing gloves, while agreeing to the difficulty of picking up kernels of nuts and pins and coins, should make it difficult for you to tear the wings from nightingales. A butterfly or dragonfly, sure, but a not-that-small bird?)

It even have the princess help in her own release. Which is always a plus.

I thought it was funny and showed that even children’s literature can become a lesser known gem.


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