The 13 Clocks by James Thurber

The 13 ClocksThe 13 Clocks by James Thurber

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Once upon a time, in a gloomy castle on a lonely hill, where there were thirteen clocks that wouldn’t go, there lived a cold, aggressive Duke, and his niece, the Princess Saralinda. She was warm in every wind and weather, but he was always cold. His hands were as cold as his smile, and almost as cold as his heart. He wore gloves when he was asleep, and he wore gloves when he was awake, which made it difficult for him to pick up pins or coins or the kernels of nuts, or to tear the wings from nightingales.

I never heard of this until Neil Gaiman chose it for his Wall Street Journal book club selection. He has called it possibly the best book in the world and said that he grew up loving this book and thinking it was as well known in the U.S. as Alice in Wonderland.

Naturally I raced online to the library and requested it. Anyone who reads Neil Gaiman, especially his children’s books, will instantly see that he and Thurber are kindred souls.

Naturally a prince comes to rescue the princess from the land where time lies frozen so “It’s always Then. It’s never Now.”  Replete with the wordplay and humor one would expect from James Thurber, this is a charming and slightly insane book with large dark elements. Like Alice in Wonderland it has a lot of bits that are just wonderful for their own sakes without having any deeper meaning. And yet, everything comes together to move the story along in a most satisfactory way.

Here’s a bit that went into my quote journal.

“The task is hard,” said Zorn, “and can’t be done.”

“I can do a score of things that can’t be done,” the Golux said. “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. What would you do without me? Say ‘nothing.'”

“Nothing,” said the Prince.

“Good. Then you’re helpless and I’ll help you.”

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