Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Thirteen Clocks, by James Thurber


This book is utterly delightful--short, sweet, and chock full of delicious details.  There is a brave prince.  There is a beautiful princess.  There is an evil Duke who wears both a monocle and an eye patch.  There is a woman who weeps jewels, a flock of man-eating geese, and a spine-chilling something that "punish[es] evildoers for having done less evil than they should."  There are spies.  There are quests.  And there is a one-of-a-kind Golux, about whom it is impossible to say more without depriving readers of the joy of  the discovering him for themselves.

As if all this wondrous detail weren't enough, the story is told in delightful, lyrical prose that positively tingles on the tongue.  While I'm sure the print version is thoroughly enjoyable, the ably-narrated audiobook version allows the reader to savor the sounds of the words.  In fact, I suspect that if I'd read the print version, I would constantly have to fight the urge to read passages aloud, simply to taste the words--to feel them on my tongue and hear them tinkle like whimsical bells in my ears.  Thurber is clearly an extremely skilled writer with a deft touch, an appreciation for the ridiculous, and a flair for wordplay.  I very much look forward to reading his other works.

I will leave you with the words of the inimitable Neil Gaimain, who described the book far better than I ever could in his introduction to the 2008 hardcover edition:
I read [this book] when I was about eight. I was fairly certain it was the best book I had ever read.  It was funny in strange ways.  It was filled with words.  And while all books are filled with words, this one was different: it was filled with magical, wonderful, tasty words. [...] 
It is short--not too short, just perfectly short. [...] I watch Thurber wrap his story tightly in words, while at the same time juggling fabulous words that glitter and gleam, tossing them out like a happy madman, all the time explaining and revealing and baffling with words.  It is a miracle.
Works for me.

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