The 13 Clocks

March 22, 2017 at 5:00 pm (Reads) (, )

13The 13 Clocks by James Thurber


I’ve read this book before, over fifteen years ago, so I didn’t remember much of it going in for my second reading. The only reason I decided to re-read it is because the introduction by Neil Gaiman was reprinted in The View from the Cheap Seats, and it was enough to pique my interest. It’s hard not to want to read it when Gaiman enthuses about it like he does. (This is also how Gene Wolfe’s Peace wound up in my to-read stack.)

There are some things to like about the story, namely in the way Thurber creates his narrative. The story is peppered with alliteration and verse, making it a perfect candidate for reading aloud. It’s also Thurber’s take on fairy tales, meaning that it takes some of the tropes in fairy tales and turns them on their heads. The thing is, he doesn’t take it far enough to skewer fairy tales, and in some cases, he uses the tropes pretty much in the same way traditional fairy tales do.

The princess, for example, could have been so much more. She’s been enchanted by her uncle to speak only one sentence in his presence, and is essentially imprisoned by him, and only her rescue by a prince can save her. The prince doesn’t go on a mission to save her, though; he sees her and decides she’s pretty enough to marry. Once she’s rescued (no spoilers here; this is a fairy tale, after all), she still doesn’t have much of a personality of character outside of her beauty and charm. For all that Thurber tries to subvert fairy tales, he misses the chance to follow through on this character.

The story is clever enough, and the prose lyrical enough, to make it fun to read, but it doesn’t quite reach the heights Gaiman suggests it reaches. Then again, Gaiman admits that he’s read this book since he was a child, so it’s possible there’s some nostalgia affecting how he feels about the book. Regardless, it disappointed me, namely because my expectations were so high.

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