If you want a book to fire a child's imagination, help them develop a love of language, hiss at villains, cheer the heroes, and learn how to be adventurous, cunning, brave, wise and silly all at the same time, buy this!
It is a book to be shared with a child. It contains such a beautiful use of language, of rhymes, alliteration and imaginary words that it must be read aloud so you can truly hear it and feel it.
"I'll slit you from your guggle to your zatch"
"I'll squck his thrug till all he can whupple is geep."
The 'Thirteen Clocks' is a story about an evil Duke who is keeping a beautiful princess captive. The Duke is cold and aggressive: "His hands were as cold as his smile and almost as cold as his heart." So cold that all 13 clocks in the castle have frozen. The Duke believes he has slain time and can prevent the warmth and life of Now from interfering with his plans. A Price, disguised as a wandering minstrel, sets out to defeat the Duke, unexpectedly helped by the Golux, a strange and cunning little man.
In the 'Wonderful O' two black-hearted pirates invade an island in search of treasure. One of them has a fear of the letter 'O' ever since the night his mother got wedged in a porthole... In their frustration at not finding the treasure, the pirates decide to ban the use of the letter 'o' in all words.
"Yesterday I met a man who wanted four canoes-"
"Fur canes," his son put in.
"Silence!" his father shouted. "What did you learn at school today?"
"That mist is always mist, but what is mist isn't always mist," his son replied.
(For the verbally challenged: mist is always moist, but what is moist isn't always mist.")
This story is a wonderfully silly extended piece of playing with language. It is challenging to a certain extent - but if you love language you'll adore it.
I was an advanced reader and read this (on my own) age 7 and was delighted and thrilled by it. There were references I didn't understand then - the occasional French word or the name of a Shakespeare play - and some I did (the Prince is a wandering minstrel, a reference to Gilbert & Sullivan's Mikado). So it definitely helps if you as a parent have a good level of literacy and general knowledge. This isn't a book for a dumbed-down generation. Or rather, it is - should be: but I rather suspect that something like this gem would never get published today.
on 11 August 2002
James Thurber is a master of words, that is a fact. But in this tale he becomes an enchanting story teller. it is a fairy tale about an evil duke, a beatiful princess and a daring knight who is in love with her. Yes, the story line is common. What is exceptional is the way this story unfolds with unexpected twists and turns, with humor and sarcasm with delicacy and an amazing child like view of the word. Thurber plays beautifully with words, logic and magic.
No matter how old you are, you will be enchanted
This story has a lot of the hallmarks of your average fairy tale -- a cruel Duke, a beautiful captive princess, and a young prince-in-disguise who (with the help of an eccentric mentor) wants to win her hand.
But the story is not what ultimately makes "The 13 Clocks" such a spellbinding experience. That would be the language that James Thurber used to convey it -- he spun up a spellbindingly chilly, almost dreamlike world, and filled it with a whimsical mixture of prose and poetry ("I resemble only half the things I say I don't. The other half resemble me"). It's a bit like the tales that a small child would tell, only with the elegance and learned experience of wordcraft and storytelling.
In the castle of the sinister Duke, time is dead. He claims to have killed it himself, since he "was afraid of Now, for Now has warmth and urgency, and Then is dead and buried." He also keeps the beautiful Princess Saralinda prisoner there, and whenever a young man tries to win her hand, the Duke either kills him for some imaginary impudence, or gives him a terrible and impossible task like cutting a slice of the moon.
Then a mysterious young prince arrives, disguised as a minstrel. After singing about mittens (forbidden, since the Duke is known for his jeweled gloves), the young man attracts the attention of the Golux ("the only Golux in the world, and not a mere Device"), who wishes to save him from being fed to the Duke's geese.
But the Golux's attempts to help him aren't particularly helpful, since the Duke has learned the true identity of the minstrel-prince -- and he gives the Prince a truly terrible challenge. Not only must he bring back a thousand jewels within ninety-nine hours, but he must return just as the stopped clocks are striking five. Their only hope is Hagga, a woman cursed with the ability to weep jewels. But can the Prince and the Golux get a thousand gems from a woman who will never cry, or will they be consumed by the Todal?
"The 13 Clocks" is a resolutely odd little story -- it has a simple magical quest, and the usual pursuit of a captive princess, a cartoonishly evil villain and magic spells. What makes it unique is James Thurber's eccentric writing ("I am no longer ert, for I have lost my ertia") and feverishly starlit world, with a cold castle full of ghosts and invisible assassins, time's blood and the incarnate wings of Then taking flight. It's like stepping into a very slightly surreal fairy tale, told by someone who is just coming down from an acid trip.
And Thurber's cleverness extends to made-up words that are strangely evocative ("a blob of glup," or something that "squutched" and "flobbed") and dialogue that often slips into a sort of chanting demi-poetry ("Remember laughter. You'll need it even in the blessed isles of Ever After"). And despite the spareness of his prose, he still manages to write exquisitely memorable descriptions ("It makes a sound like rabbits screaming, and smells of old, unopened rooms"). He doesn't dwell too long on the weird and enchanted, skimming over them as if the world he's writing is full of such starlit, shadowy, wild things.
As for the characters, they are archetypes and Thurber clearly knew it -- our hero is a noble prince in the disguise of a minstrel, whose straightforward mind doesn't really know what to do in a crisis, and Saralinda is a luminous paper doll who exists to be won. The Duke is a villain who makes Bond villains look like philanthropists, with his single eye, uneven legs (from kitten-punting -- not kidding), jeweled gloves and constant declarations that he slew Time on a snowy night.
The most endearing character? The Golux, who is not a mere device... or at least, that's what he says, because for the purposes of the story, he's definitely a device. The son of an alcoholic wizard and a mediocre witch, he's the quirky force that drives forward the story with his oddball advice to the Prince. On the flip side, there is the gleeping, musty horror that is the Todal, who causes spontaneous grey hair whenever it's even mentioned.
Few fairy tales dip into the weird, snowy, starlit beauty of fantasy like "The 13 Clocks," a seemingly straightforward story given enchantment through clever wordplay and the Golux... who is not a mere device. Endlessly enchanting.
on 3 May 2010
Alright I admit I have several favourite books of all time, but this is a strong contender for the top spot. Two exciting, unusual adventure stories featuring pirates, princesses, evil dukes, a woman who weeps jewels and several characters I couldn't describe in any way that would do them justice. But that's not what I love about this book. What makes this really special is Thurbers fabulous, lyrical, explorative, fun, suprising and exciting way with words and Searle's illustrations which have life in every line. I've read other versions of these stories, with different illustrations, and while they're still fantastic reads, this version really sings. Get it while you can.
on 2 May 2011
Bought this book, The 13 Clocks, for my 7 year old daughter who read it in one long sitting - first time for that! Promptly picked up by Mum who wanted to know what had held daughter's attention, again not put down til read from cover to cover. James Thurber at his best - really writes a great kidz book. Would recommend to any parent wishing to broaden child's reading ability and vocabulary, including 'guggle'and 'zatch'.