The 13 Clocks

  • Colin Lewis
    • Book Reviews
    • James Thurber
    • NYR Children's Collection, July 29, 2008
    • ISBN 1590172752

I have an ongoing debate with Carolyn about temperate climes. “Cold hampers writing,” I argue. “I’m freezing up here in the north, and need a tropical isle.” “Paradise is boring,” she scoffs, “and would dull your senses.” I now offer this little gem of a book, written in Bermuda, as supporting evidence for my case.

The 13 Clocks is the sort of children’s book that everyone enjoys, and the story spans at least ten-odd levels of meaning. (I tried to count them and came up with a different number each time.) It is part fairy tale, part poetry and dark comedy, and through a series of quick, clever sentences it connects your childhood (which you may remember) with your adulthood (which you may have reached). It is funny and frightening and pleasing in every way, and it contains sage advice for writers; as Neil Gaiman states in the introduction, “I think you could learn everything you need to know about telling stories from this book.”

To our delight and confusion, The New York Review has seen fit to reprint several out-of-print children’s books. “I thought this was a new book,” said one child I showed this book to. “It was first published in 1950,” I said, “and the author is long since dead.” She considered this and frowned. “Could it have been written by his ghost writer?” she asked.

That’s the kind of humor Thurber would appreciate.

“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.’”

—as spoken by the Golux in The 13 Clocks