Monday, October 24, 2011

The 13 Clocks

James Thurber 1950
illustrated by Marc Simont

A suitable book for Halloween reading.  There is a wicked Duke, cold and evil with legs of different lengths and a velvet patch over one eye.  He lives with his niece, the Princess Saralinda, in a castle with thirteen clocks that wouldn't go. 

The clocks were dead, and in the end, brooding on it, the Duke decided he had murdered time, slain it with his sword, and wiped his bloody blade upon its beard and left it lying there, bleeding hours and minutes, its springs uncoiled and sprawling, its pendulum disintegrating.

The cold Duke was afraid of Now, for Now has warmth and urgency, and Then is dead and buried. Now might bring a certain knight of gay and shining courage-

When suitors come for the beautiful Saralinda, the Duke managed to kill them all or give them impossible tasks like cut a slice of moon, or change the ocean into wine.  They were set to finding things that never were, and building things that could not be.

A prince dressed as a ragged minstrel and calling himself Xingu (but who is really Zorn of Zorna) sets off to wed the princess.  In this odd story he meets the Golux ("I am the Golux," said the Golux, proudly, "the only Golux in the world, and not a mere Device), must avoid the awful Todal (who looks like a blob of glup, makes a sound of rabbits screaming, and smells of old, unopened rooms), and the Duke's spies, Hark and Listen.

It's a strange but wonderful little book- part fairy tale, a little bit dark with some sharp humor.  I can't help but think fans of Norton Juster would love this as well.

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