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The 13 Clocks
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The 13 Clocks

4.08 of 5 stars 4.08  ·  rating details  ·  3,234 ratings  ·  567 reviews
How can anyone describe this book? It isn't a parable, a fairy story or a poem, but rather a mixture of all three. It is beautiful and it is comic. It is philosophical and it is cheery. What we suppose we are trying fumblingly to say is, in a word, that it is Thurber.

There are only a few reasons why everybody has always wanted to read this kind of story, but they are basic

Paperback, 128 pages
Published February 1st 1992 by Yearling (first published 1950)
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Stephen Miriam was right- these types of descriptions usually come directly from the publisher. This is especially true with anything published since the dawn…moreMiriam was right- these types of descriptions usually come directly from the publisher. This is especially true with anything published since the dawn of the internet. This books description is mirrored on countless other websites including Amazon, so I believe it did come from the publisher. As a librarian, one is able to edit these descriptions. I went ahead and altered the language of that description. I understand why the presumption of whomever wrote that was so offensive. Thanks for pointing it out and please consider becoming a librarian!(less)
The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. TolkienCharlotte's Web by E.B. WhiteThe Catcher in the Rye by J.D. SalingerLord of the Flies by William GoldingThe Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
Best Books of the Decade: 1950's
91st out of 568 books — 681 voters
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Nothing but Numbers
37th out of 757 books — 114 voters

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Community Reviews

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Oh my god, "The 13 Clocks" is genius. How did this book stay off my radar for so long? Who can I blame? I only heard of the book because Neil Gaiman wrote an introduction (I think) to a new edition in which he highly praises "13 Clocks". I ordered a copy from the library (an older copy, without the Gaiman introduction...our library system doesn't have the new edition yet) and I read the entire text in about an hour, maybe a little less. "13 Clocks" reads like a lovely meld of "The Phantom Tollbo ...more
Mar 01, 2014 Carol. rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fans of twisted fairy tales
I enjoy whimsy and fairy tales, but The 13 Clocks falls short in its attempt to blend the two. I first learned of it in a discussion of Peter Beagle's The Last Unicorn, when it was reported as similar in style and tone. Unfortunately, I found it a distinctly inferior tale, the vending machine version of a homemade chocolate chip cookie.

More on why I awarded my unfavorable 2 stars at:
K.D. Absolutely
Dec 15, 2012 K.D. Absolutely rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to K.D. by: 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die (2006-2012)
Shelves: 1001-core, childrens
I picked up this book thinking that this could be classified as just another children's book. It does have many fairy tale ingredients yet it uses metaphors similar to those of Antoine de Saint-Exupery in his unforgettable classic, The Little Prince (3 stars). Some of the metaphors used by St-Ex easily escaped me but most of them I was able to relate to my personal experiences. Same is true here with James Thurber's 1950 fantasy tale, The 13 Clocks.

The story is about an evil Duke who has been c
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist"
"Once upon a time, in a gloomy castle on a lonely hill, where there were thirteen clocks that wouldn't go, there lived a cold, aggressive Duke, and his niece, the Princess Saralinda..."

This was a fast and fun romp. One part wicked to two parts whimsy, it's a book to delight all ages. Children will love the story, and adults will enjoy the more sophisticated humor and word play. If you know anything about James Thurber, (or maybe even if you don't), you'll appreciate how much fun he had writing t
Nov 26, 2010 Joel rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Joel by: Harold Bloom
I read this in about an hour, which is not the way to do it. It needs to be read aloud, preferably to a small child, the lyrical, whimsical language savored. Which is why I now want to acquire a copy, so one day I can do just that. I'd try reading it aloud to the cats right now, but I doubt they'd appreciate it.
Anne Blocker
Carolyn Cantwell introduced me to this book. She was a concert pianist headed for law school, majoring in American literature. I was a pre-med student fascinated with technology, dissecting fetal pigs in the kitchen. I loved poetry, folk and rock and didn't read books. I looked things up and read the funny papers. I challenged her to find a book that could hold my attention to the end. She took on my cutural development as a project and gave me Thirteen Clocks.

I enjoyed the pictures and set it a
As Thurber admits in his foreword, he revised and re-revised this many times. And he wrote it late in life. Compared to earlier, fresher pieces, it is over-worked and overly-ambitious. But it's still Thurber and it's still wonderful. The basic plot of a Prince sent on a quest to win the right to marry the Princess, pretty good. The details, though - ah... The language - oh...

Consider that the quest is to find 1,000 jewels in nine and ninety hours on a rocky island which has already been combed
Nov 19, 2007 Matthew rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: everyone
James Thurber's The Thirteen Clocks is an allegorical fairy tale for adults that primarily showcases Thurber's wit and mischievous wordplay. Although it's ostensibly about an evil Duke who keeps his niece, the Princess Saralinda locked in his cold dark castle, where time has been stopped by his own sword, and feeds her potential suitors to his geese, I don't recommend it as a bedtime story to your six-year-old unless you want them to turn out like me. Thanks dad! I mean that. The 13 Clocks is si ...more
Jenny Schmenny
Damn, Thurber's a genius in this one. Read, my friend, and witness. The deliciously evil Duke who has stopped time in its tracks, who slits people "from guggle to zatch." The sly alliteration and delightful wordplay. The intentional tweaking and inversion of tired fairy-tale standards.

"...They came and tried and failed and disappeared and never came again. And some, as I have said, were slain, for using names that start with X, or dropping spoons, or wearing rings, or speaking disrespectfully o
Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly
"An American Classic" the book cover declares. And I agree. For here, one can find many things which America had made famous:

1.Kidnapping - the Princess Saralinda wasn't really the Duke's niece. He kidnapped her when she was little;

2. Vicious Murders - the Duke had killed, and gutted like fish, countless victims and fed their flesh to his geese;

3. Lust - the Duke lusted after Saralinda and was not able to immediately consummate his evil desire only because of a witch's spell (a case of evil susp
Brenton Nichol
This is certainly a fantasy book from the 50s. It reminds me very much of all the old 50s children books that were in my grandparents' house in California, old books that had been my mother's when she was a little girl. This is partly so because of the illustrations by Marc Simont, who's style is very much like just about any other children's book from the 40s and 50s that I remember reading. In fact, I'm sure he illustrated at least a handful of those very books I remember from my visits to Gra ...more
Very enjoyable story! It's part children's classic, part fairy tale/fantasy and the rest who-knows-what, but who cares?! Clever rhyme and innuendo throughout make for a delightful and insightful little diversion. Marc Simont's illustrations, the texture of the cover, even the lettering and paper of this edition take me back to my childhood. Reading The Thirteen Clocks was a full sensory experience for me and one I immediately wanted to share with others from the same generation.

The tale is simp
Lisa Vegan
A wonderful introduction by Neil Gaiman and and an interesting foreword by the author got me excited to read this book, but I admired it more than I enjoyed it. While I did smile and even chuckle at times, it just wasn’t my cup of tea. It was clever but in my opinion not that brilliant, and I simply didn’t find it emotionally satisfying or that entertaing. It was just okay for me, though I did like it well enough. I’m very aware that this may simply not have been the right book at the right time ...more
James M. Madsen, M.D.
This is James Thurber's foray into the world of fantasy, and although it's a short story, it's a gem, for both children and adults. The language is classic Thurber, with just the right seasoning of tongue in cheek, and the illustrations are perfect for the text. Highly recommended for everyone, and particularly fun to read aloud either by yourself or to an audience!
This was a wonderful, farcical Children's fairy tale that I would never have come across had it not been on Boxall's 1001 Books to Read Before You Die list. Reading this book reminded me of when I happily read Dr. Seuss to my children, not really knowing who loved the books more, who giggled the most, who said "again", just glowing in that feel good emotion that only sharing the best children's books with them brought out in me. How we missed this one is beyond me, I feel as though I've short-ch ...more
This was an interesting book to say the least. I'm still not sure exactly what the moral was supposed to be. Worth the read though, if only for the marvelous language and inventive characters.

So, this gets four stars because I love Thurber and also because of this marvelous piece of alliteration:

"The brambles and thorns grew thick and thicker in a ticking thicket of bickering crickets. Farther along and stronger, bonged the gongs of a throng of frogs, green and vivid on their lily pads. From the
Amy Neftzger
If you love cleverly written fantasy books, it doesn't get much better than the 13 Clocks. The story takes you on a wild and yet slightly farcical ride as you follow the prince's efforts to win the hand of the princess from her wicked Uncle. Yes, this book has the classic elements of a fairy tale but it's also filled with imaginative interpretations of everyday things such as the Duke who killed time (an event which left blood on his sleeves). This is a children's book and a short read, but well ...more
Mar 13, 2007 Becca added it
Shelves: fun, all-time-faves
AMAZING!! I grew up with this book, and so did my mom and her absolute classic. My grandfather used to quote it all the time. Adorable and a necessity.
Well, I don't know if I'd agree with Neil Gaiman's introduction that this is "the best book in the world", but it IS really fun, really creepy, and wonderfully crafted. A grim fairytale, yet with humor and clever wordplay - covering all the bases that makes a juvenile book readable and memorable. Some quotations, for flavor:

"The castle clocks were murdered," said the Duke. "I killed time here myself one snowy morning. You still can see the old brown stains, where seconds bled to death, here on m
So richly imaginative, and positively brimming with wit and humorous surprises--if I had to pick one book from American children's literature that was clearly on a level with Alice in Wonderland for the sheer pleasure it gives, this would likely be that book. One notable difference, though, is that The 13 Clocks can be read in one long sitting. Still, that only means that I'm likely to re-read it more frequently than many children's books.

Some favorite dialogue from the book:

"We all have flaws,"
D.M. Dutcher
I don't get the hype.

Look, this was released by Dell Yearling, so theoretically it is a children's novel. Children do not know who James Thurber is, do not usually care about whether or not a story is philosophical or Thurberian, and while they do enjoy wordplay and fun, aren't placing as high a value on it as the sheer delight a story involves. Seeing this on the back cover was my first warning, and the book confirms my right to be.

The writing is like a sword that is so encrusted with brilliant
James Thurber

“Courtship Like Clockwork?’

I was introduced to this marvelous fantasy in junior high school; despite the passing of decades and having read hundreds of Young Adult books and a hundred Children’s and Adult classics, I still recall this little book with real fondness. Recognized for his droll and irreverent Midwestern sense of humor (“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”) Thurber is generally known for his outrageous delicition of family and married life. The Ohio j
A timeless story of bravery, wizardry, and true love triumphing over evil, written in a delightfully Thurberian style that will appeal to readers of all ages."

Summary (SPL): With the help of his magical protector, the Golux, Prince Zorn performs impossible tasks to win the hand of Princess Saralinda.

Library Journal: "[In] James Thurber's grown-up fairy tale... the cold Duke of Coffin Castle, who was 'even colder than he thought he was,' holds his 'niece' captive and refuses to give her hand in m
This is a great story, both for children as well as adults. I read a little bit before deciding to read it aloud to my family (all adults), it only took a couple sentences before I realized that the book is meant to be told to another person (or a couple people) not read by oneself. The amazing lyrical style sometimes twisted my tongue, but in a good way. The characters were all wonderful. The copy I had was not illustrated by James Thurber, but the illustrations really added to the story anyway ...more
Julie Davis
I never heard of this until Neil Gaiman chose it for his Wall Street Journal book club selection. He has called it possibly the best book in the world and said that he grew up loving this book and thinking it was as well known in the U.S. as Alice in Wonderland.

Naturally I raced online to the library and requested it. Anyone who reads Neil Gaiman, especially his children's books, will instantly see that he and Thurber are kindred souls.

Naturally a prince comes to rescue the princess from the la
I would love to say that it was Neil Gaiman himself who recommended this book to me, but that would be lying.

Sort of.

After all, I found out about this book in Neil Gaiman's Unnatural Creatures anthology. Sadly, although he described this as the best book in the world, I didn't feel the same way.

For a fantasy fan girl like me, this book was good. It had just the right amount of fairy tale, magic, villainy, and monsters and minstrels that have never been touched by my imagination. BUT the story
Heidi Thorsen
I read this to my boys and the 5yo enjoyed it. The 3yo lost interest quickly, it was too complicated for him. When I asked the 5yo what he thought about it, he said, "it's a little bit scary, since there is a mean duke." Yeah, that seems about right. It's a fairy tale, with a prince, princess awaiting rescue, and the mean duke. It's great to read aloud, the chapters are the right length for that and the book is not too long. There are rhymes and some adult humor in there that the kids won't find ...more
Blake Charlton
a wonderfully witty, laugh aloud, & unapologetic modern celebration of fairytales.
George Irwin
I must admit, I read this because Neil Gaiman brought it back, suggested it, and I am Neil's whore and will read anything he winks at. However, considering it was one of the formative books that Neil read, you can definitely get a feel for influences he drew from as writer that are present in this novel. It is a short, fun read, and has a Princess, an evil Duke, a mystery, a Whisper, and a Golux. Every story needs a Golux, but there is only one.

Anyways, it earned its own little piece of my heart
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Probably the book which developed my love of reading! 2 22 Aug 13, 2014 02:54PM  
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Thurber was born in Columbus, Ohio to Charles L. Thurber and Mary Agnes (Mame) Fisher Thurber. Both of his parents greatly influenced his work. His father, a sporadically employed clerk and minor politician who dreamed of being a lawyer or an actor, is said to have been the inspiration for the small, timid protagonist typical of many of his stories. Thurber described his mother as a "born comedien ...more
More about James Thurber...
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty Many Moons The Thurber Carnival My Life and Hard Times The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and Other Pieces

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“Remember laughter. You'll need it even in the blessed isles of Ever After.” 31 likes
“Time is for dragonflies and angels. The former live too little and the latter live too long.” 30 likes
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