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The 13 Clocks

4.01  ·  Rating details ·  6,736 ratings  ·  1,066 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: if you have alway
Paperback, 128 pages
Published February 1st 1992 by Yearling (first published 1950)
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Average rating 4.01  · 
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 ·  6,736 ratings  ·  1,066 reviews

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Jan 22, 2015 rated it really liked it
Beyond the absurdity of the Shrek universe (satire, satire, product placement, nostalgic nod, satire), this one actually pays tribute to those acts of chivalry so prevalent in fairy tales and children's books. It is witty, playful, but also deep and adult. It has, as one ogre who really gets on my nerves would say, many layers, just like an onion does.

This is better than "Le Petit Prince" GASP!; rather more in tune with my (if I do have any; I guess I know that I do) American proclivities, than
mark monday
click clack, he has a knack
his talent's in his words
glips and glops, his story pops
eerie and absurd

frip frap, a pretty death cap
fairy tales must be dark
snip and snart, and as for the art
it's vivid yet quite stark

tick tack, the prince comes back
but will it all end well?
mips and mopes, just as I'd hoped
The 13 Clocks was swell!
Sep 21, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Feb 13, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  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:
Mar 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: zz-keep-forever
I've read this several times and want to again, after seeing that Neil Gaiman and I actually agree on this tight masterpiece of word-play and adventure and satire....

(In case you don't know, I want to like Gaiman's work, but I don't.)
Another reread.

I really need a box set of Thurber's juveniles. I get so much more out of them every time. There's a mystery, and satire, drama, wordplay, and a layer of Thurberian melancholy under it all, providing a resonance, in all four of these fables.
K.D. Absolutely
Sep 12, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Jeanette (Again)
"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
Lisa  (not getting friends updates) 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
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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
It's always Then. It's never Now.

Time, for children, just never moves fast enough. Time, for adults, moves too quickly. The 13 Clocks of this tale sit frozen, "slain" by the villainous Duke.

"I slew time in these gloomy halls"


The wicked Duke sets up impossible tasks for the young men who come to ask for the hand of Princess Saralinda, with the result of such men being fed to the Duke's geese. Will the handsome minstrel be next? Is he really a minstrel? And who is the invisible Listen?

Listen c
Second Thurber I read in my life, and this time I loved the book way more than Walter Mitty, the first of his stories I read. This is a very weird fairy tale-esque Fantasy story, with an absurd plotline that's meant to make you laugh, and writing that's very convoluted and full of wordplay and silly rhymes. Good for a quick read when one's in the mood for a bit of unpretentious humour. ...more
D.M. Dutcher
Dec 27, 2011 rated it did not like it
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
Anne Blocker
Sep 17, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: strong-influence
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
May 13, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  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. ...more
Nov 19, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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
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
Mar 31, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to booklady by: Stephen Hayes
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
Jul 02, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 08, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Luisa Knight
If you're looking for a quirky, unpredictable fairy-tale, this will fit the bill! Lighthearted and with some comical twists on the fairy-tale genre, your family is sure to enjoy this adventurous tale that casts a wicked uncle, a bard and a princess that needs saving ... at least that's what it appears at first glance. Haha!

This unique narrative includes some play on words and jumbled rhymes and prose to keep you on your toes until the happily ever after ending. Delightful illustrations sprinkle
Jenny Schmenny
Dec 11, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, childrens
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
James M. Madsen, M.D.
Feb 29, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fantasy, children
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! ...more
May 25, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The 13 clocks was a nostalgic read for me. I first read it 60 years ago - then i was enthralled in it’s tale and now i appreciated the turn of phrase even more. I love the illustrations too, which were 60 years ago done in black and white.
i picked this up in an independent book shop, knowing full well it wasn't really my thing. neil gaimain calls the 13 clocks, "probably the best book in the world" and that alone kind of solidified my feeling that i probably wouldn't like it. aaaand i was right.

it's not so much that it was a bad book. it's just...for a certain crowd. if you like neil gaiman, or monty python or the princess bride and stuff like that, you will most likely enjoy this book. i don't much care for any of the aforementi
Jan 30, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
'time is for dragonflies and angels. the former live too little and the latter live too long'.

in this story, nothing and everything makes sense, things do and don't exist and time may or may not have been slain. reminiscent of lewis carroll and with marc simont's beautiful and often unsettling illustrations that invoke nostalgia, i thoroughly enjoyed this book
Mar 07, 2015 rated it it was ok
The blurb on my copy of this book described it as not a "parable, fairy tale, or poem, but rather a mix of all three." In fact, it achieves none. We are told the princess is good, but we are given no proof why. We are told the prince is good, but he seems nothing more than a spoiled rich kid. And the duke, the ultimate representation of evil in this parable, is as flat as the rest of them, a slimy fellow who limps around threatening to slay people from their zatch to their guggle. Humorous, occa ...more
Dawn Michelle
What an absolutely delightful book. It is everything one could want - an enchanted princess, a villain, a good prince, a quest and everything in between. And the illustrations make it even more delightful. I am so glad I found this. Just fantastic.
Amy Neftzger
Nov 09, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 07, 2007 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: i probably wouldn't
the begining gave me hope, and the end left me bitter. the 13 clocks started off well, then meandered every which way. there was no real character development. it was supposed to be philosophical, but i found it convoluted. the author imployed too many tortuous windings and improbable circumstances to get everything to work out. the end was rather obvious but still a bit vague. and the occasional rhyming annoyed me.
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Reading 1001: The 13 Clocks by James Thurber 3 23 Jul 17, 2020 03:47AM  
Hoyt's Huns: 13 Clocks -- April 2018 -- spoilers allowed 3 4 May 06, 2018 06:16PM  
Hoyt's Huns: 13 Clocks -- April 2018 -- spoiler free 7 5 May 06, 2018 01:49PM  
Probably the book which developed my love of reading! 2 24 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

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