By the Book @ Rogers Memorial Library

The Thirteen Clocks, by James Thurber

13 clocks“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.  She was warm in every wind and weather, but he was always cold.”

Sometimes I’ll begin reading a short story, or a book, only to find myself saying the words out loud.  The sentences just jump off the page and sing.  The first time I discovered James Thurber’s magical book, The 13 Clocks, I couldn’t read it silently, either. From the diabolical, one-eyed Duke, whose voice “sounded like iron dropped on velvet,” to a prince disguised as a “ragged minstrel,” “a thing of shreds and zatches,” to the enigmatic Golux, who speaks in riddles, I got swept up into Thurber’s cold kingdom, where time has frozen and “It’s always Then.  It’s never Now.”

Will Prince Zorn be able to outwit the evil Duke and win the warm hand of beautiful Saralinda?  I’m sure you know the answer to that question — the fun lies in the story itself.  With sly humor and a whimsical sense of wordplay, Thurber toys with readers in a dark and delightful way.  As in many fairy tales, this is the story of a quest: the prince travels with his Golux guide to seek Hagga, a woman rumored to weep a wealth of jewels…that is, if you can make her cry.  When the duo arrives at Hagga’s house, they learn that years of experience have dried up her tears; now she only laughs gemstones that last for a mere fortnight.  How Zorn and the Golux conspire — in the midst of witches’ spells, spies, and the inexorable passage of time — to answer the Duke’s challenge makes for an entertaining tale that conveys both Thurber’s love of language, and of laughter.

Read this story (if you can) silently to yourself for the first time.  Then share it aloud with someone else.  If you enjoy listening to contemporary and traditional fairy tales, bring your bag lunch — or your knitting — and join us this Friday, April 19, at 12:05 p.m. in the Morris Meeting Room, for Once Upon a Time…a Story Time for Grown-Ups.  Drop-ins are welcome.  Librarian Terry Lucas will share the title poem by Jane Yolen from her collection, Once Upon a Time (She Said), and I’ll share a tale by Kelly Link from her fantasy collection, Magic for Beginners.  Link’s  “The Faery Handbag,” tells the story of a magical handbag — if you open it one way, you can store reading glasses, a library book, and a pillbox in it.  If you open it another way…it holds an entire country.  This continuing program takes place on the third Friday of each month.


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