The 13 Clocks
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The 13 Clocks

5.0 1
by James Thurber, Marc Simont

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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. His hands were as cold as his smile, and almost as cold as his heart. He wore gloves when he was asleep, and he


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. His hands were as cold as his smile, and almost as cold as his heart. He wore gloves when he was asleep, and he wore gloves when he was awake, which made it difficult for him to pick up pins or coins or the kernels of nuts, or to tear the wings from nightingales.

So begins James Thurber’s sublimely revamped fairy tale, The 13 Clocks, in which a wicked Duke who imagines he has killed time, and the Duke’s beautiful niece, for whom time seems to have run out, both meet their match, courtesy of an enterprising and very handsome prince in disguise. Readers young and old will take pleasure in this tale of love forestalled but ultimately fulfilled, admiring its upstanding hero (”He yearned to find in a far land the princess of his dreams, singing as he went, and possibly slaying a dragon here and there”) and unapologetic villain (”We all have flaws,” the Duke said. “Mine is being wicked”), while wondering at the enigmatic Golux, the mysterious stranger whose unpredictable interventions speed the story to its necessarily happy end.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"It's a modern take on the standard fairy tale... if you liked 'The Princess Bride,' you're going to like this. If you like a book by Jules Feiffer, 'A Barrel of Laughs, A Vale of Tears,' you'll like this. If you remember 'Fractured Fairy Tales' on Rocky and Bullwinkle, you'll like this. We suggest, read the beginning. We're not going to give away the plot, because it's all in the language with a book like this."  —Daniel Pinkwater, NPR Weekend Edition Saturday

"The great New Yorker humorist James Thurber wrote a few children's books, the best of which may be The 13 Clocks, a 1950 tale of a wicked duke who thinks he has stopped time. Newly reissued, with an intro by Neil Gaiman — who calls it ''probably the best book in the world'' — Clocks is the equal of any modern kid classic. By the time he wrote The 13 Clocks, Thurber was too blind to provide his own usual scratchy but vivid illustrations, so he enlisted his friend Marc Simont to do the drawings. Simont provided beautifully cartoonish yet subtle mini-paintings that convey Clocks' varying moods of gloom, menace, surprise, and joy." —Entertainment Weekly

"The 13 Clocks is one of the cleverest [fairytales] that any modern writer has been able to tell...there is no living author who moves about in fairyland with such wit and easy familiarity." -Time

"It's one of the great kids' books of the last century. It may be the best thing Thurber ever wrote. It's certainly the most fun that anybody can have reading anything aloud." -Neil Gaiman

"There are spys, monsters, betrayals, hair's-breadth escapes, spells to be broken and all the usual accouterments, but Thurber gives the proceedings his own particular deadpan spin...It all makes for a rousing concoction of adventure, humor and satire that defies any conventional classification." -LA Times

"My exemplary Thurber fairy tale is The 13 Clocks...a small masterpiece of respectful travesty honors the whole spectrum of the traditions." -The Hudson Review

"The 13 Clocks is especially wonderful." -The Washington Post

"Rich with ogres and oligarchs, riddles and wit. What distinguishes [The 13 Clocks] is not just quixotic imagination but Thurber's inimitable delight in language. The stories beg to be read aloud...Thurber captivates the ear and captures the heart." -Newsweek

"For true modern fairy tales we leave you with James Thurber...who wrote a tale...with charm and grace in The Thirteen Clocks. These I recommend if you are tired of Grimm." -ABC Radio

Thurber's stories are "for children to dream through and for adults to read as parables" -Guardian

"Everyone who reads to their children read the stuff that you love, or that you love to roll off your tongue...I'd put in a personal endorsement for James Thurber's The 13 Clocks here..." -Guardian

"Gothic, gruesome, and written with the wit of the master wordsmith.If you saw my copy, you'd believe me when I say I've read it more than 13 times." -Nicola Morgan, The Scotsman

Children's Literature - Ellen Welty
The beautiful and warm princess Saralinda is being held captive by her wicked uncle (or so he claims), the Duke of Coffin Castle. All the clocks in the castle have stopped at ten minutes before five and the Duke believes that he has succeeded in killing time since no attempts to re-start the clocks have succeeded. A prince disguised as a minstrel arrives to try to win the hand of the beautiful princess. The Duke sets a seemingly impossible task for the prince who will marry the princess if he succeeds. While the story appears to be a typical fairy tale down to the requisite happy ending, the joyous play on words, the internal meter of the language in the story and the quirky postmodern elements (characters commenting on the story itself) give this tale a charm and allure that is not often found in traditional fairy tales. Perfect for reading aloud because of the poetry of the language, the book will appeal to readers of all ages—adults and older children will laugh at the puns and wordplay and younger readers will delight in the not-quite rhyming language. The illustrations perfectly embody the fantasy elements of the story without overwhelming readers. A sheer delight. Reviewer: Ellen Welty

Product Details

New York Review Books
Publication date:
New York Review Children's Collection Series
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
6.20(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.60(d)
800L (what's this?)
Age Range:
8 - 12 Years

Meet the Author

James Thurber (1894—1961), one of the outstanding American humorists and cartoonists of the twentieth century, was born in Columbus, Ohio, and launched his professional writing career as a reporter for the Columbus Dispatch in 1920. He began writing for The New Yorker in 1927 after his friend E. B. White got him a job at the magazine. Though hampered by failing eyesight, Thurber wrote nearly forty books, including collections of essays, short stories, fables, and children’s stories. He won a Tony Award for his popular Broadway play, A Thurber Carnival.

Marc Simont (1915-2013) illustrated nearly a hundred books. He won a Caldecott Honor in 1950 for illustrating Ruth Krauss’s The Happy Day, and in 1957 he was awarded the Caldecott Medal for his pictures in A Tree Is Nice by Janice May Udry. He is the illustrator for The New York Review Children’s Collection books The Backward Day and The Wonderful O.

Neil Gaiman is an award-winning author of novels, short stories, children's books, and graphic novels. Among his works are the children's books Coraline, The Wolves in the Walls, and The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish; the Sandman graphic novels series; and the fantasy novels Stardust and Smoke and Mirrors. Originally from England, Gaiman now lives in the United States.

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The 13 Clocks 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
Amy_Neftzger More than 1 year ago
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 worth the time.
BRF More than 1 year ago
The Thirteen Clocks is too long to be a short story, too short to be a novel but is a "just right" novella. It is in the company of "The Old Man and the Sea," "Of Mice and Men," and "Call of the Wild." This novella is a fable, fairy tail, and fantasy. James Thurber weaves a tale of the just and right prince Zorn prevailing over an evil Duke by performing seemingly impossible tasks. Saralinda is as her name suggests, is both beautiful and a princess and is also the key to this story. This is a fitting book for children and adults.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
"The Thirteen Clocks" is a really fantastic book. I happened to read it in a Barnes & Noble store on a whim, and I couldn't get it out of my head. I had to buy my own copy. If you love literature and fantasy stories, you have to read this book. It's very unique--it seems like a story for children, with a princess and an evil duke, but I think it's really geared more towards adults. It's full of whimsical characters, like a spy named Whisper and an evil duke with "a voice like iron dropped on velvet." The language is perfectly crafted, and rhymes just when it has too. And of course the Golux, with his "indescribable" hat, who is full of surprises. He probably owns a copy of this book himself, and his only problem with the story is that he wishes that Princess Saralinda had a little more personality. Buy this book!
tapestry100 More than 1 year ago
The 13 Clocks is a hard book to label; is it YA? A child's fairy tale? Something written for adults? I can honestly say yes to all these questions. It has just about every aspect of the typical fairy tale present: there is a damsel in distress, an evil duke, a prince who comes to the rescue, impossible tasks, magical creatures, curses and a happily ever after. The Princess Saralinda is something of a captive to her wicked 'uncle,' the Duke, who is actually not her uncle, but her kidnapper, and who plans to marry her on her 21st birthday. She has had many suitors over the years, but the Duke gives each an impossible task to complete for her hand, or he simply kills them for practically no reason. Along comes the prince, Zorn of Zorna, disguised as a traveling minstrel, who goes on an impossible quest set forth by the Duke. Accompanying Zorn is the Golux, who seems to be something of a wizard, but maybe not, and together they accomplish the task, but just barely. I'm giving nothing away here, as we all know how these fairy tales end, and this particular tale follows in the footsteps of every one before it. Marc Simont's illustration are very simplistic, but they match the tone and feel of the story perfectly. I found them a fresh accompaniment to the story. Don't take me the wrong way, I enjoyed reading The 13 Clocks. Thurber created a fun little story, but I'm just not 100% convinced that it deserves the amounts of praise that has been heaped on it.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
From the Golux (who is a device) to the evil duke (who fears princes who's names begin with an X but don't) this is a hugely fun read. I was delighted by this story as a child and loved it when I reread it a year ago. Highly recommended.