The 13 Clocks: Grimm's Fairytales meet The Phantom Tollbooth
I discovered The 13 Clocks by reading Neil Gaiman's introduction to the 2008 New York Review of Books edition (which I found in The View from the Cheap Seats, a massive collection of Gaiman's nonfiction), where he calls it "Probably the best book in the world" -- how could I resist?
Thurber published this book in 1950, and it has been a classic ever since, albeit not a major one -- I'd only dimly heard of it before finding Gaiman's endorsement. It's a curious blend of Dr Seuss, The Phantom Tollbooth, and Grimm's fairytales, with gorgeously silly language that makes the book an absolute delight to read aloud.
Which is exactly what I did: I read this aloud last weekend on a drive to and from the beach, to my eight year old daughter and three of her adults (my wife and my parents) who happened to be in the car. One thing I noticed straightaway: every time I stopped reading, my daughter insisted that I start again. This is the litmus test for any kids' book, and Thurber passed it with flying colors.
In Gaiman's introduction, he recounts the experience of reading the book aloud to a distressed friend who telephoned him in the night. The reading didn't make things any better, objectively, but his friend "was laughing, baffled and delighted, her problems forgotten."
This I find easy to believe.
If you can imagine Jabberwocky carried to book length, with some of the funniest lines from Humpty Dumpty, in Suessian scansion, you'd get close to what makes this book so great. It's got jokes for adults that sail over kids' heads, and jokes for kids that they will laugh at with their grownups. Though the plot -- a princess whose hand can only be won from her evil uncle through the undertaking of impossible tasks -- is simple enough, the glorious, glittering prose makes it more than its mere underlying tale. Who could resist the Golux, a possibly imaginary helpmeet with an indescribable hat who tells our hero:
“Half the places I have been to, never were. I make things up. Half the things I say are there cannot be found.
When I was young I told a tale of buried gold, and men from leagues around dug in the woods. I dug myself.”
“I thought the tale of treasure might be true.”
“You said you made it up.”
“I know I did, but then I didn’t know I had. I forget things, too.”
The 13 Clocks [James Thurber/NYRB]
F Scott Fitzgerald, in a 1928 letter to Blanche Knopf: "As ‘cocktail,’ so I gather, has become a verb, it ought to be conjugated at least once." (via JWZ)
Vlad Taltos is the (anti)hero of Steven Brust's stupendous, longrunning fantasy series (which is nearly complete, a generation after it was begun!); Issue 220 of Dragon magazine (August 1995) included a feature by Ed Stark explaining how to play the human assassin and witch who lives amidst a race of nearly immortal elves, against whom […]
The inaugural Heavy Metal Knitting World Championship were an unqualified success, with competitors from the US, Russia, Japan and beyond converging on Joensuu, Finland to thrash and knit: competitors such as Woolfumes, Bunny Bandit and 9" Needles thrashed to heavy metal music while knitting, for an audience of about 200. The winners were the five-person […]
With the rising temperatures on tap this summer, the climate is going to be a frequent topic of conversation, and those conversations won’t be happy ones. Luckily, there’s a way to do a little climate change of your own – in a safe and sustainable way. When it comes to personal air conditioners, EvaPolar is […]
Whether you’re using them for next-level selfies or steady tracking shots, gimbals are a must for anyone who wants to maximize the potential of these powerful smartphone cameras we’re all carrying around. But those smartphones are also supposed to be portable, and let’s face it: Gimbals tend to offset that advantage. Weighing in at just […]
It’s too hot for yard sales, but hey: The internet is here for you. Here are the top ten deals on some of the Boing Boing Store’s best gear, just in time for summer. It’s everything from grills to security cameras to MacBook Pros, and they might be as low as they’re ever going to […]