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.And so begins this peculiar and delightful story. The Duke of Coffin Castle demands that those who come for the hand of his niece perform impossible tasks, and kills them when they fail. One day, a travelling minstrel that calls himself Xingu arrives to the town near the castle, determined to try to win the princess’s hand. With the help of a mysterious being who calls himself the Golux, he begins his quest to defeat the unapologetically evil Duke.
You know how some books just make you happy, and you can't even quite explain why? The Thirteen Clocks was one of those books for me. I loved the story itself, a fairy tale but-not-quite, but it was more than that. I loved the quirkiness, the darkness, the humour. I loved that even though it could easily have become silly, it never did. I loved Marc Simont’s illustrations, and above all, I loved the language.
Thurber’s use of language in The 13 Clocks calls attention to itself, but it does so in a way that never detracts from the story—on the contrary, it adds to it. This is a book that begs to be read aloud, a book in which every word is there to be savoured. In the introduction to this edition, Neil Gaiman says:
I watch Thurber wrap his story tightly in words, while at the same time juggling fabulous words that glitter and gleam, tossing them out like a happy madman, all the time explaining and revealing and baffling with words. It is a miracle.It really is a miracle.
Also, The 13 Clocks is a short book, and at first glance you would perhaps not think there would be much in the way of characterization. But by the end of the story, I was completely attached to the characters, especially the mysterious Golux. I don’t know how Thurber does it, but they really come alive.
I love many different kinds of books for many different reasons, but it’s only rarely that one charms me as much as The 13 Clocks did.
A few particularly great bits:
The cold Duke was afraid of Now, for Now has warmth and urgency, and Then is dead and buried.And this, possibly one of the best uses of alliteration ever:
The clocks were dead, and in the end, brooding on it, the Duke decided he had murdered time, slain it with his sword, and wiped his bloody blade upon its beard and left it lying there, bleeding hours and minutes, its springs uncoiled and sprawling, its pendulum disintegrating.
From the sky came the crying of flies, and the pilgrims leaped over a bleating sheep creeping knee-deep in a sleepy stream, in which swift and slippery snakes slid and slithered silkily, whispering sinful secrets.Other Opinions:
(Have you posted about this book too? Let me know and I’ll be happy to add your link here.)