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.
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
…[A]n eccentric children’s story that took apart and lovingly reconstructed the fairy tale long before William Steig wrote Shrek or William Goldman penned The Princess Bride.
— Los Angeles Times
Rich with ogres and oligarchs, riddles and wit. What distinguishes it 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.
The 13 Clocks, first published in 1950, still deserves its reputation as a modern classic, and ranks as one of Thurber’s finest works….Thurber pioneers the postmodern, ironic fairy story.
— Publishers Weekly
If you like The Princess Bride you’re going to like [The 13 Clocks].
— Daniel Pinkwater, Weekend Edition, NPR
The 13 Clocks is especially wonderful.
— The Washington Post
Everyone who reads to their children knows…to 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…
— The Guardian
There has never been anything like this before, and there will never be anything like this again…[Thurber] takes such delight in the words. It’s like it’s written by somebody who wants to infect you with his love of words. There are poems hidden in the text. There are places where it wanders into rhyme and out again. There are all of the invented words. The story itself is nonsense in the finest possible way.
—Neil Gaiman, interviewed in The Wall Street Journal