The 13 Clocks is a Gothic-style fairytale with dark humor, so choose your audience wisely. Thurber writes, however, with an immense vocabulary, a wild imagination, and a brilliant, biting wit, and adults should find this story highly entertaining.
Wickedly scheming, he would limp and cackle through the cold corridors of the castle, planning new impossible feats for the suitors of Saralinda to perform. He did not wish to give her hand in marriage, since her hand was the only warm hand in the castle. Even the hands of his watch and the hands of all the thirteen clocks were frozen…
The cold Duke was afraid of Now, for Now has warmth and urgency, and Then is dead and buried..The Duke was afraid of Now, but he tampered with the clocks to see if they would go, out of a strange perversity, praying that they wouldn’t.
Tinkers and tinkerers and a few wizards who happened by tried to start the clocks with tools or magic words, or by shaking them and cursing, but nothing whirred or ticked. 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.
Thurber also invents words with a Seuss-like proficiency.
“Come on, you blob of glup,” the cold Duke roared. “You may frighten octopi to death, you gibbous spawn of hate and thunder, but not the Duke of Coffin Castle!” He sneered. “Now that my precious gems have turned to thlup, living on, alone and cold, is not my fondest wish! On guard, you musty sofa!” The Todal gleeped. There was a stifled shriek and silence.
Students should be able to point out many instances of alliteration and other literary devices, which Thurber employs liberally.
The brambles and the thorns grew thick and thicker in a ticking thicket of bickering crickets. Farther along and stronger, bonged the gongs of a throng of frogs, green and vivid on their lily pads. 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.
You may also want to draw the students’ attention to the end of the book where Thurber writes:
The Duke’s…eye moved glassily around and saw the Golux. “You mere Device!” he gnarled. “You platitude! You Golux ex machina!”
This is a great opportunity to teach the literary device Deus ex machina. Not many authors will blatantly identify their “Device” with such wit.
Crime Scene [Setting]
Coffin Castle—a cold, gloomy castle on a lonely hill
A fairytale world
Once upon a time
Time frozen at 10 minutes to 5
Always Then, never Now
Duke—cold, aggressive, evil, wicked, cruel, limping, 6 foot 4 inches, 46 years old, wears a velvet patch on one eye and a monocle on the other, afraid of Now
Princess Saralinda—warm, nearly 21, “loveliest princess on all the 1,000 islands of the ocean seas”
Prince Zorn of Zorna—disguised as a minstrel named Xingu--a “thing of rags and tatters,” youngest son of a powerful king
Golux (“Listener”)—little man, hat, wide eyes, beard, magical, invisible