The Thirteen Clocks is probably one of Thurber’s longer stories and one of his stories more aimed at children. That is not to say it cannot be enjoyed by adults as well. The story is only 124 pages long, and reads well in one sitting.
“Those who survived his scorn and sword were given incredible labours to perform in order to win his niece’s hand, the only warm hand in the castle, where time had frozen to death at ten minutes to five one snowy night.”
The story is a sort of alternative fairytale, complete with a wicked duke keeping his niece locked up in a castle until her 21st birthday when he plans to marry her and a prince posing as a penniless minstrel, coming to rescue her.
It is written in quite a poetic style, but is not quite poetry. Instead certain phrases are repeated and re-emphasised throughout the story such as the fact the all the clocks in the castle (thirteen on them in fact) have frozen leading to the duke believing he has stopped time.
“‘I had high hopes of being evil when I was two, but in my youth I came upon a firefly burning in a spider’s web. I saved the victim’s life.’ ‘The firefly’s?’ said the minstrel. ‘The spider’s. The blinking arsonist had set the web on fire.’
The duke sets the prince the task of finding a thousand jewels in nine and ninety hours, knowing that there are no jewels he can find in that time, but this being a fairytale, The Golux (only one on the world) helps him and tells him of a woman who can weep jewels.
“‘The Todal looks like a glob of glup,’ he said. ‘It makes a sound like rabbits screaming, and smells of old, unopened rooms.”
The Todal, who we are told moves by gleeping, punishes evil-doers for not doing enough evil, so the duke lives in fear of the Todal.
The story has an obvious ending even before you start reading it, but that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable. As with many James Thurber stories it is better if someone read it too you, or if you read it out loud, but it does still work if read in your head, and is a very simple quick story to read again and again.