July 17, 2012


CLOCKWORK, or All Wound Up by Philip Pullman; Illustrations by Leonid Gore (Scholastic, 1996).
GENRE: Horror
HONORS: Shortlisted for the Whitebread Children's Book Award (1997); shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal (1997)

REVIEW: As with all of Pullman's work, Clockwork is a model of story construction. Drawing from German fables and fairy tales and redolent with Faustian themes, it is a lovely, though unsettling story. Told in three parts from three different characters' points of view, it begins in the tavern of a small German town. Everyone has gathered to hear Fritz, a local author of some note, read his newest frightening story, a tale called "Clockwork." But all is not as simple as it seems - once begun, the story takes on a life of it's own, leaving the pages and playing out in the town's famous clock tower. Seemingly good men make deals with the devil and consequences must be paid, but as in all good fairy tales, the spirit of innocence prevails and sets things right in the end. Pullman contextualizes his story in a brief but effective forward, equating some stories to clocks in that, once wound, it can be impossible to make them stop. The metaphor is apt. This brief and compelling tale really is a clockwork, fluid and intricate, ticking on, straight to the inevitable end.

OPINION: Clockwork is a beautiful story - dark in the way that certain traditional tales are dark - with a tonal menace that drives the reader forward. Gore's illustrations are shadowy and apt, subtly portraying a safe world briefly invaded by the fantastic. Though commonly overlooked in favor of Pullman's more well known works, Clockwork's grim appeal makes it stand out. 

IDEAS: Recommend to readers (particularly boys) reluctant to read traditional tales. Though original to Pullman, Clockwork employs a number of traditional motifs, (and the killer clockwork knight certainly doesn't hurt). 

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