July 27, 2012

The 13 Clocks

THE 13 CLOCKS by James Thurber; Illustrated by Marc Simont; Introduction by Neil Gaiman (New York Review Children's Collection, 1950)
GENRE: Fantasy / Humor / Fairy Tale

REVIEW: High up in a castle, an evil Duke (who is so cold that even the hands of his 13 clocks have frozen at "ten minutes to five") lives with his beautiful niece, Princess Seralinda. Loathe to lose her to marriage, the Duke devises all manner of impossible quests for the suitors who come knocking at his castle door. It is only when Xingu, a "knight who is not a knight" learns of the lovely Seralinda and undertakes a quest to win her hand in marriage, that the Duke overthrown and justice served. Thoroughly intelligent and charmingly ridiculous, The 13 Clocks takes full advantage of an entire host of fairy tales. Though it won't appeal to every reader, for those who enjoy a touch of the ridiculous, light romance, fairy tales or complex puns it is a wonderful, surprising read.

OPINION: The 13 Clocks is a quick read that works on several levels. For younger adolescents, the story alone, with it's fabulous villain, lovely princess and intrepid knight, is a fun romp through territory littered with familiar fairy tale motifs. For older tweens, or those who read more closely, Thurber's word play and internal pacing give The 13 Clocks and extra degree of interest. One could read this book several times and still not catch every double-meaning or subtle joke, making it a subtly ridiculous, utterly engrossing read for a wide range of tweens. Neil Gaiman's introduction adds a nice bit of context for the modern reader, as well.

IDEAS: Great for fans of Roald Dahl's satirical style and work play. Also an unexpected suggestion for fans of fairy tales and knightly romance, particularly for those who enjoy a dash of humor and a touch of the ridiculous. In the classroom, a nice vehicle for discussion about folklore and fairy tale motifs and themes.

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