Somewhere back in December, as I arranged blog posts for this year, I had the supremely unoriginal idea to do a “Top 10” list of books that I discovered during 2014, and thoroughly enjoyed.
Then I realized that I had discovered more than ten; and to scrunch so many books that had stolen pieces of my soul into a quickie “top ten list” was tantamount to heresy.
So instead, I decided to occasionally drop a post or two about a gem-of-a-book that I discovered, fell in love with, and intend to reread again.
So you can imagine my delight in discovering The 13 Clocks, by James Thurber (1950). Not since discovering Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, Alice Through the Looking-Glass, and Slyvie and Bruno have I found any book that doles out equal parts whimsy and wisdom to my liking. The cruel and quirky Duke, the piteous Saralinda, the humble yet heroic Zorn and – my personal favorite – the enigmatic seen-yet-unseen Golux absolutely captured my imagination.
That I stumbled across this as part of a 6th grade Language Arts curriculum was even better – it meant I had a class of 12-year-olds to explore it with, and together we had an absolute ball. Always tottering at the edge of madness, the story somehow manages to impart wisdom amidst the whimsy, and sage advice masquerading as cheekiness. Then there’s the internal rhyme that pops up amid the prose in most wonderfully unexpected places.
Behold, the Golux!
Sometimes all these things happen at once, such as when the heroic Zorn (disguised as a minstrel) is warned about his supposed doom when the Duke’s spy is seen slinking away to report him:
“He’ll die because, to name your sins, he’ll have to mention mittens. I leave at once for other lands, since I have mentioned mittens.” He sighed. “You’ll never live to wed his niece. You’ll only die to feed his geese. Goodbye, good night, and sorry.”The traveler vanished, like a fly in the mouth of a frog, and the minstrel was left alone in the dark, deserted street.
Personally, I think the “Goodbye, good night, and sorry” line is a supremely quotable benediction. I’ve known families for whom that was their encoded catch-all “I love you goodbye see you later be careful don’t forget to write” farewell when parting ways.
Though it may seem a gloomy tale at first (the opening descriptions of the evil Duke are simply delicious), The 13 Clocks is a hopeful book, full of unexpected twists just when Zorn appears set to become another hapless victim of the Duke’s plans.
And the Golux? Did I mention how much I love the Golux?
I won’t ruin it for you, but let’s just say that for me, the Golux ranks among other immortal literary guiding helpers as The Mad Hatter, Tinkerbell, Hagrid, Lemony Snicket, and Mr Tumnus — only he’s a good deal more madcap, more tempermental, less grounded, and less woebegone than any of the others. Or, as summed up by his enemy, the Duke:
“I would not trust the Golux overfar. He cannot tell what can be from what can’t. He seldom knows what should be from what is.”
To which the Golux counters:
“I think he is not so wise as he thinks I think he is,” he said. “I was there. I know the terms…I can do a score of things that can’t be done…I can find a thing I cannot see and see a thing I cannot find…”
He riddles his way through the book, always tottering at the edge of madness, but by it he leads Zorn to his happy end, though even the happiness must kink and twist its way to the last page.
A delightful read, through and through, and suitable for all ages – even if, like my seven-year-old nephew, they don’t quite understand all the kinks, or can’t euphemize all the made-up words in a way that clears the riddling fog.
I read the first chapter to him on a whim, then thought there was no way he could follow it, only to have him ask the next day: “Can we read the red book story? About the warm princess and the cold duke, and feeding princes and shadows to the geese?”
Yes. Of course, we’ll read it. And as many times as he’ll ask for it.
PS: Speaking of dark whimsy…..Happy Birthday to Edgar Allan Poe! I am quite sorry that the Poe Toaster no longer makes an appearance…I always looked forward to the yearly report of his celebrated appearances on this auspicious day.
And Happy Belated Birthday, of course, to Martin Luther King Jr.! Remember your heroes today in his honor, as well as the great man himself – the world needs more heroes as these, indeed!