"I'm not an artist. I'm a painstaking writer who doodles for relaxation."
James Grover Thurber (1894–1961) was an American humor writer and cartoonist. Among his well-known works are the short story "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" and the children's fantasy novels The 13 Clocks
and The Wonderful O
In his own time his writing and art were often associated with The New Yorker
magazine where many of his short stories first appeared. Many of Thurber's fictions, such as "Walter Mitty," "A Couple of Hamburgers," and "The War Between Men and Women," deal with the fundamental conflict between men and women, and the romantic vs. practical mindset represented by each, respectively. His works are also colored by his liberal individualist views, in a time when creeping nationalism was threatening personal freedom in many parts of the world — some not entirely remote — and are also characterized by a deep sympathy for animals, particularly dogs.
A personal favorite writer of one Keith Olbermann
who single-handedly sparked enough popular demand to put Thurber's anthologies back into print in the late '00s, when he revealed that he would read from a book of Thurber's stories to his terminally ill father, who suggested he read some of them on his TV show.
Works by James Thurber with their own trope pages include:
Works inspired by James Thurber with their own trope pages include:
Trope pages with page quotes or page images by James Thurber include:
Other works by James Thurber provide examples of:
- Affectionate Parody: Fables for Our Times parodies Aesop's Fables-type moral stories; "The Scotty Who Knew Too Much" parodies the Hardboiled Detective story
- Attractive Bent Species: Clode has trouble with this in The White Deer.
- Baleful Polymorph: A central dilemma of The White Deer is whether the deer maiden is an example of this or of benevolent polymorph.
- Beast Fable: quite a few of the Fables For Our Times
- Canine Companion: Thurber was definitely a dog person, and the lumpy "Thurber Dog" features prominently in stories and cartoons.
- Cassandra Truth:
- In "The Unicorn in the Garden", a Henpecked Husband finds a unicorn in the garden, but his wife doesn't believe him, telling him firmly that there's no such thing as unicorns, and calls for him to be taken away to a mental asylum. The tables are turned when the officials from the asylum arrive; when she tells them her husband saw a unicorn in the garden, he meekly says that there's no such thing as unicorns, leaving her looking like the unbalanced one.
- "The Catbird Seat" is about a man who plots to get rid of an incredibly obnoxious woman who works at his office; she's driven away most of his colleagues and is about to talk his superior into cutting out the man's department. The man, a clean-living, sober type who wouldn't hurt a fly, visits her apartment one night, at which point he drinks whiskey, smokes a cigar and discusses his plan to kill his boss using very harsh language. The next day, the woman tries to warn their boss of the man's plan... and is fired when the boss thinks she's having a breakdown.
- Comically Missing the Point: In the short story "Mr. Preble Gets Rid of His Wife", Mr. Preble is planning to murder his wife so he can run off with his secretary. She is suspicious when he asks her to go down to the cellar with him, and he blurts out the truth almost immediately — and ends up in an argument about the selfish and inconsiderate way he's chosen to go about it (she's in the middle of a book and doesn't feel like going down to the cellar to be murdered just now; it's cold down there, and he's picked out a lousy murder weapon and makes her wait while he goes to find another one... and so on).
- Criminal Doppelgänger: "The Remarkable Case of Mr. Bruhl"
- Cut His Heart Out with a Spoon: What the Big Bad in The Wonderful O threatens Littlejohn's parrot with: "I'll squck its thrug till all it can whubble is geep!"
- Engagement Challenge: In The White Deer.
- Fractured Fairy Tale: Many, particularly The White Deer, The Great Quillow, and Fables For Our Times.
- Gaslighting: "The Unicorn In The Garden", "The Catbird Seat", "The Great Quillow"
- Henpecked Husband: Lots of them, but Walter Mitty is almost certainly the best-known.
- Hope Sprouts Eternal: "The Last Flower"
- In Name Only: The 1947 film of "The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty". It bore little resemblance to the story, and Thurber hated it. The 2013 film version will also use a different storyline.
- Mad Dreamer: Walter Mitty.
- Mars and Venus Gender Contrast: An incessantly recurring theme throughout Thurber's stories.
- The Marvelous Deer: The White Deer is all about what a deer really is.
- Massive Multiplayer Scam: "The Great Quillow" involves some townspeople who pull one of these on a giant to get him to leave their village alone.
- Mental Story: "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty".
- Mr. Imagination: Walter Mitty, again.
- Oh Wait, This Is My Grocery List: In the children's book Many Moons, the king's three advisors carry lists of all of the matters they have been consulted on. As each one reads out his list, all have added grocery items their wives wanted the advisors to pick up that day.
- Pirate Parrot: The pirate Littlejohn in The Wonderful O has a parrot that annoys the book's Big Bad (by using words containing the letter "O").
- Power Fantasy: Walter Mitty.
- Put Me In, Coach!: The short story "You Could Look It Up" features a baseball team in a slump putting a midget in as a pinch hitter to walk in the tying run. After verifying that yes, his contract is valid and no, there Ain't No Rule that says he can't play, he's allowed to bat... and promptly hits the ball and is thrown out at first, losing the game. In a Double Subversion, however, the incident is so ridiculous that it snaps the team out of their slump and they go on to win the pennant.
- Rhymes on a Dime: The woods wizards in The White Deer
- Sdrawkcab Name: The villain of The White Deer is named Nagrom Yaf.
- Tar and Feathers ("What Happened To Charles," one of the Fables For Our Time)
- Twenty Bear Asses: The quests in The White Deer, most notably the quest to obtain a drop of blood from the finger of 1000 kings, which was calculated to be unachievable in one lifetime.
- Unicorn: "The Unicorn in the Garden"
- Youngest Child Wins: The White Deer