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Literature / The 13 Clocks

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"We all have flaws," [The Duke] said, "and mine is being wicked."

The 13 Clocks is a fantasy novel by James Thurber. A modern Fairy Tale, recounting the tale of the evil duke who thinks he killed time, in whose castle the 13 clocks never move, and the impossible tasks he sets to those who would marry his niece, the princess.

Full of whimsy and word play. And containing the Golux — the only Golux in the world and not a mere device.

Thurber also wrote three more tales in the same vein, Many Moons, The White Deer and The Wonderful O.

The story is a favorite of Neil Gaiman, who wrote the introduction to the current edition and narrated a short animated film of the first chapter (which can be viewed here.)


It contains examples of:

  • Blessed with Suck: Hagga's tears turn into jewels. This doesn't work out quite as well as hoped. People have made Hagga cry so much, she's heard every possible sobstory you could ever tell. Now she can only cry when she laughs.
  • Card-Carrying Villain: See the page quote, said by the Duke.
  • Evil Is Deathly Cold: The Duke goes on and on about this, to the point where even Hark gets annoyed.
  • Evil Uncle: The Duke. Subverted when it's revealed that he actually kidnapped Saralinda.
  • Eyepatch of Power: The Duke has one of these due to an unfortunate encounter with a bird in his youth.
  • Fed to Pigs: Or, rather, geese. This is how the Duke disposes of Saralinda's suitors after they fail his tasks.
  • Happily Ever After: Literally, in that the last shot of the hero has him sailing away "to the shores of Ever After."
  • Haunted Castle: By at least three ghosts.
  • High-Class Glass: The Duke's working eye is adorned by this.
  • Impossible Task: The Duke sets these to all the suitors of Saralinda, if he doesn't slit them from their guggle to their zatch first.
  • Inept Mage: The Golux's father, who lacks the power of concentration, and mother, who, "when she changed her rivals into fish, all she ever got was mermaids." The Golux keeps up the family tradition.
  • Kick the Dog: Literally; the Duke is lame because "when he was young, he spent his mornings place-kicking pups and punting kittens."
  • King Incognito: Xingu turns out to be Zorn of Zorna.
  • Royal Blood: Saralinda and Zorn of Zorna.
  • Sword Cane: The Duke owns one.
  • Take Our Word for It: The Todal. Especially when it gleeps.
  • Tongue-Tied: Saralinda in the Duke's presence, thanks to a spell.
  • The Tourney: In the backstory. The traveler recognizes the minstrel from them.
  • Unreliable Narrator: The Golux, in-universe. He's not even sure himself which of the stories he tells the Prince are true and which he made up.
  • Unusual Euphemism: A non-sexual variety. Even the hero wonders where his guggle and zatch are. Turns out, they're his throat and stomach, respectively.
  • Wandering Minstrel: Xingu, when we first meet him. He alludes to The Mikado several times, calling himself "a thing of threads and patches". This is also a hint that he's really royalty, just like the wandering minstrel who delivers that line in The Mikado.
  • We Help the Helpless: "Then you're helpless and I'll help you."
  • Wife Husbandry: The Duke is doing this to Saralinda.
  • You Have Failed Me:
    • Any minion who fails the Duke is fed to his geese.
    • This is the function of the Todal, an agent of The Devil who punishes evildoers for not doing enough evil. One stalks the Duke, causing him to be terrified of what will happen to him if he isn't villainous enough.
  • Youngest Child Wins: Zorn of Zorna

Alternative Title(s): The Thirteen Clocks


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