Thursday 10 July 2008

Return of the Golux

One of the best children's books ever is James Thurber's The 13 Clocks. A prince must complete an apparently impossible quest to save a princess from an evil duke: from this standard fairy-story plot Thurber produces a wonderfully odd and engaging story written with a strange and compelling internal rhythm--the whole book is like a blank verse poem, but typeset as prose.

The Golux is a magical creature central to the story: he describes himself as "the only Golux in the world, and not a mere Device". He is also the son of a mediocre witch and a wizard "who lacked the power of concentration". The Golux is also the opponent of the Todal, which "looks like a blob of glup", "makes a sound like rabbits screaming and smells of old unopened rooms". It is "an agent of the Devil, sent to punish evildoers for having done less evil than they should," and is "waiting for the Duke to fail in some endeavor" in order to destroy him. This makes the evil Duke more than a little highly strung.

The great NYRB have just republished this book in their series of children's classics. They have used the original cover artwork by Thurber's friend, Spanish/French/American artist Marc Simont. When he wrote The 13 Clocks, Thurber was blind, an so unable to do the illustrations himself. According to Wikipedia, "the Golux is said to wear an 'indescribable hat'. Thurber made Simont describe all his illustrations, and was satisfied when Simont was unable to describe the hat."

On the left is the original Simon & Schuster hardback, and on the right the new NYRB edition.

In the UK, the Puffin edition of the book was illustrated by the great Ronald Searle.

Here is another edition which uses Simont's artwork--that's the Golux peeping out from behind the door.

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