The Writing Allstars – James Thurber

To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, to draw closer, to find each other and to feel. That is the purpose of life. (The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, 2013)

I broke a cardinal rule to bring you that quote. That quote is not found in Thurber’s original story; it’s only in the movie. And I never, ever, ever go to see movies based on/connected to/influenced by books or stories that I love. Never. This is the first time since I made myself that promise that I have gone to see a movie based on a book. Why did I go? Why did I break my cardinal life rule? Because I didn’t like Thurber’s ending. I love nothing more than a dark, deep, depressing story with characters that struggle and die and do so with beauty and poise. I love characters that become or remain trapped in the banality of their sad little lives. I love social, relational, psychological, or religious commentaries. But for some reason, being dropped into Mr. Mitty’s predicament and then plucked from it after seeing no change just rubbed me the wrong way. This man, who compensates for his miserable and mundane external life with a rich and meaningful inner life, doesn’t get a moment. He doesn’t get that chance to have the inner and outer lives overlap, to feel the breathless excitement that comes from being in the right place at the right time, and getting your deepest desires. And he needed that.

The brambles and the thorns grew thick and thicker in a ticking thicket of bickering crickets. Farther along and stronger, bonged the gongs of a throng of frogs, green and vivid on their lily pads. From the sky came the crying of flies, and the pilgrims leaped over a bleating sheep creeping knee-deep in a sleepy stream, in which swift and slippery snakes slid and slithered silkily, whispering sinful secrets. (The 13 Clocks)

My love of Thurber doesn’t end with Mr. Mitty, either. Everyone and their brother needs to read The 13 Clocks, needs to own The 13 Clocks. I am completely obsessed with this book. I give it as a gift to everyone with children or a childlike spirit. Thurber’s ability to infuse a story with elements of poetry, whimsy, and wonder is unmatched! You can almost hear him speaking the line aloud, tasting the words, writing them down because they feel right in his mouth. It is the perfect fairy-tale and it only solidified my appreciation for Thurber’s style and approach. I marveled at his ability to spin words together, to say so very much truth in such a beautiful way. There is magic here, and darkness, and honor, and truth, and beauty.

All men should strive to learn before they die, what they are running from, and to, and why. (The Shore and the Sea, Further Fables for Our Time)

Mixed in with the magic and beauty of Thurber’s story is a deeply honest sense of humor. Maybe it is more effective because he believed that it should be clear and obvious, rather than mysterious and confusing. So often, writers rely on obscure references that end with the reader feeling as if they are on the outside of an inside joke. Thurber never made me work to see the humor in his stories. He used it in moments of raw honesty, moments I could relate to because I too had lived through them. He made it easier to laugh at myself and my circumstances because his humor promised relief in the end. His dry sense of wit, his perceptive commentary on life and marriage and imagination and dreams, his matter-of-fact delivery, made Thurber the complete package for me.

Time is for dragonflies and angels. The former live too little and the latter live too long.(The 13 Clocks)

Because of James Thurber, I learned to laugh at the nonsense that life brought my way. Because of Thurber, I realized that humor can unite and heal. Because of James Thurber, I fell in love with Daniel Handler, Norton Juster, and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Because of James Thurber, I am the writer I am today.


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