The Wonderful O – James Thurber

Book #487

Reviewer: Ms Oh Waily

The Wonderful O front page
The Wonderful O
is the fifth and final short book for children by James Thurber.  I reviewed the other to appear in the 1001 Books list earlier, The 13 Clocks.

In this fairy tale Thurber takes us along with a couple of pirates, Littlejack and Black.  Littlejack is definitely pirate material, with a Thurber twist.

There was a green parrot on the man’s shoulder, and a tarred pigtail hung down his back.  He carried no crutch, for he had two legs, and he rolled like a goose when he walked.

So rather a sly anti-Long John Silver to start us off.

Littlejack has a map that bodes of treasure on the faraway island of Ooroo, but he needs a ship.  Enter Black, a man with a ship and a deep hatred of the letter O.  His ship is the Aeiu.   He explains to Littlejack why she is named thus, and why he hates the letter O.

I’ve had a hatred of that letter ever since the night my mother became wedged in a porthole.  We couldn’t pull her in and so we had to push her out.

So the two men agree terms and head off for Ooroo where they set about searching for the treasure.  The local people deny having any treasure but that does not deter Littlejack, Black and their crew.  In the process of stripping the inhabitants of their possessions they also strip them of the letter O.  Gradually diminishing the language as they diminish the island.

And so the following morning the crew went from house to house, seizing violins and cellos, trombones, horns and oboes, pianos, harpsichords, and clavichords, accordions and melodeons, bassoons and saxophones, and all the other instruments with O’s, up to and including the woodwinds.

As you would expect in a book about the letter O, there is a lot of wordplay.  For my taste there are far too many passages like the one above.  It drags and is, essentially, redundant.  Very clever and witty, but redundant.

Eventually the islanders are set free from oppression and miscommunication (try removing a few Os from any given sentence and you’ll see the problem) by an old legend, but this section of the story feels very disjointed and distinct from the bulk of the work.

It is very reminiscent of The 13 Clocks in style, with sections of internal meter and rhythmic prose.   It would make another good read-aloud for children, but if you must read only one of the Thurber books on the list you would be best served to choose The 13 Clocks.  If you are going to read both, then perhaps start with this one and then move on to the better one (in my opinion) to conclude.

Still it is an unusual and cleverly written work, but not quite in the class of his earlier entry.


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