30 Day Book Meme: Day 13

Favorite childhood book OR current favorite YA book (or both!)

Once upon a time, in a gloomy castle on a lonely hill, where there were thirteen clocks that wouldn’t go, there lived a cold, aggressive Duke, and his niece, the Princess Saralinda. She was warm in every wind and weather, but he was always cold. His hands were as cold as his smile and almost as cold as his heart.

This one’s easy: The Thirteen Clocks by James Thurber is one of my oldest and most beloved YA books. It was clearly written to be read aloud, and the language is gorgeous. It’s also poetic enough that I can recite whole passages. And it’s got plenty of dark and gruesome stuff sure to enchant the kiddies in it! Consider the description of the villainous Duke of Coffin Castle:

…he was always cold. His hands were as cold as his smile, and almost as cold as his heart. He wore gloves when he was asleep, and he wore gloves when he was awake, which made it difficult for him to pick up pins or coins or the kernels of nuts, or to tear the wings from nightingales. He was six feet four, and forty-six, and even colder than he thought he was. One eye wore a velvet patch; the other glittered through a monocle… the Duke limped because his legs were of different lengths. The right one had outgrown the left because, when he was young, he had spent his morning place-kicking pups and punting kittens. …

His voice sounded like iron dropped on velvet.

The story concerns the Princess Saralinda, imprisoned by the Duke, and the prince who comes to save her. A prophecy says that only a prince “whose name begins with X, and doesn’t” can rescue her, so surely it’s impossible! But no, Prince Zorn of Zorna has been traveling under the name of Xingu, and he comes to save her. Add in the creepy monster the Todal (it makes a sound like rabbits screaming), the mysterious Gollux (“I only resemble half the things I say I don’t,” he explains; “the other half resemble me!”), and a woman who weeps gemstones and you have the makings of an awesome fairy tale.

It languished in out-of-print status for ages, but has recently been republished, with a spiffy intro by Neil Gaiman. Go get it!

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