The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
by James Thurber

Review by
Robert Wilfred Franson

The New Yorker, 18 March 1939

included in —
My World — And Welcome To It

Writings and Drawings

June 2009


Not many writers have had short stories turned into movies, let alone fine and memorable movies. "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" is a miniature gem by James Thurber, a warm and oft-handled touchstone of our times. The resultant movie, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty starring Danny Kaye, is a classic; but don't overlook its basis in this story.

"We're going through!" The Commander's voice was like thin ice breaking. He wore his full-dress uniform, with the heavily braided white cap pulled down rakishly over one cold gray eye. ...

The pounding of the cylinders increased: ta-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa. The Commander stared at the ice forming on the pilot window. ...

The crew, bending to their various tasks in the huge, hurtling eight-engined Navy hydroplane, looked at each other and grinned. "The Old Man'll get us through," they said to one another. ...

"Not so fast! You're driving too fast!" said Mrs. Mitty. "What are you driving so fast for?"

"Hmm?" said Walter Mitty. He looked at his wife, in the seat beside him, with shocked astonishment.

The story has two lines my father loved to quote to me: the engine sound ta-pocketa-pocketa is one, and I'll leave the other for another place. My father knew engines well, and had been a pilot himself, as well as sympathizing with people who have an overflowing rich inner life in dull or cramped surroundings. Hearing either line, Walter Mittty's story and situation instantly flashes into my mind.

If you already know the film version, you may notice that Mitty's foil in the story is his wife rather than his mother: the change to the mother for the screen allowing romance into the plot. Whether or not you've seen the film, do indulge yourself with this little treat, "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty"; a miniature masterpiece — and touchstone.


© 2009 Robert Wilfred Franson


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