Writings and Drawings
by James Thurber

edited by Garrison Keillor

Review by
Robert Wilfred Franson

Library of America: New York, 1996

1004 pages

April 2009


James Thurber's multiple talents

... When the little girl opened the door of her grandmother's house she saw that there was somebody in bed with a nightcap and nightgown on. She had approached no nearer than twenty-five feet from the bed when she saw that it was not her grandmother but the wolf, for even in a nightcap a wolf does not look any more like your grandmother than the Metro-Goldwyn lion looks like Calvin Coolidge. So the little girl took an automatic out of her basket and shot the wolf dead.

Moral: It is not so easy to fool little girls nowadays as it used to be.

"The Little Girl and the Wolf"
Fables for Our Time

This is a nicely representative selection, rather an editorial achievement since it must cover several talents that only partly overlap. Writings and Drawings by James Thurber contains several books complete:

We have chapters from single-theme books:

And hundreds of pages of sketches, essays, and drawings from assorted collections; the latter of these originally included both new material and best-of-previous material, with some reduplication, and a lot of their best is here:

  • The Owl in the Attic
  • The Middle-Aged Man on the Flying Trapeze
  • Let Your Mind Alone!
  • Fables for Our Time & Famous Poems Illustrated
  • My World — and Welcome To It
  • Men, Women and Dogs
  • The Thurber Carnival
  • The Beast in Me and Other Animals
  • The Thurber Album
  • Thurber Country
  • Thurber's Dogs
  • Further Fables for Our Time
  • Alarms and Diversions

So there's a lot of fine material here, although of course it's no more a complete set of Thurber than the collections above. The majority originally appeared in the New Yorker. Almost all of this is timeless, and what aren't timeless are evocative period pieces.

Stories & sketches, memoirs & drawings

Among the non-fiction, Thurber's autobiographical material would be hard to surpass anywhere: often humorous, always thoughtful and empathetic, always well written. My Life and Hard Times (childhood and youth), "A Portrait of Aunt Ida", "I Went to Sullivant" (school), "The First Time I Saw Paris" (journalist), and others. Plenty about dogs.

Let Your Mind Alone! is almost a book itself. Literary-field items include not only The Years with Ross, but "A Final Note on Chanda Bell" (parody), "Do You Want to Make Something Out of It?" (word games), "File and Forget" (publishers), "The Letters of James Thurber" (correspondence), and "The Lady on the Bookcase" (on his drawings).

Among the short stories are classics such as "Interview with a Lemming", "The Macbeth Murder Mystery","The Man Who Hated Moonbaum", "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty", "You Could Look It Up"; and, among previously uncollected pieces, "Tom, the Young Kidnapper, or, Pay Up and Live".

There's a wealth of great cartooning in Writings and Drawings. Lots of individual drawings; sequences ranging from two-pagers like "The Bloodhound and the Bug", to many-pagers like "The Race of Life", and "The War Between Men and Women". Fables for Our Time consists of exquisitely ironic illustrated miniatures. And dogs, lots and lots of wonderful Thurber dogs.

So we see that Writings and Drawings showcases James Thurber as story writer, nonfiction writer, and cartoonist: all excellent, a superb book.


© 2009 Robert Wilfred Franson

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