Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

The Wonderful O, by James Thurber

And so the locksmith became a lcksmith, and the bootmaker a btmaker, and people whispered like conspirators when they said the names.  Love’s Labours Lost and Mother Goose flattened out like a pricked balloon.  Books were bks and Robin Hood was Rbinhd.  Little Goody Two Shoes lost her Os and so did Goldilocks, and the former became a whisper, and the latter sounded like a key jiggled in a lck.  It was impossible to read “cockadoodledoo” aloud, and parents gave up reading to their children, and some gave up reading altogether…

The Wonderful O is the story of the people of Ooroo, who, colonised by the worst sort of moral monster (the pirates Black and Littlejack), are robbed of their Os.  Desolate and confused, they can no longer love, worship or adore; commerce, religion and public order are affected for the worse; and our heroine Andrea can be “a lass, or girl, or damsel,” or virgin or spinster, or bride or wife, but certainly not a woman.

The majority labour under their oppression, and an amoral minority collaborate, but in the woods (or forest) Andrea, together with the poet Andreus, conspires with a collection of colleagues, or perhaps comrades, to overthrow the foul rule of Black and Littlejack.  And so they do, by a method which is too esoteric, too confusing and altogether too populated with Os for the two hooligans to oppose.

A lovely curiosity, a curious oddity, The Wonderful O is born of its author’s love of words.  Thurber has long been a favourite storyteller of mine for his extraordinary joy in the pure sound of words, and this story is a demonstration of his broad and profound vocabulary combined with his idiosyncratic gift for wordplay.

I would recommend this short absorbing book not only to young lovers of words – whose vocabulary promises to grow exponentially before the story’s close – but to those of any age and station who have a child’s imagination.

(And for those who wonder where we would be without the letter O, I believe the answer is: Lost.)

NYR Children’s Collection, ISBN: 978-1590173091

14 comments on “The Wonderful O, by James Thurber

  1. Melrose
    February 27, 2010

    …. *r even “l*st”! And beautifully descriptive text such as “rantip*le” and “s*t” or “t*per” vanished (or banished), sadly. We’d have to use “rakish teenager”, “habitual drunkard”, “imbiber” instead, all flat and harsh labels. “James Thurber”, luckily, is unaffected by missing “*”s… L*ts *f l*vely s*unding and fabul*us w*rds g*ne in a sec*nd!

  2. Clare London
    February 27, 2010

    I read this book years ago and loved it, so much so I searched down a new copy recently. I loved the wit and the cleverness of it, especially the dialogue such as (apologies for not being the actual text!):
    “Where are you ging?” the woman asked her husband.
    “Ut!” he snapped.
    I’ve never forgotten it ^_^. It is, indeed, a lovely oddity. Or ddity. LOL.

  3. kirstyjane
    February 27, 2010

    My dad pointed out to me just now that the Two Ronnies (or Tw Rnnies) would be in trouble in a world without Os. Their most famous sketch, down the tubes.

    Remember Clare, mist is always mist, but what is mist is not always mist.

  4. Jackie
    February 27, 2010

    Though I’ve read a good bit of Thurber, this is one I’ve missed. What a wonderful idea. I never realized how many words have O in them & how weird it is without them. Wonder if Thurber tried other letters before deciding on O?
    This is one for all ages.

  5. zenasurialpacas
    February 27, 2010

    I missed this ne t! Nw I have to find a cpy. Thurber is ne f the best American writers. I spent many a snwy winter night in Michigan as a child reading his magnificent prse and have wrn ut several cpies f “My Life and Times.” Read the amazing Thurber!

  6. kirstyjane
    February 27, 2010

    I have t agree with zenasurialpacas – Thurber is ne of my favurite authrs f all time. The mre I read his wrk the mre I get ut f it. What I especially lve is his writing abut language, wrds and the sund of wrds. His pieces abut France, t, and especially the French versins of Wild West nvels are very affectinate and humrus.

  7. Charlotte
    February 28, 2010

    I love The Thirteen Clocks, but have never read this one…it soulnds like I should!

  8. Lisa
    February 28, 2010

    This sounds marvellous, Kirsty. Can’t believe I’ve never heard of it before. One for the list.

  9. Nikki
    March 1, 2010

    What a totally bizarre book! I love this idea and I will be tracking it down as soon as I can. There are some ideas that just make you wonder how the author thought them up and this is one of them.

  10. 5minutespeace
    March 3, 2010

    I love books that aren’t of the mainstream. Everytime i visit your blog i come away inspired. I’m definitely going to order a copy for the store!

    I agree with Nikki, when i have lack of inspiration and thought in my own developments it ceases to amaze me the things that people can come up with.

    http://5minutespeace.wordpress.com

  11. chriscross
    April 12, 2010

    I still have a very battered paperback (received when I was a child) featuring The Thirteen Clocks and The Wonderful O, and Thurber’s clever, witty writing still enthralls.

  12. Rogier
    June 23, 2010

    Thurber strikes a supremely witty blow to the vagaries of lawmaking and officialdom, with their arbitrary and often unenforceable rules. The Wonderful O is one of the most subversive things you can give children to read. Which is to say, I recommend it!

  13. Pingback: Oh! The O | iconophilia

  14. Pingback: The Wonderful O by James Thurber | Josephine's Readers Advisory

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Acknowledgment

  • (The header image is from Aesop's Fables, illustrated by Francis Barlow (1666), and appears courtesy of the Digital and Multimedia Center at the Michigan State University Libraries.)
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