Thurber, James

Tagged: Art | Author

(1894-1961) US cartoonist, playwright and author, best known for his cartoons (many of them published in The New Yorker [see Slick], where many of his writings also appeared) and for his complexly humorous short stories and pieces, the best assembly of these being perhaps The Middle-Aged Man on the Flying Trapeze: A Collection of Short Pieces (coll 1935), where his Alternate History spoof, "If Grant Had Been Drinking at Appomattox" (6 December 1930 The New Yorker), reached book form. His most famous single story is "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" (18 March 1939 The New Yorker), whose characteristically downtrodden male protagonist has a vivid fantasy life in which he plays leading roles in various melodramatic scenarios; film adaptations appeared in 1947 and 2013. Thurber's adult fables and fantasies – assembled as Fables for our Time and Famous Poems Illustrated (coll 1939) and Further Fables for our Time (coll 1956) and elsewhere – have some marginal sf interest when they spoof contemporary events in exorbitant terms; his charming children's fantasies have no sf interest, except for The Wonderful O (1957 chap), a mild exercise in Oulipo set on an imaginary inhabited Island taken over by a pirate who for personal (and highly implausible) reasons detests the letter O and attempts to expunge all instances of its use.

Thurber's short graphic novel, The Last Flower: A Parable in Pictures (graph 1939), depicts what seems to be a final War, the Post-Holocaust environment that is its immediate consequence, the rise of civilization again, and another war, this final one successful in bringing about the End of the World. Parallels with the nine-minute Last Man animated short Peace on Earth (1939) by Hugh Harman – where only the birds and beasts survive in the ruins of an unmistakable prolepsis of World War Two –reflect a cast of mind that the arousals of combat drove underground in America for some time. [JC]

see also: The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.

James Grover Thurber

born Columbus, Ohio: 8 December 1894

died New York: 2 November 1961

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