“The white deer flashed through the green forest and the King and his sons followed, past the barking tree, across the musical mud, in and out of a flock of wingless birds. On and on went the chase until the sun began to set and long strange shadows fell.”
- The White Deer, by James Thurber
I picked up Thurber’s My Life and Hard Times at a grandparent’s house—this is exactly the sort of book I always find myself reading at my grandparents’ houses—and I don’t remember much of it but I must have liked it, because I added The White Deer to my to-aquire list shortly afterwards. I love fairy tales, and have a habit of collecting them, and I was intrigued that Thurber, in my mind a comedic memoirist, had written several. What’s more, he illustrated them himself, in his scribbly, wonky way. Thurber was known as an illustrator, and had many cartoons published in The New Yorker. As an artist, he was far more original than talented (he was at least half blind), and I suppose that’s part of his charm.
The book is also scribbly and wonky, with lots of puns and rhyming and toying with classic fairytale tropes in the tradition of Alice in Wonderland or The Phantom Tollbooth. The story was lighter and more childlike than I expected, and would be perfectly appropriate for an older child with a high tolerance for wordplay. It’s the story of a king with three sons, and a deer who turns into a princess (or possibly a princess who turns into a deer). Despite the story’s incorrigible and sometimes obnoxious playfulness, there are moments of real wisdom in it, and the characters have personalities and histories beneath their roles in the story. There are less math puns than in Alice or Phantom Tollbooth, so I could see it being good for reading aloud.
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