a box to hide in

Just a friendly reminder: Anti-tales: The Uses of Disenchantment is coming up, August 12-23 at the University of Glasgow, and is open for registration. Among the presenters is a certain Mr. Pond.

So I’m up to my ears researching American humorist and fantasist James Thurber. He didn’t create the anti-tale, but his work, I’m going to argue, defines it. The research so far has been fruitful and fascinating, uncovering some intriguing details.

For instance, Thurber began writing fables and fairytales after the death of his parents, while he was going blind from numerous causes. And those fairytales are one of the major literary influences on Neil Gaiman.

To whet your appetite, here’s a story for your listening pleasure. MSNBC anchor and commentator Keith Olbermann—a devoted Thurber fan—reads us one of his favorite Thurber stories, ‘A Box to Hide in’ (1931).

It’s Thurber at his best—humorist, surrealist, artist, and inverted optimist. Critic David Garnett called this story ‘one of the most alarming things in literature’. The fictitious narrator is a Thurber archetype: the eternally beleaguered little man, trying to make sense of the world, and doing rather poorly. But perhaps better than most of us, or at least more honestly. It’s a story that explores one of the most basic human needs and desires—a box to hide in.