Tomorrow, December 8, marks the anniversary of James Thurber’s birth. As you may have guessed, Thurber is one of my literary heroes. I consider Thurber’s autobiography “My Life and Hard Times” to contain some of greatest humor by an American writer in the 20th century. There are many more examples of his brilliance, including such pieces as the wildly popular Walter Mitty story, “The Catbird Seat,” “If Grant Had Been Drinking at Appomattox,” his great memoir piece titled “Doc Marlow” and, of course, I could go on.
Thurber once defined humor as “emotional chaos remembered in tranquility”; we’re fortunate he found enough tranquil moments in his life to do so much writing. In my opinion, when it came to writing humor, Thurber was a genius.
He was also a cartoonist. Chief editor of The New Yorker magazine, Harold Ross, soon recognized this other skill and began publishing Thurber’s cartoons. This prompted one of their regular cartoonists to complain. He asked him how dare Ross publish work by that fifth-rate cartoonist Thurber instead of his cartoons. The editor rose to Thurber’s defense and replied, “Thurber’s not a fifth-rate cartoonist, he’s third-rate.”
As a humorist, whether through his words or drawings, James Thurber was and remains first-rate. Here’s a sketch I drew of Thurber. I’m posting it in honor of his birthday.
“Let us not look back in anger or forward in fear, but around in awareness.” – James Thurber