Clockwork: Bad things happen when you don’t finish a story

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsClockwork: or All Wound Up by Philip PullmanClockwork: or All Wound Up by Philip Pullman

Clockwork: or All Wound Up (1996) is a very short (about 100 pages) children’s fairytale by Philip Pullman. It stars Karl and Fritz, two young Germans who have not finished a job that they were supposed to do and are worried about what will happen when the townspeople find out. Karl and Fritz meet one snowy evening in the local tavern. Karl, the clockmaker’s apprentice, is brooding because tomorrow is the day when he must unveil the mechanical project he’s supposed to have finished. For hundreds of years, each apprentice has contributed an exquisite clockwork figure to the town’s clock and everyone gathers on graduation day to admire it in the town square. Karl confesses to Fritz that he has not created anything.

Fritz, a writer, tells Karl that authors also have trouble creating content on demand. In fact, Fritz is in the tavern to tell a story to the eager townsfolk, but he has not yet written the ending and has no idea how to wrap up his story. But he’s not worried; he plans to just make it all up when he gets there. (As the narrator explains, Fritz is an optimist and Karl is a pessimist, and that makes all the difference.)

And so Fritz starts telling his story, which is a scary little tale about a clockwork prince. Just as Fritz gets to the part where he doesn’t know what comes next and has to start making things up, the sinister villain from the story walks into the tavern! From there, the story takes on a life of its own and suddenly those who were listening become the actors.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews

Audio version

I loved this clever little story with its snowy winter setting and its echoes of Faust and Pinocchio. As suggested by its title, the plot fits together tightly like the gears in a clock, and it’s constantly twisting and turning as the story plays out. It’s convoluted, creepy, and suspenseful enough to please adults as well as children. There are a few subtle encouragements for children, such as to not procrastinate, to be optimistic, to work hard, to not be afraid to fail, to always finish a story and, most important of all, to always be polite to a cat.

I listened to the audiobook version of Clockwork that was produced by Audible Studios. It’s only 1.5 hours long and beautifully read by Anton Lesser. I can highly recommend this version, but you might also want to take a look at a print version, because there are some wonderful illustrations.

Published in 1996. Tick, tock, tick, tock! Some stories are like that. Once you’ve wend them up, nothing will stop them …A tormented apprentice clock-maker, a deadly mechanical knight in armour – and the sinister Dr Kalmenius, who some say is the devil …Wind up these characters, fit them into a story on a cold winter’s evening, with the snow swirling down, and suddenly life and the story begin to merge in a peculiarly macabre – and unstoppable – way. Almost like clockwork …

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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3 comments

  1. This sounds cute!

  2. I love the intricacies of Pullman’s work, even when he’s writing for a young audience.

  3. Ooh, this seems fun!

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