The 13 Clocks by James Thurber

Teacher Guide by Ashley Trudeau

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The Thirteen Clocks Lesson Plans

Student Activities for The 13 Clocks Include:

James Thurber’s tale, The 13 Clocks, is the perfect mix of fantasy, fiction, and the fairy tale genre. The evil Duke keeps Princess Saralinda under his grasp, while giving seemingly impossible tasks for her suitors. When Xingu (Zorn of Zorna) arrives, everything changes.

The 13 Clocks Lesson Plans, Student Activities and Graphic Organizers

The 13 Clocks Sequence of Events

An exceptional way for your students to follow a story is for them to track the events from it. Not only is this a great way to teach the parts of a plot, but it also reinforces major events, which helps students develop better understanding of how the events fit together to provide the overall structure of the story. Use the storyboard below as your lesson plans template, or create your own.

Sequence of Events for The 13 Clocks by James Thurber

Event Number Text Paraphrase
Event One "...the Duke decided he had murdered time, slain it with his sword, and wiped his bloody blade upon its beard and left it lying there, bleeding hours and minutes."The Duke 'murders' time. He keeps Princess Saralinda locked in his castle and gives impossible tasks for her suitors.
Event Two "I make mistakes, but I am on the side of Good."Xingu (Zorn of Zorna) comes to town in search of a fair maiden. He decides he wants to try for Saralinda's hand in marriage. He and Golux form a plan.
Event Three "I give you nine and ninety hours, not nine and ninety days, to find a thousand jewels and bring them here. When you return the clocks must all be striking five."The Duke knows Xingu is Zorn of Zorna and he gives him a seeming impossible task for Saralinda's hand.
Event Four "Hagga laughed and kept on laughing, and precious jewels twinkled down her cheek and sparkled on the floor, until the hut was ankle-deep in diamonds and in rubies."Zorn and Golux search for the 1,000 jewels. They go to Hagga's house and make her laugh so she cries jewels. Long ago King Gwain granted her the power to cry jewels.
Event Five "If you can touch the clocks and never start them, then you can start the clocks and never touch them."When they get back to the castle, Princess Saralinda, helps them unfreeze the clocks.
Event Six "She's not my niece. I stole her from a king."Zorn completes the impossible task. The Duke tells them that Saralinda was not his niece and that he stole her long ago. Hark reveals that he is King Gwain's servant.
Event Seven "Princess Saralinda thought she saw, as people often think they see, on clear and windless days, the distant shining shores of Ever After."Zorn and Saralinda ride off, happily. The Duke is eaten by the Todal.

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Graphic Organizer Activity for The 13 Clocks Themes

Several themes are present in the novel. Students can pick a theme to explore and should support their choice with specific details or events from the text. One prominent theme is good vs. evil. Princess Saralinda and Zorn of Zorna are seen as good, and the Duke is seen as evil.

An example of the good vs. evil theme is:


"The Princess Saralinda was tall, with freesias in her dark hair, and she wore serenity brightly like a rainbow. It was not easy to tell her mouth from the rose, or her brow from the white lilac."


"She's not my niece," the lame man sneered. "Stole her from a king." He showed his lower teeth. "We all have flaws," he said, "and mine is being wicked."

Other themes that can be explored are: courage, bravery, and love.

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The 13 Clocks Vocabulary Activities

Copy Assignment

A great way to engage your students is by creating a storyboard that uses vocabulary from The 13 Clocks.

In this vocabulary activity, students demonstrate their understanding of vocabulary words using sentences and corresponding images. Students may be provided the vocabulary words, or they can use words that they have discovered through their reading of the text. The sentences and images validate their understanding of the word and the context that it was used in the story.

Here is a list of a few vocabulary words commonly taught with the story and an example of a visual vocabulary board.

Example Vocabulary Words from The 13 Clocks

  • suitor
  • minstrel
  • monocle
  • wicked
  • indescribable
  • limp
  • ragamuffin
  • slunk
  • implored
  • mediocre
  • ludicrous
  • cackle
  • tribulation
  • raiment
  • shimmered

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)

Student Instructions

Demonstrate your understanding of the vocabulary words in The 13 Clocks by creating visualizations.

  1. Choose three vocabulary words from the story and type them in the title boxes.
  2. Find the definition in a print or online dictionary.
  3. Write a sentence that uses the vocabulary word.
  4. Illustrate the meaning of the word in the cell using a combination of scenes, characters, and items.
    • Alternatively, use Photos for Class to show the meaning of the words with the search bar.
  5. Save and submit your storyboard.

(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)

Copy Assignment

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The 13 Clocks Character Map Graphic Organizer

As students read, a storyboard can serve as a helpful character reference log. This log (also called a character map) allows students to recall relevant information about important characters. With character mapping, students will record this information, helping them follow along and catch the subtleties, which make reading more enjoyable!

You can click on this map and create a copy on your teacher account. Feel free to use it as is, or to edit it for the level of your class. Printing it as worksheets for your students to complete while reading is a fast and easy way to incorporate this character map into your classroom.

Here is a completed example for the Duke:

  • Physical Appearance:
    • velvet eye patch and monocle
    • wears gloves
    • 6'4"
    • one leg is shorter than the other

  • Character Traits:
    • cold
    • aggressive
    • evil

  • Evidence:
    • "He was six feet four, and forty-six, and even colder than he thought he was."
    • "One eye wore a velvet patch; the other glittered through a monocle, which made half his body seem closer to you than the other half."
    • "The Duke limped because his legs were of different lengths."
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The 13 Clocks Figurative Language Activity

The 13 Clocks has several examples of figurative language, including personification, metaphors, and alliteration. In this activity, students can display their understanding of figurative language by identifying examples and creating a literal or figurative portrayal of the language.

Depending on the level of the class, this activity can be done together for a specific type of figurative language, or can be done as groups or individuals.

Here is an example of personification:

"Outside the tavern the night was lighted by a rocking yellow moon that held a white star in its horn."

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The 13 Clocks Summary

The Duke is an evil man who lives in a castle where everything is cold; everything except his niece, Saralinda. The Duke plans impossible feats for the suitors of Saralinda because he does not actually wish to give her hand away in marriage, especially because her hand is the only warm hand in the castle. The hands of his watch, and the thirteen clocks in the castle are frozen at ten minutes to five. The Duke cannot fix the clocks, even with magic from people who have tried to help. He thinks he has murdered time.

The Duke is a mean man. He would slay a person who even looked at him wrong. He killed people for failing to praise his wines, or staring too long at his gloves. If they did not get killed right away, he would give them a ridiculous, impossible task to try and win Princess Saralinda.

A minstrel named Xingu comes to town. He is really a prince disguised as a minstrel looking to find the maiden of his dreams. Xingu hears all about the Saralinda and her mean uncle, and decides he wants to try and become her suitor. Xingu meets the Golux, a rather odd character that speaks in rhyme and riddles, who wants to help Xingu get the hand of Princess Saralinda. They work on a plan to get the Duke to give Xingu a task to compete for Saralinda’s hand. The Duke puts Xingu in the dungeon while he thinks of a task.

The Golux tells Xingu that he knows that he is really Zorn of Zorna, a prince, and that he will trick the Duke into making the task to get one thousand jewels. Golux thinks because Zorn is a prince, he can just go home and get the jewels. Zorn is weary because he lives so far away and doesn’t think he will have time to get the jewels. Zorn also finds out from one of the Duke’s guards that if the Duke fails in any way, that the Todal will glup him. The Todal is a blob of glup, who makes the sounds of rabbits screaming, and smells of unopened rooms.

The Duke is aware that Xingu is actually Zorn of Zorna and sets the unthinkable task of retrieving one thousand jewels in nine and ninety hours AND, when he returns, all the clocks that have been frozen in time must be striking five. The prince sets off for his impossible task without much hope. The Golux meets up with him and talks him into believing in himself. The Golux tells Zorn he knows of a lady who can cry jewels. Her name is Hagga and long ago she helped King Gwain of Yarrow and he granted her the power to cry jewels. However, she cannot cry anymore. Nothing is sad enough for her to cry. They still travel to find Hagga in the hope that she will be able to cry for them.

When they get to Hagga’s house, Hagga invites them in but tells them that she cannot weep anymore. They try and tell her stories to make her weep, but to no avail. Zorn finds a chest filled with the most beautiful jewels and Hagga tells them they are the jewels of laughter. She laughed so hard one night that she started to weep and wept those jewels. However, the jewels only last fourteen days before they turn back to tears. The jewels disappear before their very eyes, but not before the Golux and Zorn get an idea. They make Hagga laugh until she weeps, take the jewels, and travel back to the Duke.

The Duke and his spy, Hark, are discussing the prince and the Golux. The Duke thinks the prince will never be able to complete the task, but Hark thinks differently. They hear people in the castle and the Duke wants to go stop them, but Hark reminds the Duke that he has to give the prince the full time to see if he completes the task. Hark says if he completes the task he will get the hand of Saralinda. The Duke, who is now scared that Zorn will actually beat the task, tells Hark that Saralinda is actually not his niece and that he kidnapped her long ago. His goal was to kidnap and marry her, but the princess’ nurse was magical and cast a spell. The spell said that the Duke had to keep Saralinda away from him, had to offer any suitor a chance to gain her hand, and could only marry her when she turns twenty-one.

The Golux meets up with the princess and finds a way to start the clocks. The Duke is mad because he really thought he had slayed time. Zorn lures all of the Duke’s guards away and gets to the Duke’s table and lays out the jewels. They complete the challenge. The Duke tells Saralinda that he is not her uncle and that her real father is King Gwain of Yarrow. Hark also says that he is actually a servant to King Gwain. Zorn and Saralinda ride off away from the mean Duke. Fourteen days later, the jewels melt on the Duke, and he is eaten by the Todal.

Essential Questions for The 13 Clocks

  1. What is courage? How was Zorn courageous?
  2. How do you think loyalty is shown in the story?
  3. Should heroes have flaws?

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•   (English) The 13 Clocks   •   (Español) Los 13 Relojes   •   (Français) Les 13 Horloges   •   (Deutsch) Die 13 Uhren   •   (Italiana) I 13 Orologi   •   (Nederlands) De 13 Clocks   •   (Português) Os 13 Relógios   •   (עברית) 13 שעונים   •   (العَرَبِيَّة) 13 ساعات   •   (हिन्दी) 13 घड़ियों   •   (ру́сский язы́к) 13 Часов   •   (Dansk) De 13 Ure   •   (Svenska) De 13 Klockor   •   (Suomi) 13 Kellot   •   (Norsk) De 13 Clocks   •   (Türkçe) 13 Saat   •   (Polski) 13 Zegarów   •   (Româna) Cele 13 Clocks   •   (Ceština) Všech 13 Hodiny   •   (Slovenský) 13 Hodín   •   (Magyar) A 13 Óra   •   (Hrvatski) 13 Satova   •   (български) 13 Часовника   •   (Lietuvos) Kad 13 Laikrodžiai   •   (Slovenščina) Vseh 13 ure   •   (Latvijas) 13 Pulksteņi   •   (eesti) 13 Kellad