‘The Unicorn In The Garden’ by James Thurber

Thurber, James 1939a

The Unicorn In The Garden by James Thurber, 1939

The magic trick:

Using a fantasy, fable setup and delivering contemporary comedy

Man, I don’t mean to be the PC Police here, but, wow, so much of the good ol’ Thurber stuff is so hateful in its women-bashing. We saw it last year on the blog with “A Couple Of Hamburgers” or even the beloved “Walter Mitty,” and it’s back again in “Unicorn.” We get it, Jimmy. Women are awful. Wives are the worst. Marriage is death. Sheesh.

If you can move past the misogyny, the story is a funny, little blast of O. Henry irony. The best joke is the setup: the idea that Thurber is writing morality tales in the form of fables, using classic, fantastical elements (like a unicorn in the garden, for instance), only to use the platform to send up contemporary society. It’s a funny idea, executed well. And that’s quite a trick on Thurber’s part. 

The selection:

Once upon a sunny morning a man who sat in a breakfast nook looked up from his scrambled eggs to see a white unicorn with a golden horn quietly cropping the roses in the garden. The man went up to the bedroom where his wife was still asleep and woke her. “There’s a unicorn in the garden,” he said. “Eating roses.” She opened one unfriendly eye and looked at him.

“The unicorn is a mythical beast,” she said, and turned her back on him.

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