The Unicorn in the Garden

The Unicorn in the Garden

Infobox short story |
name = The Unicorn in the Garden
title_orig =
translator =
author = James Thurber
country = USA
language = English
series = "Fables For Our Time"
genre = Fable, short story
published_in = "The New Yorker"
publication_type = Magazine
publisher = Harper & Row
media_type = Print (Periodical, Hardback & Paperback) & AudioBook
pub_date = 1939 (magazine), 1940 (book)
english_pub_date =
preceded_by = "The Patient Bloodhound"
followed_by = "The Rabbits Who Caused All the Trouble"

"The Unicorn in the Garden" is a short story written by James Thurber. The most famous of Thurber's humorous modern fables, it first appeared in "The New Yorker" on October 31, 1939; and was first collected in his book "Fables for Our Time & Famous Poems Illustrated" (Harper and Brothers, 1940). The fable has since been reprinted in "The Thurber Carnival" (Harper and Brothers, 1945), "James Thurber: Writings and Drawings" (The Library of America, 1996, ISBN 1-883011-22-1), "The Oxford Book of Modern Fairy Tales", and other publications. It is taught in literature [cite web
last = Peterson
first = Daniel C.
authorlink =
coauthors =
title = Self-grading quiz: The Unicorn in the Garden
work =
publisher = Glendale Community College
date = 2002
url = http://english.glendale.cc.ca.us/unicorn1.html
format =
doi =
accessdate = 2007-02-10
] [cite web
last =
first =
authorlink =
coauthors =
title = Various Essays on James Thurber's "The Unicorn in the Garden"
work =
publisher = Department of English, Gymnasium Steglitz Berlin
date = 2005
url = http://www.gs.cidsnet.de/englisch-online/klasse11/unicorn.htm
format =
doi =
accessdate = 2007-02-10
] and rhetoric courses. [cite web
last = Nordquist
first = Richard
authorlink =
coauthors =
title = Passages for rhetorical analysis
work = English 5730: Rhetoric
publisher = Office of Liberal Studies, Armstrong Atlantic State University
date = 2005-01-02
url = http://www.gs.cidsnet.de/englisch-online/klasse11/unicorn.htm
format =
doi =
accessdate = 2007-02-10
]

Plot summary

A husband sees a unicorn in the family garden and tells his wife about it. She ridicules him, telling him the unicorn is "a mythical beast" and calls him a "booby". When he persists, she threatens to send him to the "booby hatch" (the mental institution). He goes back outside, and she summons the authorities. They ask him if he told his wife he had seen a unicorn. He tells them that he has not, because "The unicorn is a mythical beast." Thus they take the wife away instead. The moral of the story is, "Don't count your boobies until they're hatched," a punnish play on the old saying, "Don't count your chickens until they're hatched."

Major themes

The struggle between the husband and wife pits peaceful fantasy (the man) vs. harsh realism (the woman). The moral acknowledges the husband's victory, achieved by a role reversal: the husband stakes claim to the realistic answers expected by the psychiatrist and the police after the wife ironically repeats the husband's earlier fantastic claims.

Format and style

At 530 words, including the tagline "moral", "The Unicorn in the Garden" qualifies as a short short story, but is generally consistent with the format of a much older literary form, the fable. Fables typically employ anthropomorphic animals as characters, a convention Thurber ignores here, concentrating instead on the reactions of the human husband and wife.

Wordplay, a major element in much of Thurber's work (e.g. the battle over the letter O in "The Wonderful O", and the recurring sound effect "ta-pocketa-pocketa" in "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty") is seen here in the multiple uses of the words "booby" and "hatch". Parallel construction [cite web
last = Harvey
first = Michael
authorlink =
coauthors =
title = Parallelism
work = The Nuts and Bolts of College Writing
publisher =
date = 2003
url = http://nutsandbolts.washcoll.edu/rhetoric.html
format =
doi =
accessdate = 2007-02-10
] and repetition of words for comedic effect can be found in the sentence, "They had a hard time subduing her, but they finally subdued her." This is unusual in that such repetition is sometimes discouraged, especially in journalism and formal writing. [cite web
last = Yagoda
first = Ben
authorlink = Ben Yagoda
coauthors =
title = Yagoda Dos and Don’ts for Feature Writing
work =
publisher = University of Delaware
date = 2003
url = http://www.english.udel.edu/byagoda/don'ts.htm
format =
doi =
accessdate = 2007-02-10
] Although fiction does not necessarily follow the same rules of style, Thurber, a former reporter for the "Columbus Dispatch" and (briefly) an editor for "The New Yorker" under Harold Ross, would likely have been aware of such stylistic choices.

Film, TV or theatrical adaptations

An animated version of the story was released by United Productions of America in 1953.cite web
last =
first =
authorlink =
coauthors =
title = The Unicorn In The Garden
work = The Big Cartoon Database
publisher =
date =
url = http://www.bcdb.com/cartoon/725-Unicorn_In_The_Garden.html
format =
doi =
accessdate = 2007-01-31
] The cartoon was directed by William T. Hurtz, and was originally intended to be part of a feature based on Thurber's work, to be called "Men, Women and Dogs".cite web
last =
first =
authorlink =
coauthors =
title = Priceless Gift of Laughter
work = Time Archive: 1923 to the Present
publisher = Time Inc.
date = 1951-07-09
url = http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,806164-1,00.html
format =
doi =
accessdate = 2007-01-31
] It was later voted #48 of the 50 Greatest Cartoons of all time by members of the animation field.

The fable was also adapted to the stage as part of the 1960 revue "A Thurber Carnival". The original cast for this portion of the stage production was as follows:
*Paul Ford - Man
*Alice Ghostley - She
*John McGiver - Psychiatrist
*Peter Turgeon - Narrator
*Charles Braswell - Policeman

The fable was animated again as part of the "My World and Welcome to It" episode "The Night the House Caught Fire", which first aired October 13, 1969. In the episode, William Windom as John Monroe tells the story to his daughter Lydia (Lisa Gerritsen) as his accompanying drawings come to life for the viewer. The episode was written and directed by series creator Melville Shavelson. The animation for the series was by DePatie-Freleng Enterprises.

Also in 1969, a musical adaptation of "The Unicorn in the Garden", composed by Russell Smith, was performed by the Denver Lyric Opera in Denver. [cite book
last = Young
first = Allen
authorlink =
coauthors =
title = Exotic and Irrational: Opera in Denver-1879-2006
publisher = Pilgrims' Process, Inc.
date = 2006
location =
pages = pg 69
url =
doi =
id = ISBN 978-0-9749597-8-8
]

Other adaptations

An audio adaptation of the story, read by Peter Ustinov, was released by Caedmon in 1986 (ISBN 089845641X).

Cultural references

Dr. Richard Lenski, in a widely disseminated response [ [http://www.newscientist.com/blog/shortsharpscience/2008/06/creationist-critics-get-their.html?DCMP=ILC-hmts&nsref=specrt11_head_Anti-nonsense New Scientist: Creationist critics get their comeuppance] ] [http://www.pandasthumb.org/archives/2008/06/lenski-gives-co.html Reference at the notable Panda's Thumb blog] [ [http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2008/06/lenski_gives_conservapdia_a_le.php Mentioned in Pharyngula] ] to Conservapedia founder Andrew Schlafly (who [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conservapedia#Lenski_dialog expressed doubt] Lenski found an evolutionary beneficial mutation in E. Coli bacteria), made an allusion to the story.

"In other words, it’s not that we claim to have glimpsed 'a unicorn in the garden' – we have a whole population of them living in my lab!" [ [http://www.conservapedia.com/Conservapedia:Lenski_dialog Conservapedia: Lenski dialog] ]

Footnotes

External links

* [http://english.glendale.cc.ca.us/unicorn1.html Complete text of the story]
* [http://www.bcdb.com/cartoon/725-Unicorn_In_The_Garden.html "The Unicorn in the Garden" in the Big Cartoon Database]
* [http://www.ibdb.com/production.asp?ID=2101 "A Thurber Carnival" in the Internet Broadway Database (IBDB)]
* [http://www.tv.com/my-world-and-welcome-to-it/the-night-the-house-caught-fire/episode/191510/summary.html "The Night the House Caught Fire" at TV.com]


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