(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

James Thurber wrote and illustrated The White Deer during what many of his readers consider the richest portion of his career, in which he produced a number of fables and fairy tales, including such delightful novellas as Many Moons (1943), The 13 Clocks (1950), and The Wonderful O (1957). These works combine Thurber’s most whimsical, innovative, and verbally rich writing with a playfully serious moralism.

Main themes of The White Deer are the importance of imagination to sustaining love and the general fertility of life, both biological and spiritual. Although King Clode is prone to melancholia, his visionary power sets him apart from the less imaginative employees of his court, for example, an astronomer who uses pink lenses to make everything he sees rose-colored and a physician who becomes ill and splits rather wildly into the opposing roles of doctor and patient. Clode’s older sons also lack creativity and sympathy, and their quests take them into worlds that mock their deficiencies; they never understand these worlds. They return from their quests believing that physical courage and cunning are strengths enough for life. Jorn, although given an easy quest, calls upon magical help to make the quest difficult enough to be worthy of the love that motivates him. He understands the power of imagination to give meaning to experience and, thereby, to help one escape the ease and corruption of a hedonistic...

(The entire section is 509 words.)