The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

The White Deer, often called a novella, is a fairy tale. It takes place “once upon a time” in the kingdom of King Clode, which is distinguished by the fact that it contains an enchanted forest. The widower king and his three sons, Thag, Gallow, and Jorn, fill their bachelor lives with hunting and sport. The youngest son, Jorn, is sensitive and poetic as well as athletic and graceful. Although he rides along on the hunts, he avoids killing animals. Nevertheless, the hunters regularly deplete the area so completely that they must endure long periods of enforced idleness to await replenishment of the game. During such periods, Jorn flourishes, but the others pine and mope.

The adventure is set during one of these times of scarce game. A wizard comes to Clode’s court and tells the story of a white deer in the magic forest. Clode avoids this forest because the last time he hunted there, he and his father and brothers chased a swift and beautiful deer that, when they were about to kill it, trans-formed into a princess. Clode then had to return her to her father, undergo perilous labors in competition with his brothers, and then marry the princess when he won the competition. His brothers never returned from their quests. He would prefer to avoid a repetition of these events, but the wizard’s description of the white deer and his challenging of the hunters’ prowess prove to be irresistible temptations. Father and sons pursue the white deer in...

(The entire section is 458 words.)


(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

The world of this tale is fantastic in virtually every detail. The narrator says that on certain April days, when near sounds seem distant...

(The entire section is 191 words.)

Literary Qualities

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Thurber manipulates the simple forms of fairy tales, with their conventional characters, frequent three-part structures, and love-quest...

(The entire section is 364 words.)

Social Sensitivity

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

This story shows that Thurber cared deeply about fostering love and imagination. He implicitly criticizes those aspects of American culture...

(The entire section is 222 words.)

Topics for Discussion

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

1. Discuss the differences between Jorn and his two brothers. How do these differences relate to the characters of their parents?


(The entire section is 141 words.)

Ideas for Reports and Papers

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

1. James Thurber drew his own illustrations for this story. Choose a few that interest you and discuss how they contribute to your enjoyment...

(The entire section is 253 words.)

Related Titles / Adaptations

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Thurber's other fairy tales show similar themes and qualities. In Many Moons, a sick princess cannot get well unless she is given the...

(The entire section is 141 words.)

For Further Reference

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Bernstein, Burton. Thurber. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1975. Although many facts in this biography have been challenged by...

(The entire section is 383 words.)


(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Fensch, Thomas, ed. Conversations with James Thurber. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1989.

Grauer, Neil A. Remember Laughter: A Life of James Thurber. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1994.

Holmes, Charles S. The Clocks of Columbus: The Literary Career of James Thurber. New York: Atheneum, 1972.

Kinney, Harrison. James Thurber: His Life and Times. New York: Henry Holt, 1995.

Kinney, Harrison, and Rosemary A. Thurber, eds. The Thurber Letters: The Wit, Wisdom, and Surprising Life of James Thurber. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2003.

Rosen, Michael J., ed. Collecting Himself: James Thurber on Writing and Writers, Humor, and Himself. New York: Harper & Row, 1989.

Tobias, Richard C. The Art of James Thurber. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1970.