James Thurber Short Stories

Here are a few of James Thurber’s short stories to consider.

“The Lady on 142”

The narrator and his wife, Sylvia, wait in a train station for the line from Pittsfield to come in. A train arrives but it’s not the one they’re waiting for. The man notices the stationmaster on the phone a few times. Eventually, he hears something interesting—a conductor on train 142 has a woman who someone has been looking for. Checking the timetable, they see this is the train that just left. They speculate about the woman.

This story can be read in the preview of The Thurber Carnival(20% in)

“The Catbird Seat”

Mr. Martin, head of the filing department at a law firm, decides to kill Mrs. Barrows, an annoying and overbearing adviser to the founder. She always asks him silly questions and uses odd expressions. Worst of all, Martin suspects she’s planning a reorganization of his department. Although she annoys him to no end, he’s never let on to her or anyone else at the office. There are considerable risks involved, but he’s planned it carefully.

This story can also be read in the above preview of The Thurber Carnival. (34% in)

“Memoirs of a Drudge”

A man recounts his routine as a journalist. On one job, he worked on a crew that only had to write headlines for stories that came in on the wire, or translate enjoyable stories. They also had a trick for gathering information for the society column.

This story can also be read in the above preview of The Thurber Carnival. (53% in)

“A Cane in the Corridor”

Joe Fletcher is visiting George Minturn and his wife at their home. They’re all drinking. Joe talks about post-operative mental states. George is uncomfortable with the conversation and makes his feeling known, but Joe continues undeterred. It seems George didn’t visit Joe when he was in the hospital.

This story can also be read in the above preview of The Thurber Carnival. (66% in)

“You Could Look it Up”

Squawks Magrew manages the league-leading pro baseball team. They’re on a losing streak, though, and their lead is dwindling. The players are tense and Magrew is upset. After yet another loss, Magrew goes to a bar. He meets a very small man, Pearl du Monville, who starts making fun of the team.

Read “You Could Look it Up”

“The Night the Ghost Got In”

At night a man hears footsteps downstairs. His family think it’s a ghost or burglars. They’re thrown into confusion and overreact to the situation—the mother throws a shoe through the window of the neighbor’s house and the grandfather gets out his gun. The police soon arrive.

Read “The Night the Ghost Got In”

“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”

A mild and ineffectual man has a series of daydreams while accompanying his wife on her weekly errands.

“The Greatest Man in the World”

A man successfully makes a continuous flight around the world, and becomes a national hero. However, he is coarse, with a criminal past, so government officials and newspaper men don’t know how to present him to the world.

“University Days”

Thurber relates some unusual experiences from university, starting with Botany class. He was unable to see through a microscope, which enraged his professor. He continues with an athlete’s difficulties in economics and his own troubles in gym.

Read “University Days”

“The Unicorn in the Garden”

One morning at breakfast, a man sees a white unicorn with a gold horn in his garden eating flowers. He tells his wife but she dismisses it, as the unicorn is a mythical beast. When her husband leaves, she calls the authorities to deal with his problem.

Read “The Unicorn in the Garden”