“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” by James Thurber

“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”
James Thurber


If you’re like me, you’ve probably already read “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” in school, and maybe you’ve also seen Ben Stiller in this 2013 remake of the original 1947 movie starring Danny Kaye.  Or maybe you saw the Danny Kaye version.

Most of us are familiar with the Walter Mitty character, a henpecked husband who escapes into his daydreams.  And like me, maybe you cheer for Walter and hope he tells his wife a thing or two.

Going back and re-reading this story reminded me how clever and funny Thurber’s writing is.  In just a few pages, we understand and sympathize with Walter Mitty’s circumstances.  Walter’s mundane errand-running life triggers these heroic fantasies as he imagines himself as a wartime pilot, a renowned surgeon, a sharp-shooting defendant and a fearless army captain.

And in a few minutes we learn the most important part of Walter’s marriage – Walter would rather imagine himself facing a firing squad, with the blindfold off, than wait on the corner for his wife.

My favorite scenario is with Walter as a surgeon.  Thurber has Walter’s colleagues using hilarious nonsense words to describe the patient’s medical condition.  “Obstreosis of the ductal tract.  Tertiary,” explains one of the doctors.  And Dr. Mitty not only steps in to consult on and ultimately perform a complicated surgery, but he also fixes the new “anesthetizer” that’s giving way.  An interne shouts, “There is no one in the East who knows how to fix it!”  “Quiet, man!” says Mitty who jumps into action and fixes it with a fountain pen.  “That will hold for ten minutes,” he instructs.  “Get on with the operation.”  That’s when Mitty steps in to reverse the patient’s “coreopsis,” which incidentally is a genus of herb, not a medical condition!

James Thurber
James Thurber

“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” was first published in 1939.  Thurber was very unhappy with 1947 movie – most of Thurber’s input had been ignored.  Ben Stiller is both the director and star of the 2013 movie, in which Mitty travels the world on various adventures.  I have not seen it yet but I’m guessing it’s a loosely based adaptation.

Read the story first anyway.  It’s a winner!

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

5 thoughts on ““The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” by James Thurber

  1. I do so love Walter Mitty. I used to teach the story in my 8th grade literature classes; it took a little explaining to get the jokes across, but even with the distance in time my students could certainly relate to a character whose fantasy self is so much cooler and more powerful than his actual self — which is pretty much the situation for many young adolescents. I haven’t seen the Ben Stiller version (I’m a little reluctant to) but I adored Danny Kaye in the role.

    1. Hi Jan – thanks for stopping by. That’s a great story for middle schoolers. I’m pretty sure that’s when I first read it. I haven’t seen either movie. I’m a little reluctant to see the Ben Stiller version too. Sometimes the modern versions of classic stories or books are way over the top. I should see if the Danny Kaye version is in our library!

  2. Thanks for the reminder of this classic, Barb. I love James Thurber – think I need to reread this. And maybe suggest it to my middle school students.

Tell me what you're thinking!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s