The Dog Work of James Thurber

the Thurber Carnival

James Thurber
James Thurber, image from

Today is national Take Your Dog to Work Day. If you have a dog that is amenable and a workplace that is dog friendly, you two are going to have an awesome day. But if the whole dog + you job-share isn’t in the cards, then perhaps you can make it up to your best friend by reading them a short story by James Thurber, one of the most dog-friendly author/illustrators ever.

A prolific writer, humorist and cartoonist, Thurber is not as well known as as his contemporaries and friends E.B. White and Dorothy Parker. Thurber spent most of his career in New York, writing for The New Yorker magazine and pursuing his own projects: plays, novels, children’s stories, essays, short stories and cartoons. He and his wife owned a country home in Sandy Hook, CT, where in the 1970s, new owners removed wallpaper to discover that he had drawn cartoons all over the walls of his attic workroom. If your toddler writes on the walls, it’s a job for a sponge and a time out. If James Thurber does it, the walls get removed and sent to live with his papers in the library of his alma mater, Ohio State University.

Thurber dog illustration
Illustration of Muggs the dog from The Thurber Carnival

Although his most famous written work is probably The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, there’s no question that dogs were his favorite subject. Dogs in all sizes and shapes. Those who analyze Thurber’s words might sugges that his dogs are stand-ins for men. (If you want to read more about that, check out Adam Gopnik’s New Yorker piece.) Thurber wrote a great deal about battles between the sexes. So it may well be his dogs were man proxies. But I prefer to read about them purely as dogs.

For beginning Thurber readers, The Thurber Carnival (1945) is pretty much the place to start. It includes a variety of his short stories (including Walter Mitty), fables, illustrations and cartoons. The wit and flow of his words make it a pure pleasure to turn and savor the pages. According to Wilfred Sheed, writing for Slate, this collection comes from Thurber’s golden decade. As a result of a childhood injury inflicted by his brother, as childhood injuries so often are, Thurber spent the end of his life virtually blind, which definitely impacted the tone of his writing. Stick with the earlier stuff, unless you find yourself hooked on him and needing more.

James Thurber cartoons
Cartoons from The Thurber Carnival

If you are near Columbus, OH, you can find out more about this true American treasure at Thurber House, his lovingly restored birthplace. Calling itself “the place where laughter, learning and literature meet,” this thriving center for writers celebrates the life and inspiration of James Thurber. Don’t miss the dog sculptures on the grounds.

Here’s wishing you and your dog a happy Take Your Dog to Work Day. Who knows, maybe if enough cookies or cheese are offered, he’ll answer some of those annoying emails for you.

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  1. A perfect article for Take Your Dog to Work Day! I’d never heard of James Thurber before, and enjoyed learning something new. Thanks!

  2. What an interesting story. I knew of Thurber as an author but had no clue about his personal life.

    What a treat discovering his drawings on the attic walls must have been for the new owners of his country home. Thank heavens they cared enough to have them preserved.

  3. I have a ceramic dog, just like in the top picture. Could find no information about where it comes from, but at least I know now that it’s genuine.

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