Clockwork (novel)


Clockwork, or All Wound Up is an illustrated short children's book by Philip Pullman, first published in the United Kingdom in 1996 by Doubleday, and in the United States by Arthur A. Levine Books in 1998. The Doubleday edition was illustrated by Peter Bailey and the Arthur A. Levine Books edition was illustrated by Leonid Gore.[1] It was shortlisted for both the Whitbread Children's Book Award and for a Carnegie Medal in 1997.[2]

First edition (UK)
AuthorPhilip Pullman
IllustratorPeter Bailey
CountryUnited Kingdom
GenreChildren's novel
Publication date
Media typePrint
Pages92 pp

Pullman has said his novel was inspired by an old clock he came across in London's Science Museum.[1] Noting the movement of the clock's gears, he wrote the story with elements that move in opposite directions.[3]


Clockwork is set in the town of Glockenheim in Germany in "the old days". It has three main characters: Karl, an apprentice clockmaker who has failed to make a figure for the town clock; Gretl, who is a very selfless young girl is also one of the main characters and is the daughter of the innkeeper of Glockenheim and Fritz, a local writer whose unfinished story sets the gears of Clockwork turning.[4]

The townspeople gather in the White Horse Tavern the evening before a new figure for their town clock made by Karl is to be unveiled. Karl, however, admits to Fritz that he has not made the figure, the first apprentice in hundreds of years to fail to do so. The people in the tavern listen to Fritz read his latest story about a local aristocrat, Prince Otto, and his young son, Prince Florian. Prince Otto dies while on a hunting trip. His heart has been replaced with a clockwork mechanism that enables him to drive his son home in their sledge. Fritz wrote down the story after having a dream, but he has not thought of an ending for it, and hopes that he will be able to think up one on the spot: "He was just going to wind up the story, set it going, and make up the end when he got there."

The story begins to come true when Dr. Kalmeneius comes to the door of the tavern. Fritz flees in terror. Dr. Kalmeneius offers Karl a clockwork figure called Sir Ironsoul, which Karl accepts. Karl's acceptance of the gift sets in motion a chain of interlocking stories. A price must be paid for this gift, as Sir Ironsoul is a mechanical knight that comes alive and kills anyone who says the word "Devil". Only the song "The Flowers of Lapland" can stop him.

The narrative shifts back and forwards through time.[5] It is revealed that Prince Florian was made from clockwork by Dr. Kalmeneius at the wishes of his father. His mechanical heart will soon wind down. Gretl is the only person who can restore true life to him. All the stories come together as one. Karl places Prince Florian in the clock's tower as his apprentice piece. Karl is killed by Sir Ironsoul. Gretl finishes the journey by bringing Prince Florian to life through her unselfish love.

Literary analysisEdit

Clockwork has been described as an exciting, suspenseful fairy tale written in an ironic and amusing style. It has a strong moral message.[5] Pullman uses the literary technique of parallel authorial commentary, similar to Rudyard Kipling in Just So Stories.[6] He uses the idea of clockwork as a metafictive device, comparing the interrelated plot elements to the elements of a clock's mechanism.[5]

Pullman provides a moral critique of contemporary Western culture in Clockwork. It is a metaphor for the idea that humanity has been sacrificed as society has become more mechanised. Prince Otto's clockwork heart is a direct allusion to the famous quotation from Thomas Carlyle's 19th-century essay "Signs of the Times": "Men are grown mechanical in head and in heart, as well as in hand". The essay was a warning to Victorian society about the dangers of industrialisation and capitalism. Pullman's novel has a similar warning.[5]

The author also takes the moral position that fulfilment cannot come solely from dreams, and needs dedicated hard work allied with inspiration to be achieved. Karl makes a Faustian bargain with Dr. Kalmenius because he wants an easy way to fulfil his ambition. The Faustian allusions are made clear when Sir Ironsoul becomes murderous when the word "devil" is mentioned and can only be stopped by a special song.[5]

The novel also has allusions to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Fritz's story comes to him in a dream, similar to how Shelley experienced the writing of her novel. Dr. Kalmenius can be compared to Dr. Frankenstein as he seeks the secret of life and is prepared to make a monster to do this.[5]

Stage adaptationEdit

A version with music by Stephen McNeff and libretto by David Wood toured the United Kingdom before playing in the Linbury Studio Theatre at London's Royal Opera House in March 2004. The production's orchestra was formed from musicians from the Philharmonia Orchestra and Martin Music Scholarship Fund Award Scheme.[3][7]


  1. ^ a b "Clockwork". Archived from the original on 21 October 2007.
  2. ^ "Philip Pullman". Archived from the original on 11 April 2007.
  3. ^ a b Portillo, Michael (29 March 2004). "Saved by a song". New Statesman. Retrieved 11 March 2020.
  4. ^ Baines, Lawrence (ed.). "Young Adult Books in Review Recently Published Titles Spring 1999". Virginia Tech University Libraries. 26 (3). Retrieved 11 March 2020.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Thacker, Deborah Cogan; Webb, Jean (25 July 2002). Introducing Children's Literature: From Romanticism to Postmodernism. Routledge. ISBN 978-0415204101.[page needed]
  6. ^ Hunt, Peter (27 December 2000). Children's Literature. John Wiley & Sons. p. 114. ISBN 0-631211411.
  7. ^ "Clockwork". Unicorn Theatre. Archived from the original on 3 July 2008.

External linksEdit

  • Extract from Clockwork.