Clockwork (novel)

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First edition (UK)
Author Philip Pullman
Illustrator Peter Bailey
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre Children's novel
Publisher Doubleday
Publication date
Media type Print
Pages 92 pp
ISBN 0-385-40755-6
OCLC 36964106

Clockwork (also called Clockwork, or All Wound Up) is an illustrated short children's novel by Philip Pullman, first published in the United Kingdom in 1996 by Doubleday. It was first published 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 the Whitbread Children's Book Award and for a Carnegie Medal in 1997.[2]

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

Major themes[edit]

Clockwork is an exciting, suspenseful fairy tale written in an ironic and amusing style. It has a strong moral message.[4] Pullman uses the literary technique of parallel authorial commentary, similar to Rudyard Kipling in Just So Stories.[5] He uses the idea of clockwork as a metafictive device, comparing the interrelated plot elements to the elements of a clock's mechanism.[4]

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.[4]

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.[4]

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.[4]


Clockwork has twice been adapted into an opera for children.

A version with music by composer Stephen McNeff and libretto by playwright 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][6]

A second opera adaption was created in a co-production between Visible Fictions and Scottish Opera in March 2011, with music by David Trouton, and featuring puppetry, live action, music and song. The opera will be performed at a variety of venues across Scotland from April to June 2011.

The Clockwork Moth adapted it into a shadow-play for adults and children, in 2010. The show contained 239 shadow-puppets, and was performed by six puppeteers and three live musicians.[7]

It was adapted into a play by Mutabilitie Productions, who previously performed an adaptation of "I Was a Rat". The play was performed at the ADC Theatre in Cambridge, UK in January 2010.

The Theatre Alchemists created a stage adaptation, for the Bike Shed Theatre in Exeter, in May 2010.


  1. ^ a b Clockwork, Phillip
  2. ^ Philip Pullman,
  3. ^ a b Portillo, Michael, 2004-03-29, Saved by a song, New Statesman.
  4. ^ a b c d e Thacker, Deborah Cogan, Jean Webb, 2002, Introducing Children's Literature: From Romanticism to Postmodernism, Routledge, ISBN 0-415-20410-0.
  5. ^ Hunt, Peter, 2001, Children's Literature, Blackwell Publishing, ISBN 0-631-21141-1, p. 114.
  6. ^ Clockwork – An Opera (2004), Unicorn Theatre.
  7. ^ The Clockwork Moth shadow-puppetry adaptation of 'Clockwork',

External links[edit]