How it was discovered-and why it went unpublished for so long

How it was discovered-and why it went unpublished for so long

Writer and cartoonistJames Thurber is identified with a certain set of subjects. Born and raised in Columbus, Thurber set his sights on his hometown in the short stories gathered in "My Life and Hard Times." And, when he sat down to draw, he often came up with a dog.

One thing Thurber is not known as, however, is a writer of Westerns-that is, until now. Included in the spring issue ofStrand Magazineis Thurber's contribution to the genre: "How Law and Order Came to Aramie." The story-penned in 1912 when Thurber was 18-was previously unpublished.

The manuscript turned up in Ohio State University's Rare Books and Manuscripts Library, the home of about 60 linear feet of Thurber-related items. Though unpublished, the story was not unknown. A Thurber biography mentions it, and Eric Johnson, curator of the Rare Books Library, suspects some Columbus folks were aware of it, too. "I wouldn't be surprised if some of our Thurber regulars had actually read it in the archives at some stage," Johnson says.

Andrew Gulli, managing editor ofStrand, previously shepherded into print unpublished yarns by famed writers such as F. Scott Fitzgerald and John Steinbeck. Searching for obscure Thurber material, Gulli, who lives in the Detroit area, had librarians photocopy and mail hundreds of pages of promising material. Some pieces, Gulli says, featured out-of-date "political punchlines." But when Gulli encountered "How Law and Order Came to Aramie," he knew he'd found something special.

"The main character's a bit of a Walter Mitty type," says Gulli, referring to Thurber's tale of a dull chap with a flair for daydreaming in "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty." "It's this sheriff named Big, and he's not so big, and he has dreams of confronting the town bully or desperado."

Before obtaining permission to print the piece from Thurber's estate, Gulli had the manuscript transcribed. The pages are handwritten, and-perhaps to the chagrin of some fans-contain no doodles of dogs (or of anything else). "There was a beauty to the cursive," Gulli says, "but it was hard to decipher."

Minor editing was done-with the participation of Thurber's daughter, Rosemary Thurber Sauers, and his granddaughter, Sara Sauers. "They were looking over the proof, and they'd be saying, 'OK, I think this is too much of a colloquialism; I think we should fix this,'" Gulli says.

In "James Thurber: His Life and Times," biographer Harrison Kinney referenced the story as an example of the writer's youthful infatuation with Western movies and novels. "Embarrassingly derivative" is the verdict of Kinney, who adds that the piece "is so riddled with the clichés of the Western pulps that, knowing the later Thurber, one half expects it to be revealed finally as hilarious parody."

In fact, that's Gulli's interpretation: "When I read this, I said, 'Oh my God, this is just spoofing every single cliché.'"

Gulli says the parodic tone may explain why it remained out of sight for so long. "As far as I know, nobody had spoofed the Western at that time, so I don't think he wanted to be the first person-as a teenager-to do so," Gulli says, adding that later in life, the writer "may have even forgotten that he had written it."