New Thing #352: The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty

MittyYou may be aware that on Christmas Day there's a version of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty coming out, starring Ben Stiller. Or perhaps you've seen the one that starred Danny Kaye.

Or perhaps you've read the original short story.

I never saw the movie nor had I read the story - to be honest, a week ago I don't even know if I could have told you whether it was a story or a movie or a legend or what.

But because of the new movie, there was a writeup on the story and the movies in "The Riff" section of The New York Times Magazine last weekend, and that inspired me to finally read the story.

I had certainly heard of Walter Mitty before I read the story, but I don't know in what context. I don't know if I knew of him as a character or as the title of a story...

I certainly had no idea that Walter Mitty is this daydreaming character that originates from a short story that is only about two magazine pages long.

In case you're like me and you were in the dark, the story, by James Thurber, debuted in the March 18, 1939 issue of The New Yorker - and it is a GREAT short story. (And, considering it was written almost 75 years ago, it holds up incredibly well.)

I guess this is what I think of when I think of the term "short story". (You may remember when I was a little bit thrown by the genre in terms of George Saunders' newest book back in March.) It's a good stand-alone story. Sure, it could continue if you wanted it to, but it makes its point in a few short pages. It's well-crafted. It's what I remember O. Henry stories being like…though I admit it's been a while since I've read anything by O. Henry.

I've never been a big daydreamer. I've had daydreams, but none to the extent of Walter Mitty (or David Fear, the guy who wrote about the story in The New York Times Magazine). I used to imagine certain cartoon characters would visit me at elementary school, but I don't think those were exactly daydreams. I think it harkens back to the fact that I was a weird kid.

But I know people who daydream. I remember one time at work more than a decade ago when a co-worker was kind of staring off and I interrupted the staring to ask a question and I could tell that I snapped her back from some far-off place. I think I apologized, but she didn't mind. "I was just having a daydream," she told me. It was the first time, I think, I had heard the term used as a noun rather than a verb. Usually people say "I was daydreaming", but she said it the way I might tell someone about the dream I had when I was sleeping. Her dreams came during the day. It was a small moment, but it stuck with me. It really turned on its head the way I thought about certain things…and the way I saw that other people experienced the world, to be honest.

It's not unlike the way Thurber's character will stick with me. Before I got a page into the story I was in awe of the writing.

I'm a little embarrassed I've gone this long without having read this story.

But the bottom line is I'm really glad I did.

Here's the link I found to the archived story. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.