Goodreads ratings
3.87 / 5

"Clockwork" Summary

By Philip Pullman

fantasy | 144 pages | Published in NaN

Fritz, the writer, spins a spine-tingling tale to cheer up Karl, the apprentice clockmaker. But rather than helping matters, the story begins to come true.... The stories of Karl, the apprentice; Dr. Kalmenius, his nefarious “savior”; Gretl, the brave daughter of the town innkeeper; and a young prince whose clockwork heart is in danger of winding down come together in surprising and magical ways in a story that has the relentless urgency of a ticking clock.


Estimated read time: 5 min read

One Sentence Summary

In a dark and fantastical Victorian London, a master clockmaker creates an extraordinary clockwork boy with a dangerous secret.


In Philip Pullman's "Clockwork," readers are transported to the enchanting town of Glockenheim, where time becomes a central theme in a captivating tale. This gothic fantasy novel explores the intricate relationship between time, destiny, and free will. With his signature storytelling prowess, Pullman weaves together multiple narratives, seamlessly blending mystery, suspense, and moral dilemmas. "Clockwork" offers readers a thought-provoking journey through a world where time is both a gift and a curse.

Brief Synopsis

"Clockwork" is set in the fictional German town of Glockenheim during the 19th century. The story unfolds within the walls of an old clockmaker's shop, where Karl, the apprentice, witnesses a series of bizarre events that intertwine the lives of various characters.

The plot kicks off when Karl encounters a mysterious visitor, Dr. Kalmenius, who possesses the power to bring clockwork figures to life. As the story progresses, the lives of Karl, the clockmaker's daughter, Gretl, and a storyteller named Fritz are thrown into disarray as the boundaries between fantasy and reality blur.

Main Characters

KarlAn apprentice to the clockmaker, drawn into a web of strange events
GretlThe clockmaker's daughter, yearning for freedom and adventure
FritzA charismatic storyteller with a dark secret
Dr. KalmeniusA mysterious figure with the power to animate clockwork

Story Points

Chapter 1: The Clockmaker's Apprentice

  • Introduces Karl, the clockmaker's apprentice, who desires to impress his master.
  • Karl encounters Dr. Kalmenius, who presents him with a strange proposition.

Chapter 2: The Mechanical Prince

  • Karl witnesses a strange event where a life-sized mechanical figure, known as the Mechanical Prince, comes to life.
  • The Mechanical Prince commits a heinous act, leaving Karl bewildered.

Chapter 3: The Storyteller

  • Fritz, a captivating storyteller, arrives in Glockenheim and captures the townspeople's attention with his tales.
  • Gretl, the clockmaker's daughter, becomes enthralled by Fritz's stories.

Chapter 4: The Spell

  • Karl discovers a secret room in the clockmaker's shop, filled with intricate clockwork.
  • Dr. Kalmenius reveals his true intentions and a dark spell is cast upon Fritz.

Chapter 5: The Midnight Hunt

  • A thrilling pursuit takes place through the streets of Glockenheim as Karl, Gretl, and other townspeople search for Fritz.
  • The clockwork figures play a crucial role in the chase.

Chapter 6: The Unraveling

  • The truth about Dr. Kalmenius and his connection to the clockwork figures is revealed.
  • Karl and Gretl must make a choice that will alter the course of their lives.

Main Events

  • The Mechanical Prince's violent act leads to a web of consequences.
  • Fritz's stories become intertwined with the unfolding events.
  • The clockwork figures play a pivotal role in the climax of the story.
  • The true nature of Dr. Kalmenius and his motives are uncovered.
  • Karl and Gretl are faced with a moral dilemma that challenges their beliefs.

Themes and Insights

The Nature of Time

"Clockwork" delves into the concept of time and its impact on human lives. It explores the idea that time, like clockwork, can be both precise and unpredictable. Pullman invites readers to reflect on the nature of time, its limitations, and the ways in which it can shape our destinies.

Free Will versus Fate

The novel raises questions about the balance between free will and predetermined fate. Through the characters' choices and actions, Pullman challenges the notion of an unalterable destiny. He explores the idea that individuals have the power to shape their own futures, even in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.

The Power of Stories

"Clockwork" emphasizes the power of storytelling to captivate, inspire, and manipulate. Pullman highlights how stories can shape perceptions, influence decisions, and reveal hidden truths. The intertwining narratives within the novel serve as a reminder of the timeless allure of storytelling and its ability to blur the boundaries between reality and fantasy.

Reader's Takeaway

"Clockwork" invites readers on a thrilling journey, immersing them in a world where time becomes both a gift and a curse. Pullman's masterful storytelling keeps readers engaged as they explore themes of time, destiny, and the power of choice. This gothic fantasy novel is a thought-provoking read that will leave readers pondering the intricate workings of life and the true nature of free will.


Philip Pullman's "Clockwork" is a mesmerizing tale that combines elements of mystery, suspense, and fantasy. Through vivid descriptions and compelling characters, Pullman constructs a world where time is both tangible and elusive. The book prompts readers to question the nature of time, contemplate the power of choice, and appreciate the timeless allure of storytelling. With its thought-provoking themes and captivating narrative, "Clockwork" is a must-read for fans of Pullman's unique storytelling style.

Clockwork FAQ

  1. What is the genre of the book 'Clockwork'?

    Clockwork is a fantasy novel.

  2. Who is the author of 'Clockwork'?

    The book 'Clockwork' is written by Philip Pullman.

  3. What is the target audience of 'Clockwork'?

    'Clockwork' is targeted towards young adult readers.

  4. What is the main theme of 'Clockwork'?

    The main theme of 'Clockwork' revolves around the concept of fate and the consequences of one's actions.

  5. What is the setting of 'Clockwork'?

    'Clockwork' is set in a fictional German town during the 19th century.

  6. Who are the main characters in 'Clockwork'?

    The main characters in 'Clockwork' include Karl, Fritz, Gretl, and the Clockmaker.

  7. Is 'Clockwork' part of a series?

    'Clockwork' is a standalone novel and not part of a series.

  8. What is the plot of 'Clockwork'?

    The plot of 'Clockwork' follows the intertwining stories of three characters whose lives are connected by a mysterious clockwork figure and a prophecy.

  9. Is 'Clockwork' suitable for all ages?

    'Clockwork' is generally recommended for readers aged 12 and above.

  10. Does 'Clockwork' have any supernatural elements?

    Yes, 'Clockwork' incorporates supernatural elements such as magic and the presence of a mechanical creature.