The New Generation of Classic Short Stories

Vol. 17, No. 4

An Introduction to "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty"

by Ben Stiller

James Thurber's "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" is a beautiful and melancholic story of a man who lives in his head, imagining great fantasies as he goes through an ordinary, somewhat mundane day. As readers, we feel an instant connection to and empathy for Mitty, because we are all by our very nature daydreamers. Who hasn't stared blankly out a window envisioning a world or moment far greater than the one we're living?
     We all live differently in our heads than we do in the real world, and our perspectives on ourselves don't always coincide with reality. That's true for Mitty. He has so much inside him and has lived so many different lives in his head. At some point he decided all those invented lives were a lot more accessible than his real one.
     For our film adaptation, we used Thurber's story as a jumping-off point for the character of Mitty, whose daily routine isn’t exactly what he’d intended. He is a decent, responsible worker who cares about what he does and has a thing for a girl at the office. But his own imagination stands in the way of his ability to become the person he’d like to be. From there we created a new story that takes the character beyond his daydreams, as he embarks on a global journey that is really about connecting with himself in the real world.
     In a few short pages, Thurber depicted an iconic character who resonates as strongly today as he did in 1939. Hopefully our film celebrates the potential inside all of us, in a way Thurber might not be too upset with.

To read "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" and other stories from the Winter 2013/2014 issue, please purchase a copy from our online store.