Occasional musings, Geistesblitze, photos, drawings etc. by a "resident alien", who has landed on American soil from a far-away planet called "Germany".

Friday, August 3, 2012

Otto Ubbelohde—Illustrator of the Grimms' Fairy Tales

Otto Ubbelohde is the most famous of the German illustrators of the Grimm's fairy tales. What distinguishes him from everyone who came before and afterwards is that he located the scenes he chose to depict firmly in the region of Hessen, where the Grimms lived and where they collected most of their tales. When Ubbelohde shows, e.g., Briar Rose's castle (shown on the left) or Rapunzel's tower, he draws real buildings that exist to the present day (and, needless to say, get much publicity out of this connection). I also believe that the altar he shows in his drawing for Cat and Mouse in Partnership is a real altar in a real church (even if the tomb cover he shows depicts the artist himself). And the women, when they wear their Sunday finery, wear the traditional folk costumes of the region

I think this realism extends to the figures in his drawings. For example, the robbers shown in the image accompanying my last post appear to be portraits drawn from life—in fact, the young robber in the middle foreground has a face that also appears in other drawings, like in the first picture he shows for The Brave Little Tailor—there may have been a lad who modeled for these portraits. I'm also, and particularly, enthralled by the care with which he depicts animals in their characteristic postures.

None of this would amount to much if he were not a draftsman of the first class—he was. His line is clearly influenced by Art Nouveau (Jugendstil), which makes his drawings more than just faithful renderings of what he observed.

An edition with the complete drawings can be purchased on amazon. My one quibble with this edition is the translation the editor chose to go with the drawings. I can elaborate on this in the comments if someone is interested.


Ulrich said...

There's one element of non-realism in Ubbelohde: He always shows kings, queens, and princesses wearing crowns at all occasions. His illustration were the first I encountered as a child, and they fixed in my mind what these royals looked like. And so I was terribly disappointed when I saw the first photo of a real king--wearing no crown.

I was told that he would wear a crown only at 'official occasions', and I thought, "This sucks!"

Heika said...

I'm not one for illustrations, but this one pulled me right in.And the animals are, as you say, wonderful.

So what is the matter with the translation on Amazon's Kindle site?

Ulrich said...

@Heika: I'll get to this--I just have a lot on my plate right now.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to know more about the translations, please?

I love the Ubbelohde illustrations a lot. Very impressive is a visit to the Ubbelohde house near Marburg / Lahn - a very different way of life this must have been.

Ulrich said...

@Heika and lakritze: Sorry for not getting back to this sooner!

My basic complaint about this particular translation is that it seems to try to convey in English a feel for German grammar and syntax—with results I consider disastrous. For example, it uses archaic pronouns like “thou, ” “thee,” and “thine”, which have close German counterparts, but make the English sound exalted or very old-fashioned. Or look at this sentence (from “Faithful John”—Der treue Johannes): “On this faithful John was quite delighted, and led her to the ship, and when the King saw her, he perceived that her beauty was even greater than the picture had represented it to be, and thought no other than that his heart would burst in twain.” It stays pretty close to the German syntax, but produces an English that is almost unreadable in its awkwardness.

As a result, we have a translation that is as far removed as can be from the utter simplicity of the German original, which still sounds completely natural. Or, to put it differently, the translator administered to the Grimms what the Germans call a Bärendienst.

I have the illustrations in a 3-volume pocketbook edition published by Insel in 1984 (it 829). I do not know if it is still in print. I also do not know if an electronic version with the German text is available somewhere

Anonymous said...

I think this
is it -- and the English version seems to be the one you quoted.

I absolutely agree with you, the English seems quite awful. But the German text is strange to Germans, too; rather altertümlich. I doubt that nowadays a lot of kids even understand it.

I think it's different in another way: the German is just old-fashioned; the English is full of Latin, which makes it "feel" very sophisticated.

Ulrich said...

@lakritze: Do you really think so? I remember that when I read the stories first as a kid, some 60+ years ago (yes, I'm that old!), the language did not feel altertümlich, and it doesn't today either when I consider how much time has passed since the stories were written.

BTW Why does Google think your comments are spam? I had to "unspam" each one manually to make it visible...

Anonymous said...

@Ulrich: Oh, but then you read as a child. I know scores and scores of children and young people who wouldn't get a thing from just reading »Johannes«. Or from reading anything at all.
Parents don't read or tell the original stories but use abbreviated, simplified versions or animated films. A kind of Disney-fication. I don't like it, but it's kind of a trend.
(I used to read the old stories from a book I had found on the trash, in Fraktur even. May be that saved me. .))

Oh, and I have no idea why I am listed as spam. But thanks for un-spamming my comments!

Ulrich said...

@lakritze: I'll be damned: I had the same experience. My grandfather had started to read the stories to me as soon as I could talk, from a beautiful 2-volume edition printed also in Fraktur. When I was in second grade (age 7 or so), I taught myself that alphabet from the books so that I could read on my own. I started with letters I could recognize, then guessed a whole word and inferred the letters I hadn't recognized. I remember "s" giving me the most trouble because the symbol changed depending on whether it occurred inside or at the beginning or end of a word.

Anyway, on a recent visit to Cologne, where my family still lives, I found these old volumes and brought them with me to the States.

Re. Johannes: I would not start with story either--even today, I cannot warm to it, as opposed to my favorite, "The Bremen Town Musicians", which has not only talking animals (see the post below), but also a lot of humor.

Anonymous said...

@Ulrich: That's nice. Kids who really want to read won't be stopped by Fraktur. (I always imagined the long s pronounced with a lisp.)

My favourite fairy tale is "Das Perlebitzchen". It's said to be the ur-version of the Grimms' "Rumpelstilzchen", and I've heard it from a regular Märchenerzählerin.

Ulrich said...

@lakritze: As you can see from my post about parallels between Rumpelstilzchen and The Merchant of Venice, I am particularly interested in the story line of that tale. And so, I'd like to read Das Perlebitzchen—I'll try to find it on the web. If I can't, do you have any idea where I could read it?

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, couldn't find it on the net; I've never even seen it written down. There's a Ms. Mosburger living near Otto Ubbelohde's house who tells this story.

Ulrich said...

@lakritze: Hurray! Google finally learned that you are not spam!

This is what my clicking revealed: There is a collection called Grimms Märchen in ursprünglicher Gestalt: nach der Ölenberger Handschrift von 1810, which supposedly contains Das Perlebitzchen. I'll be away for a week. When I'm back, I'll see if I can read an electronic version through the online library service I'm entitled to as a (retired) faculty member of my university.

Anonymous said...

This is great, Ulrich. Thanks. I've tried my bookseller, but all he came up with was a breathtakingly expensive edition of ur-texts.

Ulrich said...

@lakritze: I could obtain the version of Rumpelstiltzkin from the Ölenberger Handschrift. But it's not called Das Perlebitzchen--it's called Rumpenstünzchen. It is fascinating, though, because it shows that the Grimms revised the story substantially before they published it, and this includes the reversal of certain motivs, and Rumpenstünzchen does not die at the end--he simply flies out of the window on a cooking spoon.

But I have reached the end of my attempts to track the Perlebitzchen down.