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

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Hitherto Unknown Letter from Van Helsing to Mina Harker

To all fans of Dracula: You'll be thrilled to learn that a hitherto unknown letter from Van Helsing to Mina Harker has been found (Bram Stoker did not know it and therefore could not include it in his book):

My dear Madam Mina:

When we make ash of the King-Vampire and gather around ourselve to say our fare-byes, I not have opportunities of private speak with you. So I write this letter to express my most deep thinkings.

Our poor Miss Lucy only know how look pretty and how say the suitors yes or no. You, on the other side, know more—you can short-hand, you can type-write . And oh! Your braveness! When you hear Mr. Harker be ill in Budapesth, you not hesitate! You travel, all by your selves, to the land of wild Magyars and bring home Jonathan—and make also husband!

When you hear the Un-Dead be inside of London, again you not hesitate. You open type-writer and type diary in wholeness, and in triplication!, in one hour—I still not know how you do it—and become partner of our deliberates.

Some of times we men be not the most bright stick on candle. So, we think Madam Mina are weaker sex and go visit tomb of poor Miss Lucy without of her. Thencetofore you be alone, and the Un-Dead come, and suck neck of you, and leave red hicky. But you not panic—you keep ears stiff; fear not grip you in his vices; and you fight, fight, fight!

I never have see you cry, but I have see men, big men, make wet your shoulder with tears of theirs. Howeverso we exclude you out again almost from voyage to the Transsylvania. But you put down your feet and say no! And we must accept and make partner from you in fullness. Thank to God! Under hypnosation you can tell the about-wheres of the Count and, at the last, not hesitate accompany with me to his forbid castle—what steel of nerves!

When I see you, Madam Mina, I see new woman, nay, I see my she-hero!

Affectionably yours,

Abraham Van Helsing

Friday, August 10, 2012

Parallels Between Rumpelstiltskin and The Merchant of Venice

Here are my latest musings triggered by the Coursera-based course I'm currently enrolled in:
Parallels Between Rumpelstiltskin (Rumpelstilzchen) and The Merchant of Venice

Note to readers not enrolled in the course: It's a massive open online course (MOOC) offered by the University of Michigan. The title is Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, the Modern World. The video lectures are given by Prof. Eric S. Rabkin. The first unit dealt with the Grimm Brothers and the fairy tales they collected.

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.


Thursday, August 2, 2012

Talking Animals in the Grimms' Fairy Tales

I'm taking right now a massive open online course (MOOC) offered by the Univ. of Michigan using the Coursera support software. The course title is Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World. The first unit dealt with the Grimm Brothers' fairy tales, and each student had to submit a 270-320-word "essay" (more realistically, a few paragraphs that do not amount to anything deserving the name "essay"). Anyway, we're talking about two famous Krauts, and I'm showing below my submission (expanded by a few words beyond the 320 word limit).
A distinct feature of the Grimm tales (and folk tales in general) are repetitive narrative patterns and recurring motives. Among these, talking animals are particularly prominent. I am drawn to such stories because I like animals. More importantly, I’m intrigued by tales with talking animals because many of them can be viewed as little morality plays, not in the sense that they have a pat moral, but in the sense that a moral issue is at stake, if in a playful manner. For example, trust and the betrayal of trust are at the heart of Cat and Mouse in Partnership.

A subclass of the talking animal stories deals with farm animals. I know from my own experience (I lived for four years in a small rural village) that these animals often have a hard life, and it must have been even harder at the time the Grimm tales were told. When an animal was no longer useful, it was disposed of unceremoniously—beaten to death, or drowned, or beheaded and eaten, as the dog, the cat, and the rooster, respectively, lament in The Bremen Town Musicians. In the latter story, and in Old Sultan and, to a lesser degree, The House in the Forest, these exploited creatures receive a voice and are allowed to take their fate into their own hands. By teaming up, they manage to outwit their masters. The loyalty the animals show among each other contrasts with the disloyalty exhibited by humans—the animals prove, in the end, to be the “better people.”

A further appeal of these stories is that the moral lesson, if there is one, is not treated in a heavy-handed manner. There is much humor in them—Old Sultan, in fact, ends in a burlesque as the toothless dog of the title and a three-legged cat manage to win a duel against a wolf and a wild boar, both perfectly healthy, who turn out to be veritable cowards. And The Bremen Town Musicians is distinguished by a humorous tone sustained throughout.
BTW The image is by my favorite Grimms illustrator, Otto Ubbelohde, who deserves a separate post.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Word of the Month: Amtsschimmel

A Schimmel is a white horse, and Amt denotes, in this context, a government office. In combination, they refer not to a bureaucrat as a person, but to bureaucracy as a sometimes baffling phenomenon. When you are confronted with some bureaucratic absurdity, you may say, "Der Amtsschimmel wiehert (whinnies)." A fine example is given by the foreign student who tried to enroll at the University of Vienna, but could not do it because he did not have a residence permit and could not get a residence permit because he was not enrolled at the university. [Beikircher p. 314]

Now, what does a beautiful animal like a white horse have to do with bureaucratic excess? Nothing, it turns out! Schimmel derives, by way of folk etymology, from Simile (Latin for "similar"), a term used in Austrian offices to refer to a boilerplate form from which other forms could be generated. It came to stand for the enthusiasm with which forms are embraced by some bureaucracies and for their sometimes unfathomable ways in general. [Source]

[Source: Wild Things in the German Language: Kindle version | iBooks version]