It has been a long time since I’ve read Goethe’s Faust (in English, in college). I remember some badass witches, but besides the Walpurgis Night scene, the original isn’t too fresh in the (old) (deteriorating) (whiskey-eaten) grey cells. Which is a shame because as I was reading Barbara Kindermann’s retelling of Goethe’s most famous work, I was atwitch to compare it to the original, to analyze her choices in refitting the story for people age 7 and up. But alas, this will not be that review.
Let’s start with the artwork. Kindermann’s Faust (Kindermann Verlag Berlin, 2002–Achtung, this book is in German) was illustrated by Klaus Ensikat, a man who the internet tells me is Germany’s most revered contemporary illustrator. (He’s even illustrated a German edition of The Hobbit, sweet.) His illustrations are beautiful: detailed with a wood-cut-esque style of detailing and a subtle humor. On the cover Mephisto makes the peace sign (a photobomb? or is he giving Faust bunny ears?), while a bar-room scene looks like a night at my local autonomous pub–green mohawked customers and all. Ensikat did a particularly satisfying job with Mephisto. Take a look:
It’s too bad that everybody is white (does the original text specify skin color? I can’t remember, though I can’t imagine that it does in the case of every single character) and most stereotypically, depicts God as a white dude with a white beard (does nobody have a mind of their own when it comes to drawing this guy?). If we’re retelling these tales for a modern audience, then maybe we could draw them with a modern sensitivity to the diversity present in the world around us? Just a thought. Otherwise, lovely art. This book would be worthy of a place on my shelf for the art alone. (Then again, I collect children’s books for just this reason, so there’s your grain of salt.)
As for the words, I loved the way Kindermann handles the retelling. The story is condensed into a tighter package with simpler, more modern language than the original, yet key lines are left intact (and emphasized with italics). So you can read Faust in under a half hour, while still learning all the lines that German intellectuals are likely to quote at you. This book is a fucking excellent tool for anyone who is trying to learn German, as I’ve written about in detail here. It’s like Faust for Dummies but with awesome art and more satisfying paper stock.
The story’s only stumbling block was the ending, but that is inevitable when you take the story from Faust I and the ending from Faust II (as the afterword explains Kindermann’s Faust does). For the sake of staying true to the whole, I can live with that.
Why should you care? Because Faust is a huge beastly presence in classic literature, but that really belongs to speculative fiction. Faust is a bit of a magician, and Mephisto is a wonderful trickster devil character. Of course, Faust is pretty annoying–though not nearly as annoying as his love interest Gretchen–but those two are the price you have to pay for some of classic literature’s best witches. Would it be horrible to admit I like the children’s version better than the original?
666 of 13 witch’s potions.
Where I got it: From the publisher for review
Where you can get it: Kindermann Verlag, just about anywhere in Germany, and if you’re real lucky someone will still be selling it used on your country’s amazon…