Growing up in America can result in large swaths of ignorance. For example, until the Berlin-based Kindermann Verlag sent me a copy of Der Zauberlehrling (1797, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice in the English translation), I had associated the story with the 1940 Disney film Fantasia and Mickey Mouse. I am more than a little embarrassed to admit that I hadn’t known it was a story written by Germany’s literary superstar Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Cough cough, shuffle shuffle. Well, now I know and so do you.
Der Zauberlehrling is part of Kindermann’s Poesie für Kinder (Poetry for Children) series, a collection of books that take the original texts from classic works and put them in beautifully illustrated children’s books. The point is: teach kids to love literature and you’ll make a reader for life. But I wouldn’t just recommend this series or the publisher’s retellings of classics (I talk about their Faust here) to children, but to any adult German-langauge learner who wants to ease into the classics. Goethe’s writing can be intimidating, and it is chock full of old-fashioned words that you aren’t going to hear on the street in 2015. Reading those words amidst gorgeous, descriptive pictures makes the experience a little easier to slide into.
Alongside Sabine Wilharm’s lovely illustrations, reading this text was a joy. My two-year-old daughter found it on my to-review pile and has since become obsessed with the broom who the sorcerer’s apprentice magics to fetch the water. Yesterday at dinner, she screamed for “the broom book” until her pops got it for her, only content to eat her dinner if she could flip through the pages. If that’s not a strong recommendation, I don’t know what is, and now, if I want to sound like a total tool, I can tell people that my daughter reads Goethe.
Meanwhile, I’ve had the fun of reading it to her as dramatically as possible and have found that I really like the roll of the poetry Geothe’s written here. If my daughter remains obsessed, it won’t be long until I have the entire thing memorized, and then I can sound like even more of a tool by telling people that I—expert finger up!—have memorized some of Goethe’s poems.
When a text has been numbered a classic for as long as this one has, it can be hard to assess its actual value (as if that is something that can be so concretely put). What is the message here? Unexperienced person tries to do a task that is out of his league. Master comes home and says “leave the tough shit to the masters.” The end. It could be said to be one of the first stories warning against the use of technology without knowledge. I’m not sure that “technology and power are dangerous for the novice” is a great message. It promotes the pedestaling of experts and their subjects out of reach of the common Jane. At the same time, I wouldn’t want to be put in charge of a nuclear power plant, so there is more than a kernel of truth in the warning.
Three out of four magic spells gone right.
Where I got it: Sent to me for review by the publisher
Where you can get it: We don’t do affiliate links with any German online sellers, so if you want this, get thee to your favorite bookstore on the internet!