The Merry Pranks of Till Eulenspiegel by Heinz Janisch , Lisbeth Zwerger (Illustrator) , Anthea Bell (Translator)

The Lisbeth Zwerger tour continues here at CM. Today it is Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks by Heinz Janisch.  Illustrated by Lisbeth Zwerger and translated by Anthea Bell.

Hans Christian Andersen Medalist Lisbeth Zwerger cunningly illustrates 11 folktales about Till Eulenspiegel, the famous sixteenth-century German folk hero, popular in legend as a shrewd trickster. In this handsome reissue, she chronicles Till’s pranks from his triple dunking at his baptism, to his funeral, at which he leaves a last trick for his mourners. Zwerger’s celebrated wit and insouciant style are the perfect complements to the antics of this notorious merrymaker.

I will be honest: I bought this one mostly for the art. I have a growing collection of folk tales and story books for children but I am not sure my kids would enjoy this one.  It is an interesting reference point for German folklore but it is mostly the art of Zwerger that drew me to the book.

And the art is playful, colorful and evocative.  As PW says, “Both art and text are distinctly quaint and European.”  This is another book that I would be tempted to cut up in order to use the illustrations as prints. But I am too much of a book person to perform something so sacrilegious.

The stories are simple and silly – so maybe they are exactly the sort of thing children would love.

Who the heck is this Til Eulenspiegel you ask? Let us turn to that ubiquitous source of wisdom, Wikipedia:

Till Eulenspiegel was an impudent trickster figure originating in Middle Low German folklore. His tales were disseminated in popular printed editions narrating a string of lightly connected episodes that outlined his picaresque career, primarily in Germany, the Low Countries and France.

Care for some academic analysis of all of this? Of course you do:

In the stories, he is presented as a trickster or fool who played practical jokes on his contemporaries, exposing vices at every turn, greed and folly, hypocrisy and foolishness. As Peter Carels notes, “The fulcrum of his wit in a large number of the tales is his literal interpretation of figurative language.” In these stories, anything that can go wrong in communication, does go wrong. And it is not the exception that communication gives rise to complications; rather, it is the rule. As a model of communication, Till Eulenspiegel is the inherent, unpredictable factor of complication that can throw any communication, whether with oneself or others, into disarray. These irritations, amounting to conflicts, have the potential of effecting mental paradigm changes and increases in the level of consciousness, and in the end, of leading to truth. Although craftsmen are featured as the principal victims of his pranks, neither the nobility nor the pope are exempt from being fooled by him.

Well, I am not sure I can add to that in any intelligent way.  I am not a scholar of folklore or communication just someone who enjoys stories; particularly those with beautiful illustrations.

But it is interesting how ubiquitous the trickster character is across time and geography.  Part of human nature, I suppose …

Anyways, this particular volume has some beautiful illustrations to go along with the simple folk tales. My favorite, which illustrates th story Til Would Like To Fly, is also the art for the cover jacket (the cover on the actual book is above).  This small photo really doesn’t do it justice but it hints at it at least.

Unless you are a fan of Zwerger or interested in German folklore I doubt this is something you are going to rush out and buy. Hence, my finding it at a library sale ..

But what is the point of a blog if you can’t share your particular obsession?  For our next Zwerger post we will look at something a little more conventional.

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).

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