Tuesday, September 16, 2008


I'm trying to remember what I was doing in 1971. High school in Wilton, Connecticut... Mr. Adams for "Introduction to Poetry?" We read Hamlet, I'm sure of that at least. But was I watching Bonanza? Bonanza has real significance for me. During the 60's, it came on after Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color on Sunday and I never got to stay up that late on Sundays. The rest of the family could gather around the electronic hearth with Hoss, Hop Sing and Sheriff Coffee, but I'd be exiled upstairs, under the covers with a flashlight and the latest in an unending series of Hardy Boys mysteries. I was a voracious reader in those days and unfortunately I rarely find a book now that grabs me the way The House on the Cliff did. One exception was a book I read about ten years ago by Ottfried Preußler named Krabat. Krabat was published in Germany in 1971 and translated to English soon after, winning an award as Notable Book of 1973 from the American Library Association.

I was unaware of Krabat in the early 70's and at that age I was mostly watching television after midnight. The New York market had three unaffiliated stations and was a treasure trove of old Honeymooners episodes as well as shows like The Outer Limits and One Step Beyond. The latter two shows built my interest in the supernatural, setting the stage for books like Krabat. It's based on a Serbian folk tale and tells the story of an orphaned fourteen year old who accepts a position as an apprentice in a mill, only to discover after he's committed himself, that the mill is actually a school for the black arts.

Krabat is a book that transcends categories. Although it was published as young adult fiction, I found it a very mature treatment of the classic coming of age story. It's part mystery, part love story and a parable of political seduction. It was immediately successful in Germany, winning awards there, as well as in Poland and throughout Europe. Karel Zeman made a Czech cartoon version of the book in 1977 and the voice of the character of the Master was spoken by Lorne Greene. Well, not really. When the film was dubbed in German, the voice of the Master was spoken by Friedrich Schütter, a well known voice because he spoke all of Lorne Greene's roles in Germany, including Ben Cartwright on Bonanza. In a very real sense, the voice of Schütter, who is presumably rarely seen by the viewing public, becomes Lorne Greene.

Now my arrival in Germany coincides with the opening of a German film version of Krabat, directed by Marco Kreuzpainter. As far as I know, Lorne Greene has no connection with the current version but I'm planning to be there at the premiere in Essen, at the Lichtburg Theater this coming Tuesday. I went to buy my tickets as soon as I unpacked my suitcase, but the showing was already sold out. Still, I'll be there for opening night when all the stars walk by on the red carpet. I'll be in the crowd, humming the Ponderosa theme.

1 comment:

Charlie said...

What a great post!