Friday, November 7, 2008

Wilhelm Hauff - everything that he said or did was held to be excellent

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that Theodor Storm referred to a novel and writer I'd never heard of, Wilhelm Hauff. Poor Hauff, dead at the age of 25, author of Lichtenstein, the first Scott-style historical novel in German (unEnglished since 1839, apparently).

Hauff also wrote children's stories and fairy tales (he was employed as tutor for a Baron's children). That's why, when on a whim I typed Hauff's name into the library computer, I found myself directed to the Juvenile section. Honestly, I was expecting to find nothing. Instead, I found Little Long-Nose:

What's the story? A youngster is kidnapped by a witch and turned into a squirrel When the witch lets him go, she lets him be human but, unfortunately, gives him a bizarrely squat frame, big head, and long nose; fortunately, she has trained him to be a gourmet chef. Adventures ensue. A number of the illustrations are food or kitchen related:

The illustrations in this little Candlewick Press edition are by Laura Stoddart. They're fantastic. I love that overhead view of the park. There's an earlier translation called Dwarf Long-Nose with illustrations by Maurice Sendak, but I don't see how it could be better than this. Strongly recommended to Lemony Snicketers, or kids who have become obsessed with cooking shows.

What else did I find? A genuinely funny story called The Young Foreigner, in which an orangutan is trained to speak, and dance, and go to parties. He becomes very popular. The lesson is, don't act like an ape just because someone else is, because the someone else might, in fact, be an ape, and then you would feel stupid:

"He had read nothing, studied nothing, and the priest would often shake his head over the young man's extradordinary ignorance. And yet everything that he said or did was held to be excellent, for he was brazen enough always to insist that he was right, and the end of all his remarks was, 'I know better.'" (p. 79)

I found this story in a 1924 translation by Christopher Morley, accompanied by a not quite as good Alfred de Musset fable, and surrounded by this distracting "German" (note the steins) border on every page:

There was a third tale, The Adventures of Little Mouk. It was pretty good, too, a playful Arabian Nights variation. The mysterious ways that books persist; the mysterious things one finds in libraries.


  1. Agree with you on Stoddardt. Delightful!

  2. So I misspelled Laura STODDART's name. I swear I double-checked that specific thing, I swear.

    I'll make up for it by linking this loving Amazon page, setup by a Stoddart collector.