Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Theodor Storm's The Dykemaster - suddenly they began to jump about weirdly like clowns

I had planned to write something about Theodor Storm's last major work, The Dykemaster aka The Rider on the White Horse (1888), written almost 40 years after Immensee. It's quite different than that quiet masterpiece - this one is all about earthworks and envy and North Sea storms and ghostly devil horses. The climax takes place on Halloween, for Pete's sake. It's long, too, or long for Storm, just over 100 pages.

But the day has slipped away and I don't have much to say. Luckily I can just refer the curious reader to the Philospher, who hits a lot of the high points, including some of the obligatory uncanny scenes,* or to Literary Lizzy, who got a response from Denis Jackson, Storm's translator and literary curator. Neat.

I'll say one thing. It turns out that I'm enjoying Storm so much that I'm reading everything by him I can find. I'll prove that tomorrow, oh yes I will. A lot of readers, including many who do not normally read dusty old books, would really enjoy Storm. If Adalbert Stifter is the herring of German literature, Theodor Storm is the cocktail shrimp. I'm just enjoying my own joke, please ignore me. My point is, where Stifter, say, is an acquired taste, Storm should have wide and immediate appeal. And it does not hurt, no it does not, that he only wrote short books.

The Denis Jackson translation of The Dykemaster, as with his Hans and Heinz Kirch and Journey to a Hallig, includes a hand-drawn map that is very, very helpful. The big drawback of Jackson's little books is that, for Americans, they are quite expensive ($24 at Powells!). NYRB will soon publish the old James Wright translation of this novel, as well as Immensee and some other stories, which will be convenient and economical. But there won't be any maps, nor Jackson's unbelievably thorough notes.

* "He walked home, but on one of the very next evenings he was out again on the dyke. In those same places the ice was now cracked, and it rose up like billowing smoke from out of the fissures, a blanket of vapour and fog spreading itself out over the entire surface of the flats and blending strangely with the evening twilight. Hauke stared long and hard at it; for within the mist dark forms were striding back and forth and they appeared to be as tall as people. He saw them far in the distance walking to and fro along the steam fissures; dignified, yet with strange frightening gestures and with long noses and necks. Suddenly they began to jump about weirdly like clowns, the tallest over the shortest and the smallest against the biggest; then they grew large and lost all form." p. 22


  1. When you say read everything, does that include Little Hobbin?

  2. Imagine finding such an important work in the public library at Salina, KS!!!!