Die Kleine Hexe: Chapters 1-5

This month, I’m reading Die Kleine Hexe (The Little Witch) by Otfried Preußler, a classic book by one of Germany’s favorite children’s authors. His books are popular in translation as well, so if you are not up to reading in German, it should be possible to find them in English or another language.

Each week I’ll post a summary of the section in (very basic) German, along with an English version and some observations and questions.

Die kleine Hexe wohnt in einem kleinen Hexenhaus mit ihrem weisen Raben, Abraxas. Sie ist wütend, weil sie ist zu klein zu tanzen mit der andere Hexen diese Walpurgisnacht, (Sie ist nur 127 Jahre alt.) Sie entscheidet zu fliegen nach dem Berg sowieso. Es ist dunkel, und niemand wird sie sehen.

Aber eine böse Hexe, nämlich Rumpumpel, sieht die kleine Hexe und bringt sie zur Oberhexe. Die Oberhexe sagt, dass sie nächstes Jahr vielleicht am Walpurgisnacht tanzen kann, wann sie eine sehr gute Hexe ist. Aber für Bestrafung, sie muss ohne Besen gehen nach Hause. Ihr Besen ist im Feuer gebrannt.

Drei Tage und drei Nächte geht die kleine Hexe bevor sie nach Hause kommt. Sie ist sehr müde und muss sofort schlafen. Der nächste Tag sie geht im Dorf und kauft einen neuen Besen. Sie will sie sich rächen an die Hexe Rumpumpel, aber Abraxas sagt, dass das ist keine gute Idee. Besser ist zu beweisen, dass sie eine sehr Gute Hexe ist. Sie muss immer nur Gutes tun. Die kleine Hexe versprach, “Daran soll es nicht fehlen.”

The little witch lives in a little witch-house with her clever raven, Abraxas. She is upset because she is too young to dance with the other witches this Walpurgis night. (She is only 127 years old.) She decides to fly to the mountain anyway; it’s dark, and nobody will catch her.

But a mean witch, Rumpumpel, sees the little witch and brings her to the head witch, who says that next year maybe she can dance on Walpurgis night, if she is a very good witch. But for punishment, she has to go home without her broom. The broom is burnt up in the fire.

The little witch walks for three days and nights before she arrives home. She is very tired and has to sleep right away. The next day she goes to the village and buys a new broom. She wants to revenge herself on Rumpumpel, but Abraxas says that’s not a good idea. It would be better to prove that she’s a very good witch. She must only do good things. The little witch promises not to fail in that.

The little witch clearly represents a child coming up against older children or adults who put her down and limit her potential. In place of learning to read or to ride a bicycle, she has to learn how to do spells; as with any child, this is hard for her to do when she’s upset, and she ends up making funny mistakes, like raining frogs or buttermilk instead of water. Her attempt to break the rules and do what she wants anyway ends in disaster, but she’s not discouraged.

I liked the scene where she has to “break in” the new broom, as one breaks in a horse. It reminded me of the scene in Witch Week where Nan rides an overexcited broom.

The little witch is determined to reach her goal, but she (naturally enough from a childish point of view) also wants to get back at her enemy. Abraxas is like the voice of reason who tells her the best way to do that is by following orders and doing only good things, but I wonder how this will play out in the rest of the book. Will the little witch be able to resist the temptation to relieve her feelings by doing nasty things? I suspect it will be difficult, and may lead to some more sticky situations.

Like so many fantasies, it seems to be a story about growing up and becoming a more mature person, with magic standing in for the child’s growing power to cope with and manage the world. In the next segment, there should be some further developments of this theme.

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8 thoughts on “Die Kleine Hexe: Chapters 1-5

  1. It sounds like you‘re enjoying your read so far? I‘m glad!

    Btw, did you know that Preußler channeled the folk tales of his childhood home in the Riesengebirge for his books? And you can tell, I think, that „Die kleine Hexe“ has it’s roots in folklore, even if he makes it all about a child‘s growth.

      1. I don‘t know whether (and where) it‘s actually ever been collected in writing — just that Preußler himself said he‘d been inspired by the tales his grandma told him when he was a little boy. Though, come to think of it, some of these tales might have made it into the Grimm Brothers‘ collections.

        „Krabat“ aka „The Satanic Mill“ is another book of Preußler’s clearly inspired by a folk tale.

  2. I’m faintly reminded of Joan Aiken’s stories of Arabel and her raven Mortimer, but it’s Arabel who’s the voice of reason and Mortimer is the one who inadvertently causes chaos. I was pleased to have managed to get the gist of the first paragraph with only the faintest smattering of German, largely gleaned from singing Bach chorales, cantatas and Passions…

    1. Goodness, that’s impressive. Keep going and you’ll be reading Kant and Hegel in no time.

  3. I know a little German that I might take the challenge to read books in German. As of right I’m freshing up my Latin reading so I can read The Hobbit in Latin.

    1. Good for you, that’s a great goal to have! 🙂 I run the “Summer in Other Languages” challenge from June through August, but any time of year is good for language learning.

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