Die Kleine Hexe: Chapters 11-15

Here’s part three of my Summer in Other Languages readalong of Die Kleine Hexe by Otfried Preußler. Once again, I’ll give a short summary of this section in German, an English version of the summary, and some observations and questions.

Die kleine Hexe sucht mehr Menschen zu helfen mit ihrer Verzauberung. Sie hilft Thomas und Vroni, die Kinder die sie vorhin im Hexenhaus kennengelernt hat, um ihren beliebten Ochsen zu behalten. (Der Ochsen war als Preis im Schützenfest geöffert; die kleine Hexe macht es so dass alle die Erwachsene schiessen und verfehlen. Thomas ist der Gewinner.)

Der Winter kommt. Sie hilft einen Maronimann der muss den ganzen Tag in der Kälte stehen, und erkennt dass sie kann sich auch mit Hexerei wärmen. Und wann eine Gruppe böser Jungen den Schneemann der Kinder umstossen, macht sie ihm grosser und besser. Er schlägt die Jungen mit seinem Besenstiel. Das ist sehr befriedigend für die Kinder!

Endlich kommt Fastnacht. Das ist ein Fest, bei dem alle sich verkleiden. Zum beispiel, ein Mädchen verkleidet sich als Hexe. Die kleine Hexe sagt es ihr, dass sie einhundertsiebenundzwanzigeinhalb Jahren alt ist, und dass sie wirklich hexen und auf dem Besen reiten kann. Die Fastnachthexe glaubt ihr nicht, bis sie wirklich weg fliegt … ein Geschenk von Fastnachtskrupfen hinterlassen.

The little witch looks for more people to help with her magic. She helps Thomas and Vroni, the children she met at the witch house earlier, to keep their beloved ox. (The ox was offered as a prize in the shooting festival; the little witch makes it so that all the adults shoot and miss. Thomas is the winner.)

Winter comes. She helps a chestnut seller who has to stand the whole day in the cold, and realizes that she can also keep herself warm with witchcraft. And when a group of bad boys push over the children’s snowman, she makes him bigger and better. He hits the boys with his broomstick. That’s very satisfying for the children.

Finally comes Fastnacht. That is a festival where everybody dresses up. For example, a girl dresses as a witch. The little witch tells her that she is 127 years old, and can really do magic and ride on a broomstick. The Fastnacht witch doesn’t believe her, until she really flies away … leaving behind a present of Fastnacht donuts.

It was fun to see the connections to German culture and traditions in this section: the autumn shooting festival, the chestnut man who sells his steaming hot treats in the snowy streets, the Fastnacht festival that comes at the end of winter. The latter is a bit uncomfortable for modern readers, since most of the children dress up as negroes, Turks, Red Indians and savage cannibals — and I use the non-politically correct terms advisedly, as that’s the way they are portrayed in the text. However, thankfully this is not dwelt upon overmuch, except for the cannibal who goes around threatening to eat everyone but is eventually pacified with donuts.

The witch Rumpumpel doesn’t turn up at all, but I still think she’s going to cause trouble at the end. One more section to go, and I’ll find out if I’m right!

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4 thoughts on “Die Kleine Hexe: Chapters 11-15

  1. Yes, upon rereading the text I thought that you might stumble over the “Fastnacht” / Karnival thing. HOWEVER, it is important to note that this is *not* “blackfacing” in an attempt to denigrate and belittle — quite to the contrary. Fastnacht / Karnival, to German children, is an opportunity to slip into the skin of everybody and everything we admire and can never be ourselves, and everything that is exotic in a *positive* way — princes(ses), American cowboys, medieval knights, Eskimoes (as the Inuit are still called in German), animals, etc. So the children portrayed here are dressing up as people and creatures they would like to emulate — and the little girl who dresses up as a “witch” is essentially saying, “I would like to be a powerful magician, but I know such creatures don’t exist, so I’m doing the best I can to at least get close on this one day where I have license to pretend.” By telling her that she really *is* a witch, the Little Witch is telling the girl to never stop believing in her dreams, and that what she would like to be true about the world but thinks it’s only an illusion … just might *not* be merely an illusion.

    Preussler is using the vocabulary and the world of his own childhood, or even earlier (19th century) — not merely in the “Fastnacht” story, but throughout the book, most notably in the story of the Maroniman and that of the coach horses, and he describes a world that even when I was a child (when this book was first published) was very much a bygone world. By doing so, he deliberately distances the book’s world from that of his readers and enhances its fairytale nature (“once upon a time …” / “Es war einmal eine kleine Hexe …”), while at the same time, by choosing an actual historic setting, rooting the story firmly in the real world. Thus, even a child reader instinctively understands that while the story is an allegory or a fairy tale on the surface, at the same time it contains lessons that apply to the child reader’s own world.

    1. For sure, the book points back to a past time and that gives it much of its magic. The costume references would be similar in a book about Halloween from the 1950s or earlier in the United States. As with many older books one has to be mindful of the context in which it was written and provide alternative viewpoints.

      I like how you characterize the meaning of the Little Witch’s interaction with the Fastnacht witch. Believing in your dreams runs through the book as a theme, while she works to achieve her own dream.

      1. What I meant to say, though, was that while Preussler invokes the language and the society of a bygone time, the meaning of Fastnacht / Karneval / Carnival is still essentially the same, though.

        Have you ever attended a Fastnacht parade, e.g. at Basel (I’m not sure they’re a traditional thing in your part of Switzerland), or in Southern Germany?

        FWIW (and at the risk of going off on a huge tangent), are you familiar with the name Karl May — and / or his works?

        1. I do need to experience Fastnacht in person, of course I’ve heard of it for many years through my husband’s family. It’s a huge thing for some of them! We celebrate it in a small way in the community for adults with special needs where I work, so I have a bit of a sense of that spirit of play and “trying on” different identities, which everyone enjoys. In that sense I find it very similar to my childhood experience of Halloween.

          And yes, I’ve heard of Karl May! My husband’s family, again, are big fans of the Winnetou books. I haven’t read them myself but I may get there one day.

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