Meester van de zwarte molen (Krabat)

By Otfried Preußler

Otfried Preußler is one of Germany’s best known children’s books authors; others are of course Michael Ende and Erich Kästner. And there is little doubt that Otfried Preußler’s masterwork is this book, Krabat, rather limply translated into Dutch as Meester van de zwarte molen, “Master of the Black Mill”.

  • Author: Otfried Preußler
  • Title: Meester van de zwarte molen (Krabat)
  • Pages: 216
  • Published: 1988 (transl. 1972, orig. edition 1971)
  • Publisher: Lemniscaat
  • ISBN: 90 6069 128 8

This time I read this book to my children, aged 8, 8 and 9 — and the eight-year olds were maybe too young for it. There were quite a lot of words they didn’t know, for instance those to do with water mills, and I don’t think they didn’t grasp all the subtleties of the plot, which the 9-year-old-soon-to-be-10 did. But at least it didn’t curse them with nightmares, which could easily have been the case a year ago.

Meester van de zwarte molen is, after all, a very dark book in many ways. The perfect antidote for children overfed with Harry Potter magic — here magic is dark and will cost you. Your friends, your soul, your love. No nice, innocent spells that will repair your glasses. Every step you set on the path of magic will bind you closer to the Master — and to the devil.

For someone who’s read his Frazer, Meester van de zwarte molen contains much that feels familiar. I guess that Preußler knows what he is writing about, has done his research, but in the way of folk customs, folk religion and history.

One of the differences with the last time I read this book — ten years ago — is that I have celebrated Easter myself many times in the most involved way possible. That personal experience made the reading of this book deeper; and the same held for my daughters. Because Easter holds a meaning to them, the Easter scenes in this book are much stronger than they would be for someone without that experience.

Apart from the slightly overtranslated title, Meester van de zwarte molen has been excellently translated. It was a joy to read aloud. The different people really have different speech patterns, making it easy to distinguish between them. Sometimes, and I guess this is a change in spoken Dutch, because I’ve noticed it with other books dating from the seventies, too, I had to transpose a sentence-final verb to a more fronted position…