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The sorcerer's apprentice


"When I work alone in my study 
I feel the presence of a child who looks at me and often guides me.
 I work for him, not for parents and publishers "

As a Montessorian I couldn't love Gerda Muller more. Her lucid writing and and the precise line work that characterises her illustrations, together with  her love for natural scenes and folklore  (The Town Musicians of BremenGoldilocks and The Three Bears) make each one of her books iconic and timeless.

Her latest work is a unique retelling of Goethe's poem 'The Sorcerer's Apprentice', free from Disneyesque features and full of enduring appeal.
It tells the story of Florian (Oliver, in the English edition), a young shepherd looking for a new job, who meets a sorcerer-healer and becomes his apprentice. The boy is curious and gifted with a natural talent for magic but is impatient, lazy and inexperienced.
To test his discipline and dedication, his master teaches him some magic formulas before leaving for a trip, recommending never to use them in his absence.
But one day, tired of drawing buckets of water from the well,  the boy decides to try a spell and asks the brooms to do it for him. Unable to control them, he ends up flooding the village and facing the anger and disappointment of his master upon his return.

It's not a story about that kind of magic coming from magic wands, but it's about sorcery, a practice that requires patience and hard work to be learnt. Folk magic always existed over the centuries across Europe, and has populated many folk tales and legends.
Folk healers could cure a variety of illnesses, they ranged from those who cured with herbs, magic formulas and prayers to professional sorcerers who could cast spells by rituals or magic potions obtained through the manipulation of herbs or organic substances.
Super intriguing for any child used to only hear about dull fairies:)

It's ultimately a very current book about moderation and wisdom as opposed to shortcuts and power, showing how a gift can do good and harm when used irresponsibly.
-
L'apprendista stregone [October 2019]
Italian edition published by Babalibri

The sorcerer's apprentice [February 2020]
English edition published by Floris Books

by Gerda Muller
Reading age: 4+
Themes: Magic, Patience, Learning, Growing up









The Sorcerer's Apprentice

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Gone's for once the old magician
With his countenance forbidding; 
I 'm now master, 
I 'm tactician,
All his ghosts must do my bidding. 
Know his incantation,
Spell and gestures too; 
By my mind's creation
Wonders shall I do.

Flood impassive
With persistence 
From a distance 
Want I rushing 
And at last abundant, massive
Here into my basin gushing
Come, old broom! 
For work get ready, 
Dress yourself, put on your tatters 
You 're, I know, a servant steady
And proficient in such matters.
On two legs stand gravely,
Have a head, besides,
With your pail now bravely
Off, and do take strides!

Flood impassive
With persistence
From a distance
Want I rushing
And at last abundant, massive
Here into my basin gushing
Like a whirlwind he is going
To the stream, and then in
Like an engine he is throwing
Water for my use; with flurry
Do I watch the steady;
Not a drop is spilled,
Basin, bowls already
Are with water filled.

Fool unwitty,
Stop your going!
Overflowing
Are the dishes.
I forgot the charm; what pity!
Now my words are empty
For the magic charm undoing 
What I did, 
I have forgotten.
Be a broom! 
Be not renewing
Now your efforts, spell-begotten! 
Still his work abhorrent
Does the wretch resume; 
Where I look a torrent
Threatens me with doom.

No, no longer
Shall I suffer 
You to offer
Bold defiance.
I have brains, 
I am the stronger 
And I shall enforce compliance
You, hell's miscreate abortion,
Is this house doomed to perdition?
Signs I see in every portion
Of impending demolition.
Servant, cursed and senseless,
Do obey my will!
Be a broom defenseless,
Be a stick! 
Stand still!

Not impurely
Shall you ravage.
Wait! you savage, 
I'll beset you, 
With my hatchet opportunely 
Shall I split your wood, I bet
There he comes again with water! - 
How my soul for murder itclies!
First I stun and then I slaughter, 
That is good for beasts and witches. 
Well! he 's gone! - and broken
Is the stick in two.
He 's not worth a token; 
Now I hope, I do!

Woe! It is so.
Both the broken 
Parts betoken 
One infernal
Servant's doubling. 
Woe! It is so.
Now do help me, powers eternal!
Both are running, both are plodding 
And with still increased persistence
Hall and work-shop they are flooding.
Master, come to my assistance! - 
Wrong I was in calling 
Spirits, I avow, 
For I find them galling,
Cannot rule them now.

"Be obedient
Broom, be hiding 
And subsiding!
None should ever 
But the master, when expedient, 
Call you as a ghostly lever!"

1779, translation by Paul Dyrsen, 1878    


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