Otfried Preussler Essay - Critical Essays

Preussler, Otfried


Otfried Preussler 1923–

German novelist for children and young adults, editor, and translator.

The universal appeal of Preussler's books can be attributed to his gift for creating stories in the tradition of the folk tale. Perhaps Preussler's seventeen years of experience as a primary school teacher helped him give his stories their easy, conversational flow; he claims that the move from telling his tales aloud to writing them for publication was a natural one. Children have enjoyed his exaggerated characters and rapidly paced events, such as those of the three Robber Hotzenplotz stories, and although his books may seem simple their carefully chosen details succeed in conveying love and respect for the places and people they describe.

Written in a more somber tone than the rest of his works, the fable The Satanic Mill has been his greatest success to date, especially with young adult readers. Some critics found the outcome of the story, in which a simple-hearted apprentice manages to overcome his diabolically cruel master, to be inadequately supported, but in general critics agreed that the ominous setting is effectively described. All of Preussler's works have achieved considerable popularity in Germany and several have been translated into other languages. The Satanic Mill won the 1972 German Children's Book Prize, and the 1973 European Children's Book Prize; in 1973 it was also named a Notable Children's Book by the American Library Association. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 77-80.)

Jennifer Bourdillon

The highly imaginative child who springs quickly into fantasy and magic might prefer The Little Witch…. It has an odd, warm, smiling touch. Poor little witch: she is so industrious and eager, so anxious to help other people by means of her magic powers as soon as she is prompted to be good. But what is good? And what is bad? When you start referring to witches the terms are upside down. The twists and quirks of the story have a strange inverted sequence of their own, and it makes a lively interest for children to argue the logic of a radical change of ideas. There are one or two big, bad witches, and broomsticks and ravens and spells, but from the start it is a friendly book and the trip into the realms of magic ends in such a way that even the smallest reader will sleep sound. (pp. 721-22)

Jennifer Bourdillon, "Doll's Distress," in New Statesman (© 1961 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), Vol. LXI, No. 1573, May 5, 1961, pp. 721-22.

Ellen Lewis Buell

Only 127 years old, [the title character in The Little Witch] is considered too young to attend the Walpurgis Night rites, sneaks in anyhow and is put on probation for a year with the instruction to be a good witch. Her raven Abraxes, with a curious ignorance of witches' semantics, encourages her to use her spells to help the poor, the young and the abused—man or beast. Such a diet of unrelieved benevolence would have been rather too sweet and lucent, had Herr Preussler not presented the witch's good deeds with humor, a nice sense of detail and allowed her also a few mischievous moments.

Ellen Lewis Buell, "Among the New Books for the Younger Readers' Library: 'The Little Witch'," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1961 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), October 29, 1961, p. 42.

Marian Herr

["The Little Witch" is a] real spine-tingler, filled with realistic spells and enchantments and wicked witches…. A surprise ending will delight children who like stories about witches, but this is stronger meat than most books of this type. Well written, lively, suspenseful.

Marian Herr, "Junior Books Appraised: 'The Little Witch'," in School Library Journal, an appendix to Library Journal (reprinted from the November, 1961 issue of School Library Journal, published by R. R. Bowker Co./A Xerox Corporation; copyright © 1961), Vol. 8, No. 3, November, 1961, p. 54.

Hotzenplotz's theft of a musical coffee mill [in The Robber Hotzenplotz] set Kasperl and his straight man friend Seppel in pursuit of the notorious bandit. Their elaborate tracking simply snares them in the robber's den, and their involved escape includes outwitting a magician. The team of Kasperl and Seppel is sort of a lumbering counterpart of Laurel and Hardy. When described in full, their outlandish actions generally seem clumsy and foolish and not really terribly humorous.

"Eight to Eleven: 'The Robber Hotzenplotz'," in Virginia Kirkus' Service, Vol. XXXIII, No. 3, February 1, 1965, p. 107.

Janet French

The little ghost had always haunted Eulenstein Castle, discreetly, from midnight to one. Then, when the town clock was repaired, he found himself waking at noon and causing no end of excitement among the alarmed townspeople…. [But] the older readers of [The Little Ghost] will probably look for more substantial humor or more chills than the story provides. It may, in addition, give offense in one place … where the little ghost, turning black in the daylight, moans, "How awful if I have to spend … my life as a black monster! Perhaps there's some way to put it right—a way to make a person white again? I do hope so."

Janet French, "The Book Review: 'The Little Ghost'," in School Library Journal, an appendix to Library Journal (reprinted from the December, 1967 issue of School Library Journal, published by R. R. Bowker Co./ A Xerox Corporation: copyright © 1967), Vol. 14, No. 4, December, 1967, p. 75.

Margery Fisher

From the flying and farce of the first part of [The Adventures of Strong Vanya], as Vanya's brothers try to provoke him to speech and Vanya tries to lift the roof to prove his strength, the author moves to a swifter, broader narrative as the hero travels through cold and heat, tangling with Baba Yaga, riding for a time with the Knights of Kiev and coming finally to a palace where the fair Vasilissa awaits him—and an old ruler who is strangely familiar. Romantic, comic, energetic and fantastic by turns, this is a fascinating plait of Russian folk tales and legends.

Margery Fisher, "'The Adventures of Strong Vanya'," in her Growing Point, Vol. 9, No. 4, October, 1970, p. 1604.

P. Robertson

Drawing on Russian folk tale sources the author [of The Adventures of Strong Vanya], has fashioned his own folk story about strong Vanya, the youngest and laziest of Vassily Grigorevitch's three sons, who eventually becomes tsar of the land beyond the White Mountains. Following supernatural advice, Vanya does nothing but lie on a stove and eat sunflower seeds for seven years until possessed of sufficient strength to set off on his long journey and claim his great title. The bulk of the story documents his acts of courage and daring which he performs with more humour and kindness than most heroes.

It is very hard to imitate folk tales satisfactorily, but this seems to be entirely successful....

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Ralph Lavender

[Although The Adventures of Strong Vanya] is an original adventure story, nevertheless it contains many of the themes, the prohibitions, the figures and the gestures of Russian lore. It is distinguished by acute characterisation that rounds out minor as well as major actors; the dialogue is adroitly colloquial; and the banana-skin humour that appeals so much to children is captured with a relished subtlety. Most important, the story is written with a complete conviction in its inner logic, and the style of language is like the technique of a fine musician—so deceptively simple it might even go unnoticed. (pp. 22-3)

Ralph Lavender, "Myths, Legend & Folk Tales: 'The...

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Doreen Norman

[The further adventures of the robber Hotzenplotz] is a gay, romping continuation of The Robber Hotzenplotz…. It is a charming story based on the escapades of villainous Hotzenplotz after he escapes from the lock up in the town's fire station, and told with gentle ease and good humour.

The boy Kasperl and his friend Seppel are the prime movers in Hotzenplotz's recapture, after a series of comic adventures and coincidences told with a relish which will evoke zest in young readers.

Altogether delightful reading with a brisk pace of action which never becomes breathtaking.

Doreen Norman, "'The Further Adventures of the Robber...

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David L. Rees

And great will be the outcry if there are not more to come [after The Further Adventures of the Robber Hotzenplotz]! The Robber Hotzenplotz is a rogue without scruples, one who thinks nothing of wrapping up the Chief Inspector in a fireman's hose or kidnapping a dear old grandmother on the back of his bike. There are hilarious moments as the thief, full of stolen sausages and sauerkraut, does his worst….

A riot, ideal for reading aloud….

David L. Rees, "'The Further Adventures of the Robber Hotzenplotz'," in Children's Book Review (© Five Owls Press Ltd.; all rights reserved), Vol. 1, No. 2, April, 1971, p. 51.


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Margery Fisher

The day when Krabat is taken by his master the miller to the court of the Elector at Dresden is the only time that he sees the miller's sinister power in action on a national scale; mysteriously translated into court dress and speech, the lad discusses the course of the war with others while the Master, by his magic arts, dissuades the Elector from considering peace terms with Sweden. The Thirty Years War serves to date the story, to lend distance and to emphasise the Master's nature, but [The Satanic Mill] is not an historical tale. In its direct idiom and haunting detail and above all in its motifs it derives straight from folk lore. The Master has no Christian name, the Devil is identified by the ironic...

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Isaac B. Singer

["The Satanic Mill"] is set in 17th-century Germany during the period of the Thirty Years War. Krabat, a 14-year-old Wendish beggar, is enticed by a voice in a dream to a mysterious mill, which is really a school for black magic…. Exactly what the mill is grinding is not clear to the very end….

Preussler's descriptions of the mysterious rituals and events of the occult are rich. His knowledge of the machinery of a water mill is impressive. He is very much at home both in the natural and supernatural. There are many pages and whole chapters in "The Satanic Mill" which will delight the young and even the old. But somehow the talented author does not manage to integrate his realism and mysticism....

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Anita Silvey

In a fascinating narrative, the author [of The Satanic Mill] combines a realistic text with eerie dream sequences which foreshadow the events of the story, but as the reader, like Krabat, begins to search desperately for the resolution and means of ridding the world of the miller's evil, he may be somewhat disappointed to find that the antidote for the black force lies in a lovely maiden's falling in love with Krabat—an ending not unfamiliar in romantic literature, but, at least for this book, certainly anticlimactic. But although the book fails symbolically to indicate anything more than a romantic cliché about the world, in sheer story-telling it succeeds remarkably well in its evocation of the...

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Anthea Bell

I remember vividly my excitement on first reading [The Satanic Mill]. Preussler writes in two related veins: the more poetic one of [The Satanic Mill and The Adventures of Strong Vanya], and his comic fantasies for younger children. He also has a host of German imitators…. I am greatly attached to the works of Otfried Preussler, whose first book was the first book I ever translated, but some of his imitators do go on and on, for volume after volume of a series. Not so Preussler himself, who put a firm stop to the adventures of his Robber Hotzenplotz and other characters from the traditional German puppet play after three books, not by killing the robber off but by reforming him....

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