Thursday, October 23, 2008

Krabat - hardcore Harry Potter

Today my new comics from Germany have finally arrived so I should be writing about that or make a new solicitations post. I should be reading comics or download all the new solicitation images or whatnot.
But that's not what I'm doing. No, what I'm doing is sitting at my laptop writing a post about the awesomeness that is KRABAT.

Yesterday I was on the internet looking what they are actually showing at the local cinema - which means in the next big city that goes by the name of Altafulla. Well, while I was doing that it ocurred to me that the movie I really wanted to see right now is KRABAT.

But since I can't get back to Germany before the end of next month I can only hope that they still show it in December. Now here is the teaser trailer for the movie. I'm not going to post any longer trailers from the movie because it shows you enough and I don't want to know too much about the movie before I see the film.

The reason why I decided to write something about Krabat is that it's pretty well known in Germany, Serbia and Russia and that many pupils have to read it for school but I think most of my readers in the United States or outside of Germany never heard of it.

The first thing I ever saw of Krabat was the animated movie done in 1977 by Karel Zeman. If you have ever heard of it then probably under the title " The sorcerer's apprentice ".

Krabat - the sorcerer's apprentice

I remember that I was still very young when I saw the stop motion movie KRABAT and it totally creeped me out. It was so terrifying that I had troubles sleeping for months and indeed you can say that the images haunt me to this day - such an impact did the movie have. Even if it's a movie aimed at kids there are some gruesome deaths, gory mutilations and other scary scenes in it. I don't know how it ever passed the censors of german television of the 70s but somehow it did. And I'm glad because it's one of the best animated movies I have seen in my whole life.

Even if the animation is a bit crude by today's standards it is amazing which wonderful effects they achieve in the film. The director of the movie Karel Zeman ( born 3th November 1910 in Ostroměř; died 5. April 1989 in Prague ) was one of the founders of the chezck animation movie and one of it's greatest innovators. He combined real movie sequences with animated sequences.

In Krabat there are many things like fire, smoke or snow falling within the animated sequences which gives it such a realistic feeling. I saw it again two years ago and it's astounding how modern the movie looks and how scary it still is.

Here is a four minute clip with subtitles from " Krabat - the sorcerer's apprentice " that shows how Krabat comes to work at the black mill.

For those who haven´t seen the movie I found it but only in german.

Now what's the movie about ? It is based on Ottfried Preussler's famous childrens book KRABAT ( published as THE SATANIC MILL in english ) an interpretation of the wendish tale ( sorry, the wiki page is only available in german ) that dates back to the 17th century.

The movie tells the story of Krabat, a fourteen year old Wendish ( i.e. Sorbian ) beggar boy living in the eastern part of Saxony,  wandering through the region of Lusatia ( Lausitz in german ) during the Great Northern War ( Grosser Nordischer Krieg ) at the turn of the 18th century.

He tries to get by as good as he can but because of the war food is scarce and he has to sleep outside. Traveling with three companions and begging while singing Christmas carols they get some food but the winter is harsh and they soon part company.

For three consecutive nights, a raven appears in his dreams and tells him to listen to his master's voice and seek out the black mill near the village of Schwarzkollm ( even if all the people he meets on the way try to discourage him from going to the mill ) where he becomes apprenticed to the master.

At first Krabat lives a good life at the mill and although he is working hard he has food on the table and a place to eat. But he soon discovers that strange things happen and that the mill is actually a school for black magic and that he and the mill's journeymen are virtual prisoners. During the week they do the normal work of the mill, but on Friday nights, the master initiates them into the strange rituals of the Art of Arts. The very first Friday, the master turns Krabat into a raven, a trick the boy quickly learns to do himself.

The senior apprentice Tonda, Krabat's best friend and older brother figure, dies, ostensibly of an accident, on New Year's Eve in Krabat's first year at the mill. Tonda offers strangely little resistance to his own death. Krabat's suspicions of foul play are further reinforced when another journeyman and friend, Michal, dies the following New Year's Eve. He soon realizes that the master is bound in a pact : the master must sacrifice one journeyman every year on New Year's Eve, in exchange for his powers. So evey year on New Year's Eve the master and the senior apprentice go at it in real mortal combat style in a magic " free for all no - disqualification deathmatch " .

These are some of the most horrifying scenes of the movie with strobe light effects, scary music and an overall frightening mood.

When Krabat first arrived at the mill it had stopped and when he agreed to become the new apprentice the river started to flow again and the mill continued to grind. At the end of the year with the death of the senior apprentice it stopped again until a new apprentice joined their ranks. The whole scene in the movie is tainted in red and it looks like the river turns into a river of blood.

In the movie that is the circle of life and death and although Krabat hopes that they will not find another fool he knows that the mill doesn't work till that happens. And because of the war there are enough starving beggars out there who are willing to make a deal with the devil.

The master never gets mentioned by name and is more badass than Darth Vader. Besides the normal tasks the apprentices have to do to keep the mill working the master sends them on secret missions where they have to use their magic to trick people and basically rob them of their money and their valuables.

On one side the master uses this as another revenue stream on the other hand he secretly sabotages the missions to take the senior apprentices out of commission - or at least to injure them so bad that his victory on the upcoming New Year's battle is assured.

Wishing to take revenge for his friends' death, Krabat secretly trains with a friend to increase their magical strength so one of the two can win against the master. Whenever they can they break into the master's chamber and practice the spells of his big book of magic the KORRAKTOR. His quest is aided by a girl from the nearby village, a church singer, whose real name is never mentioned and who is only called Kantora.

I think because Krabat meets her on Easter and is entranced by her beautiful singing her name is derived from the word Kantor in english cantor that is the name for the chief singer of a church choir. Krabat learns that to end the spell, his lover must challenge the master for him; then whoever loses the challenge, the master or the two lovers, will die. I'm not going to say more because maybe you want to watch the movie and there should be some surprises. Suffice it to say that KRABAT is one of the best movies I have ever seen.

Hardcore Harry Potter

It's all pretty heavy for a kid's movie because aside from the horrific main story it also shows the horrors of war but since it's one of the best known tales in Germany nobody thought twice about it. The whole movie is like hardcore Harry Potter in fact it predates it by twenty years.

But while the Potter books treat magic and evil as something trivial that can be toyed with impunity it is by far more dangerous in the movie as Krabat learns to use extraordinary power at the price of enslaving his being to the evil miller. The Potter kids find they can defeat the most horrifying evils with a few magic tricks and a little cleverness and courage. Evil deserves more respect than that, because it is far more dangerous and powerful, working primarily through corruption of the will. The movie depicts this process with the miller breaking the wills of his apprentices through pointless work. Eventually, the men are so dominated that they acquiece in their own deaths, literally digging their own graves.

Another difference between Harry Potter and Krabat is that Krabat lives in a much harsher world. Yes, Harry's an orphan and an outsider and Voldemort is out to get him - buhuhu. Cry me a river, why don't cha. Krabat would give his right arm to live in a nice house like the Dursley's even if he had just a small chamber. He has to sleep outside in winter. And he has to beg for food. Yes, in Harry's world a war is on the horizon. But Krabat lives in real war. He doesn't visit a nice school like Hogwarts and has to work at a mill till exhaustion. Besides that he knows that his days are numbered because it's only a matter of time till the year when he is the senior apprentice and has to battle the master in a duel to the death. He has to learn magic to survive because the death of one of the two in inevitable.

So, yes, Harry had it easy.

Naturally there are also wonderful landscapes in the movie and quiet scenes like when Krabat spends time with the Kantora or his companions. It's just one of the masterpieces of animation art.

Being based on the book of Ottfried Preussler it is full of christian symbolism and events like New Year's Eve and Easter play a big role but the movie is far from being preachy. It has some nice lessons about good and evil and naturally love conquers all but you never get the impression that somebody is trying to impose his values on the viewer.

Of course when I got older I realized that there had to be a book that this was based on so I sought it out at the local library. And the book that was written by Ottfried Preussler was the second book about Krabat I read.

Krabat - the transformation of the world

When I finally read the book KRABAT I was very surprised because I didn't pick the normal version that the movie was based on but a book written by Jurij Brezan called KRABAT - THE TRANSFORMATION OF THE WORLD. Well, at least I think it was.

Jurij Brezan ( jurij english wiki / jurij german wiki ) - born on the 9th of June 1916 died on the 12th of March 2006 - was the greatest sorbian writer, writing in sorbian and in german and he wrote three books about Krabat : Krabat - the black mill ( 1968 ), Krabat - the transformation of the world ( 1967 ) and finally Krabat - the preservation of the world ( 1993 ). His books have been translated in 25 languages. I'm not entirely sure which of the last two I read but judging from the dates at which the books were written it must have been Krabat - the transformation of the world. I remember that the story was much broader in scope and Krabat takes on the role of a Dr. Strange type white magician who battles against the evil miller in a battle that literally takes them through centuries. There is much more magic and mythology involved ( things like the winter solstice play a great role ) and the end battle is like out of THE LORD OF THE RINGS.

The new movie about Krabat is based on the first one : KRABAT - THE BLACK MILL. It is much more traditional following the same story as the book by Ottfried Preussler.

If you only know the book by Ottfried Preussler or if you don't know any of the books you should read Jurij Brezan's adaptations. I only read one but it was one of the best fantasy books I have read. And of course you have to pick up the original book.

the satanic mill get the book through

krabat or the preservation of the world from Jurij Brezan ( currently not available )

Krabat in other media

Besides movies and books KRABAT is a big part of german culture and many schools perform it on stage. There is even a german hardrock band called ASP ( german wiki / english wiki ) that has songs about Krabat.

Now here are more links about the new Krabat movie. Since I haven't seen it I can't say too much about it but judging from the set pictures it looks promising :

review of the new movie at imdb / krabat movie homepage / krabat blog

I think with that I have covered everything there is to say about Krabat and I can finally finish this post after three days.

New to the blog ? Everything you need to know about TALES FROM THE KRYPTONIAN : top ten posts / more posts of interest


MartinC said...

Nice post.
Three decades ago, when I was about 10 years of age, my Mother returned home from shopping in Dublin with a book for me she'd found in a discount bookshop - an english translation of Otfried Preusslers 'The Satanic Mill'.
I must have read it about ten times. It was by far my favourite book of childhood. Not that many people outside of Germany seem to have had the same experience. I have a son who is starting to read now and in a few years I'd like to present him with this book to read too.
Lets see how the new film matches up to the story (hopefully it will be available with english subtitles).

SUBZERO said...


Krabat is one of those stories that stay burned into your memory. It's sad that it's mostly unkown outside of Germany. Well, with the exception of Serbia and Russia where I heard that they also read it in school.

But that's one of the reasosn why I wrote the post. Now that there's a movie that hopefully is seen in more countries maybe we can get more people interested in Krabat.

I just don't know if that many people read my blog but - hey - we gotta spread the word.

Oh, and thanks for your comment.

Subbota said...

I read the story many years ago after I saw the cartoon which kinda shocked me, But the book itself was strong, dark and seroius. Thanks to your blog I finally find out it's english version. Do you know when the movie will be coming out in English?

SUBZERO said...


I know that the movie has been shown at the Toronto Film Festival but so far there is no release date for theaters in Amerika.

Bikiluf said...

Great post. I actually read the original by Otfried Preußler when I was 10 years old and it became my favorite fairy tale. It's how I've gotten hooked on the fantasy genre in general. I was wondering though if „Krabat oder Die Verwandlung der Welt“ and „Krabat oder Die Bewahrung der Welt“ by Jurij Brezan are available in any other language then German since I really want to read them and my German is really bad. I can’t seem to find them in English or even Russian, could someone help me out?

SUBZERO said...

The problem is that the only version I could find on is the german version. I tried to find a store that sells english books but so far none of the have books by Jurij Brezan or they have only THE BLACK MILL.

I´ve looked for russian booksshops but the ones that are in english don´t have it and the ones that are in russian.....well, I can´t read russian. So I have no idea how to navigate them.

Guillaume said...

Nice post. I found it by chance looking for info about Krabat. I watched the animated movie when I was a child, it made a huge impact on me. I want to find the original novel, in an English or French translation. And I also want to know more about the original legend/tale, if you have anything on that I would love to read about it.

Anonymous said...

Sorbian and Sorbs ??? What is it ?
Wrong !!!
Serbja; Lower Serbian: Serby also known as Wends, Lusatian Serbs) are a Western Slavic people of Central Europe living predominantly in Lusatia, a region on the territory of Germany and Poland. In Germany they live in the states of Brandenburg and Saxony. They speak the Serbian languages (Wendish, Lusatian), closely related to Polish, Kashubian, Czech and Slovak and officially recognized and protected as minority languages of Germany, but due to Germanization only the older generation in Lower Serbia speak the language at home Their religions are predominantly Catholicism and Lutheranism.
Serbs are divided into two geographical groups:
Upper Serbs, who speak Upper Serbian (about 40,000 people).[citation needed]
Lower Serbs, who speak Lower Serbian (about 20,000 people).[citation needed]
The dialects spoken vary in intelligibility in different areas.

Other Serbs tribe:

SUBZERO said...

Thanks for clearing that up.

I´m no expert on that matter but I also didn´t want to go too deeply into that topic because I don´t want to write anything that´s wrong.

Also I´m not sure how important that kind of facts are for the topic of Krabat since it was written when Serbia was one country.

SUBZERO said...

For any writing gigs you can find my e - mail adress by clicking the " View my complete profile " section.