Krabat, by Otfried Preußler

KrabatTitle: Krabat
Otfried Preußler
 The Friday Project
Publication date: 3rd September 2010
Pages: 275
ISBN13: 9780007395125
Source: NetGalley
Rating: 2/5
Buy at: BookDepository

Set within a world of sorcery and wizardry, much like an 18th Century Harry Potter, Krabat tells the story of a 14-year-old beggar boy lured to a mysterious mill by a series of frightening dreams and apparitions. He becomes an apprentice to the master of the watermill where he joins the eleven other young journeymen who work there. Much to his surprise Krabat soon discovers that the mill is actually a school of black magic and he is expected to learn much more than just a normal miller’s trade.

Krabat studies hard and becomes the master’s star pupil, but when he falls for a local village girl the depth of the master’s evil and the darker secrets of the mill begin to reveal themselves. One by one his fellow classmates perish from mysterious, unexplained accidents and Krabat realises he must use all of the dark magic skills he has learned to secure his escape.

When I first read the synopsis for Krabat, I expected a story full of dark imagery, sensuous words, creepy moments, and a fairytale feeling. After all, the book is based on a Wendish legend and contains many folk tale characteristics. I did not get what I expected.

Krabat details the story of a young boy who, after being ordered to do so in a dream, leaves his life without a second thought in search of a mill. Despite being told the mill is haunted, Krabat goes to it and becomes an apprentice to the master miller. In time, the master initiates him in something else: magic, dark magic.

The premise for the story is wonderful, but try as I might, I could not make myself enjoy this book. You see, for all the talk of how dark the magic was, we scarcely had a chance to see it in action, to understand how horrid the consequences were. There was danger here and there and odd things never stopped happening, but it was difficult to take it as seriously as the author intended. Such a problem was not aided by the dryness of the language. This might be due to a possibly bad translation, but regardless, it deeply impacted my enjoyment of the book.

Then, there is the fact that the characters were underdeveloped and far too simplistic for my taste. Yes, characters in fairytales are often oversimplified, but you know why they make the choices they make. They explain the steps taken, or if not, then the path they have taken is logical in some manner. In Krabat, I was constantly banging my head on the table as I wondered why on Earth situation A would lead to situation B, or why some moments were included in the book at all as they did little to contribute to plot or characterisation. It also puzzles me how the men never questioned the miller or his motives, not outright and not between one another. Not to mention that the “romance” was a poorly used plot device.

No, this book did not work for me in the slightest. If one is writing a novel based on a legend, one should add more substance to it, more than new lines and scenes. Although I did not read the original tale, it did not feel like Krabat breathed new life into this tale. In the end, the novel read like an exciting concept with a lacklustre execution.


The book in a quote

“I loved a girl once,’ said he. ‘Vorshula was her name. She has been lying in the graveyard of Seidewinkel six months now…”


7 thoughts on “Krabat, by Otfried Preußler

  1. Gladly. In any event, I appreciate your reviewing this book – it’s not well known in English, and your description of the problems you had with it was interesting to me. (When you know how a book is supposed to go, it looks different. So I trusted my opinion and my subjective disappointment, but I couldn’t really know how it would seem to someone who wasn’t comparing it.)


  2. [Here via Tumblr] I’ve yet to find an English translation that doesn’t strip Preußler’s Krabat of most of its considerable charm. If there are specific parts that didn’t make sense, people who read it in another language might be able to help.


    • Ah, that makes more sense then. I guess that if the language wasn’t as dry, it would have made it better, but as it is, I just couldn’t get properly into the story. Still, I’m glad to hear it might be the translation itself. The plot was quite interesting!


      • *nods* If you read Spanish, IMO the 1981 translation by J.Miguel Rodríguez Clemente is one of the good ones.

        “En el momento en que se dieron el apretón de manos se oyó un sordo estrépito y gran ajetreo en la casa. Parecía proceder de las profundidades de la tierra. El suelo osciló, las paredes empezaron a temblar, las vigas y los pilares se estremecieron.
        Krabat pegó un grito, quiso salir corriendo -<>-, pero el maestro le cerró el paso.
        –¡Es el molino! -gritó haciendo bocina con las manos-. ¡Es que ha empezado de nuevo a moler!”

        The differences are subtle, but their effect accumulates. When I saw the English translation for the first time, the word choices seemed jarring and unfortunate by comparison.

        And that’s quite aside from the parts that were hopelessly garbled: in English, “midnight” and “evening” are not points on a compass.


      • I’ve never read fiction in Spanish, only segments of Zoology books, but that does sound much nicer than the English version did! Definitely not as dry and factual, at the very least, which is what put me off for most of the book. If I didn’t have a gigantic TBR to go through and a mere passing understanding of Spanish, I’d give this another go :) You got me convinced! Thanks for telling me about the translation :D

        Sorry about it cutting off your comment. I had no idea it did that and will give it a look :) Thanks again!


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