[DWJ] Hohlbein (was: Books of the year 2007)

Belben, Philip (Energy Wholesale) Philip.Belben at eon-uk.com
Thu Jan 3 08:32:29 EST 2008

Tina, quoting me:

> > At the moment I'm struggling with a book by Wolfgang Hohlbein.  I
> > fear he is not a good enough writer to be a really suitable source
> > text for learning German :-)
> Possibly... Which book?

A colleague was visiting Germany, and I asked her (on the strength of Märchenmond) to look out for WH.  She came back with three books in a series called "Operation Nautilus"; I'm reading what I take to be the first of them, "Die vergessene Insel" (The Forgotten Island).

The action so far has been set in an English boarding school, just before the outbreak of World War I.  Except that I don't think WH has much idea what English boarding schools were like :-(

And a few pages in, we get (I haven't looked up the exact text):

   "Hallo", sagte er einsilbig.

Now "einsilbig" means monosyllabic. So, as Fowler put it, "This must have been a remarkable feat of articulation."  Einsilbig, like monosyllabic, "bears its meaning too plainly on its face to be a suitable subject for an experiment in slipshod extension."

Only minor faults, but they still bug me twenty pages later (and yes, I only read twenty pages over the Christmas break).  The story is now just getting going, so I might do a bit better over the next week or so.

(Digression:  Is there a German book like Fowler's Modern English Usage?  Fowler is such a useful tool, and I'd really like to have such a book for German too, if only to stop my tutor trying to force on me a style to which I object!)

> > He seems to be hugely popular over there, but I'm
> > beginning to see why no-one (AFAIK) has bothered producing any
> > English translations.
> :-) He's incredibly prolific. But maybe that's because he's been
> writing the same two or three books over and over again for years?

The Wikipedia article on him said something of the sort...

> Now that's a bit rude, especially since I only recall reading about
> four or five of his books, mostly of the children's books he wrote
> with his wife (Elfentanz, Märchenmond, Drachenfeuer and something with
> a Griffin in the title?) and one or two of the Wandering Wood (?)
> series. I rather liked Märchenmond as a kid, I have to confess, but I
> hadn't read Lord of the Rings at that time. And in retrospective it
> feels quite like a rip-off.

Interesting.  I didn't feel a particularly strong LOTR connection.  There were some good devices early on, and the direction of the quest was (for me) quite unusual:  First, to find his own way to the fantasy world; then to escape from the Dark Lord (except that the identity of the "Schwarze Lord" made that rather difficult), and then to go off, leaving them to fight, in quest of an almost mythical being...

What I found weakest was the ease with which Kim escaped from Boraas; the confusing motives for the final confrontation (OMT) between Boraas, Themistocles, the Rainbow king, and others; and weakest of all, the way all the goodies came back to life once Boraas had been defeated!

> Holbein is very clever at finding ideas and themes, and turning them
> into (many) books (each). Metaphorically speaking it's a bit like fast
> food. Taking the idea, turning it into something that you consume
> fast, that doesn't really taste like the real thing and sometimes
> leaves a strange taste in the mouth. (Something you can come to like

Ouch!  Actually, I find a lot of Tanith Lee's work is like that.  And yet every so often she comes up with something that is really, really good, and just right for me...

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