Thursday, March 31, 2005

Obscure German Characters

Montmorency asked about my interest in obscure German characters so here goes...

I first came across Alfred Wegener in geography textbooks at school. Back then (in the seventies) plate tectonics was only just being unveiled as fact to most of the population and it gave me the first taste of feeling (erroneously, probably) that I was at the forefront of things, learning stuff my parents didn’t know. I thought it a beautiful theory, the way everything fitted together quite literally, and explained things such as the distribution of volcanoes, earthquakes, mountains in such a pictorial (and in retrospect, obvious) way. I also found the fact that Alfred Wegener had been soundly ridiculed but then proved right (well almost right) after his death incredibly tragic and romantic. Then, when I tried to find out more and found that he had such an exciting life as an Arctic explorer and died in quite heroic circumstances I was completely hooked. There was so much to the man, and from snippets of his writing I think he was quite lyrical in his own way, so that’s how I justify his ‘voice’. I got quite obsessed, really, and I think I still am. It’s become my mission to make him better known and get the credit I think he deserved.

The main character in my other book is Heinrich Hoffmann, the author of Struwwelpeter (or Shockheaded Peter in English) which is a set of cautionary tales for children. I became interested in him through my research for Wegener. I was looking through a book on German history and I saw an insert describing Heinrich Hoffmann. As far as he was concerned his most important work was as a progressive psychiatrist, and yet not many people know about that facet of his life - if they know about him at all it is as the author of a set of rhymes for children. Although he was proud of the book he was more proud of his medical work and campaigning. And that was the main point of the book - how what we do in life, what we think is important, might not turn out to be how other people remember us.



At 6:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Clare!

Thank you very much for the background. I really love your "what you see is only a tip of an iceberg" treatment. And a peculiar voice in each novel which peals away the succession of wonders, like a polarized lense to show everything in the different light.

When I first heard about Wegener's theory in my childhood, I simply thought it was a joke; too perfect to be true! Indeed, a man obsessed with Wanderlust is more fitting to that wild idea than a desk-bound academic. What I can vaguely remember about Struwwelpeter (Moja-Moja Peter in Japanese) is a man with scissors which only a writer with twisted humour can write, but your compassionate psychiatrist convinced me. In both cases you move away from the most popular aspects but you place them in the larger whole in the end.

You may find it strange but you have secured at least one faithful reader in Japan. By the way, I've been to Chester once, about 20 years ago. I've got a fond memory of a very cute city with an aged cathedral.

- montmorency

At 2:55 AM, Anonymous Clare said...

Thanks for the feedback Montmorency - I am surprised and highly delighted that someone has read my books in Japan. I have heard that Moja-Moja Peter is popular there - is that true?

At 6:38 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not so well known but there seem to be several editions over the years, and there are many adult fans who find it exhilarating.

- montmorency

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