Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)

The best start for a survey of German fantasy is perhaps the late 18th century, when ghostly novels of knights and robbers – widely translated into French and English – were a seminal influence on the development of the early Gothic novel, and were in turn influenced by it (see Gothic Fantasy). Nearly all the hundreds of such novels are forgotten, although they enjoyed a tremendous popularity in their day. One of the most successful authors was Christian Heinrich Spiess (1755-1799), an actor and playwright. Typical of his work is Das Petermännchen (1792) which influenced Matthew Lewis's The Monk and Ann Radcliffe. It is the story of an evil Ghost who assumes the form of a Dwarf and entices a knight to rape six innocent girls, to live with his own daughter in incestuous matrimony, and to kill more than 70 people, until the Devil takes him and tears him apart. Der alte Überall und Nirgends ["The Old Everywhere and Nowhere"] (1792-1793) tells of a knight of Charlemagne who is sentenced to death for his assumptions and begins a ghostly existence, always led astray by his passions. These novels abound in perversions. The author ended in madness, after having eloquently warned against the causes of madness in his Biographien der Wahnsinnigen ["Biographies of the Mad"] (1795-1796). Even more successful were the prolific Karl Gottlob Cramer (1758-1817) and the Austrian Joseph Alois Gleich (1772-1841), who anonymously and pseudonymously authored more than 100 novels. A host of imitators included Georg Karl Ludwig Schöpfer (1811-?   ), Karl Friedrich Kahlert (1758-1813), Ignaz Ferdinand Arnold (1774-1812) and Carl Grosse (1774-1847), whose Der Genius (1774-1794; trans P Will as Horrid Mysteries 1796 UK), is a labyrinthine novel of ubiquitous secret societies, was a favourite of Byron's generation and is still reprinted.

The next and superior wave of German fantasy arrived with the Romantic interest in the nightside of human nature. It was wittily transformed in the Folktales of J K Musäus, in the stories of the great Romanticists Ludwig Tieck, Wilhelm Hauff and Achim von Arnim (1781-1831). Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué's historical romances appear stilted, but his unforgettable tale of the unfortunate water spirit Undine is a classic, as is Adelbert von Chamisso "Peter Schlemihls wundersame Geschichte" (1814; trans as Peter Schlemihl 1824 UK). But the greatest fantasist of them all was E T A Hoffmann, whose work combines elements of Horror (especially in "Der Sandmann" 1817) with the whimsical and the poetically romantic. "The Sandman" was subject of a famous interpretation by Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) on the Uncanny (the plucking out of eyes as symbolic castration). The touching fairytale "Der goldene Topf" ["The Golden Flower-Pot"] (1813-1814) contrasts a philistine everyday world with the fantasy world of Atlantis, the goal of artistic aspirations and the yearnings for a purer state of being, symbolized in the love of the naive dreamer Anselmus for the etheric Serpentina. Die Elixiere des Teufels (1815-1816; trans as The Devil's Elixir 1824 UK) is an impressive psychological study, in which the Doppelgänger dramatizes the inner conflict in the protagonist's character; one side of it aspires to become a better human being while the other wants to live out in full his sensual nature. Wilhelm Meinhold (1797-1851) is remembered as the author of two important Witch novels, Die Bernsteinhexe (1843; trans as The Amber Witch 1844 UK; vt Mary Schweidler) and Sidonia von Bork, die Klosterhexe (1847-1848; trans as Sidonia the Sorceress 1847 UK), written in a documentary vein. Ludwig Bechstein (1801-1860), whose collections of fairytales were more popular than those of the Grimm Brothers, wrote also a volume of Hexengeschichten ["Witch Tales"] (coll 1854). Of lesser stature were the ghost stories written by Johann August Apel and Friedrich Laun, issued in four volumes of Gespenstrerbuch ["Ghost Book"] (colls 1810-1812), followed by three volumes of Wunderbuch ["Miracle Book"] (1815-1817). Apel's retelling of the folktale "Der Freischütz" formed the basis for Friedrich Kind's libretto for Weber's Opera of the same name about the charmed hunter who uses magic bullets.

The most important 19th-century German writer of fantastic stories was probably Peter Alexander, Freiherr von Ungern-Sternberg (1806-1868), a Baltic author who wrote numerous stories that reflect the division of the self between progress and reaction, the Classic and the Romantic, man and woman. His best collection is Die Nachtlampe ["The Night Lamp"] (coll 1854), but many stories remain uncollected.

Around the turn of the century there began a strong German fantasy wave, a movement of black Romanticism. The Austrian Karl Hans Strobl (1877-1946) published his first book, Aus Gründen und Abgründen ["From Ground and Abysses" or "Of Reasons and Unreasons"] (1901) and credited himself as the renovator of German fantasy, but there were others before him – among them Karl von Schlözer (1854-1916) with Aus Dur und Moll (1885), Bodo Wildberg (1862-1942) with Tötlishe Triebe ["Deathly Instincts"] (coll 1894), and especially Oskar Panizza (1853-1921) who spent a year in prison for blasphemy for his fantastic play "Das Liebeskonzil" ["The Love Council"] (1894) before being put in an asylum (where he had earlier been a psychiatrist), which he never left. Two of his early collections were Dämmerungsstücke ["Pieces for Twilight"] (coll 1890) and Visionen ["Visions"] (coll 1893). Panizza's stories are bitingly anti-religious but also sometimes marred by a violent antisemitism. Also abundant at the time were occult writings; the subgroup of the didactic occult novel is represented by Das Kreuz am Ferner ["The Cross at the Ferner"] (1897) by Karl du Prel (1839-1899).

The rise of fantasy, then usually called "strange stories", sprang from the spirit of the Fin de Siècle and French Decadence. J K Huysmans, Théophile Gautier, Barbey D'Aurevilly (1808-1889), Gérard de Nerval and Villiers de L'Isle-Adam exerted their influence. Edgar Allan Poe excited interest, and there was a re-evaluation of E T A Hoffmann following his French fame. It is interesting to note that, while French writers were widely translated into German, at this stage UK fantasists, aside from Oscar Wilde, played no role. Dracula (1897) by Bram Stoker was translated in 1908 but went largely unnoticed, and apart from the adventure novels of H Rider Haggard there was only Richard Marsh's The Beetle: A Mystery (1897), but no Algernon Blackwood, no Arthur Machen and no William Hope Hodgson. Their discovery was left to the tide of translated fantasy in the 1970s.

Many Austrian writers – e.g., Gustav Meyrink and Karl Hans Strobl (1879-1946) – played an important role in this fantasy revival; it is anyway worthless to distinguish according to nationality, for the German-speaking countries have always formed a common book market, and many Austrian writers published in Germany. Meyrink first captured his audience with satirical and uncanny stories published in the Munich satirical paper Simplicissimus – later collected in several volumes – and went on with The Golem (1915), one of the big German bestsellers of WWI, and continued with a series of increasingly didactic novels advocating occult doctrines. The leading role among the German nationals was undoubtedly played by Hanns Heinz Ewers. Like the Polish-German writer Stanislaw Przybyszewski (1868-1927), Ewers was a decadent par excellence. Ewers's flirtation with the Nazis did not save him from falling out of favour with them, and his books were soon forbidden. He embodied his dreams of a Nietzschean hero (who is nevertheless easily seduced by Lilith figures) in Frank Braun, the protagonist of a trio of fantastic novels.

Other fantasy writers of the time included the prolific Georg von der Gabelentz (1868-1940), Paul Ernst (1866-1933), Isolde Kurz (1853-1944), Kurt Münzer (1879-1944), the Swiss Gustav Renker (1889-1967), Willy Seidel (1887-1934), Oscar A H Schmitz (1873-1931), Wilhelm von Scholz (1874-1969), Hermann Esswein (1877-?   ), Roland Betsch (1888-1945) and Werner Bergengruen (1892-1964).

Paul Scheerbart (1863-1915) wrote a large number of whimsically cosmic, Oriental and other fantasies, often with mini-stories included in a Frame Story; his works are unique, creating a private cosmos. Scheerbart starved to death in protest, it is claimed, against WWI: he had always written about the martial follies of disgusting beings that inhabited the Earth's crust.

The numerous romances of Eufemia Adlersfeld-Ballestrem (1854-1941) contain often supernatural motifs and episodes (visions, prophetic dreams, ghostly appearances) and the paraphernalia of Gothic Fantasy (secret rooms, oubliettes, the poisoned rings of Italian Renaissance Femme Fatales). Two of her novels, Ca'Spada (1904) and Die Dame in Gelb ["The Lady in Yellow"] (1904) are outright Ghost Stories in the UK manner.

A recent anthology of German "strange tales" from the beginning of the century is Robert N Bloch's (1950-    ) Jenseits der Träume ["Beyond Dreams"] (coll 1990).

The flourishing of German fantasy increased even after WWI, when it was felt that stronger thrills were needed following the mass slaughter, and that new sensibilities had developed. The major figures of German fantasy edited their own series: Ewers with the 8-volume Galerie der Phantasten ["Gallery of Fantasists"], containing material by Hoffmann, Poe, Balzac, Ewers himself, Strobl, Panizza, Alfred Kubin (1877-1959) and the Spaniard Gustavo Adolfo Becquer (1836-1870); Strobl with the 6-volume Geschichten um Mitternacht ["Tales for Midnight"], containing material by Strobl himself, Ewers, Poe, Villiers de l'Isle-Adam, Gogol and Hoffmann; Meyrink with the 5-volume Romane und Bücher der Magie ["Romance and Books of Magic"]. Strobl also edited the beautifully illustrated magazine Der Orchideengarten ["The Garden of Orchids"] (1919-1921), which was likely the first specialized fantasy magazine in the world. Publishers especially active in the fantasy field were Georg Müller, Albert Langen, Drei-Masken-Verlag (with their Sindbad Books) and Rikola. Many others published some fantastic fiction at all levels of literary quality, from the heights of Franz Kafka to forgotten amateur writers. There existed also an even wider field of occult writings, including those by the notorious Aryan racist occultist Lanz von Liebenfels, the eponym of Wilfried Daim's The Man Who Gave Hitler His Ideas (1958). While most writers of fantasy were rather conservative or even reactionary, an exception was Alexander Moritz Frey (1881-1957). Although he had served with Hitler in the trenches during WWI and was offered by him a high position at the Nazi paper Der völkische Beobachter, Frey, who was a strict antimilitarist, declined and emigrated in 1933 to Austria and then in 1938 to Switzerland, where he lived in poverty, a forgotten writer whose books were banned by the Reich. Besides a satirical novel, Solneman der Unsichtbare ["Nameless the Invisible"] (1914), he wrote many quiet, controlled and mysterious short stories, sometimes with an Expressionist touch, and collected in many volumes, including Der Mörder ohne die Tat ["The Murderer without the Murder"] (coll 1918), Spuk des Alltags ["Spookery of Everyday Life"] (coll 1920) and Aussenseiter ["Outsiders"] (coll 1928).

Also important during that period was the fantastic cinema, which, according to Siegfried Kracauer's From Caligari to Hitler (1947), provided the imaginative prehistory of the Nazi system. Although fantastic movies formed only a minority of cinematic productions, a number were important, from Ewers's Doppelgänger study Der Student von Prag ["The Student of Prague"] (1913) via the Golem movies by Paul Wegener to F W Murnau's adaptation of Dracula, called for copyright reasons Nosferatu (see Dracula Movies). 1919 saw R Wiene's famous The Cabinet of Dr Caligari.

The rise of the Nazis ended this rich flowering of the arts. Unlike sf, which continued to be published right up to the end of the Third Reich, fantastic literature of the uncanny, the morbid and the outré virtually ceased to be published, with only a few exceptions, mostly by mainstream writers, such as the humorous John Collier-like tales of Kurt Kuseberg (1904-1983) – in La Botella (coll 1940) and Der blaue Traum ["The Blue Dream"] (coll 1942) – and the work of Heinrich Schirmbeck (1915-2005).

After WWII fantasy in Germany was mostly a matter of translation, with all the important English-language writers appearing. Book series of interest included Die Bibliothek des Hauses Usher ["Library of the House of Usher"] (1969-1975); these 26 volumes, ed Kalju Kirde for Insel Verlag, introduced classic authors of weird fiction – H P Lovecraft, Arthur Machen, J P Hodgson, M R James, Algernon Blackwood and Clark Ashton Smith – but also the Belgians Jean Ray (1887-1964) and Thomas Owen (1910-2002) and the Polish fantasist Stefan Grabiński. The 14 volumes of Bibliotheca Dracula (1967-1974) published by Hanser Verlag focused on Gothic novels, but presented also four anthologies on Werewolves, artificial beings, Vampires and the Black Mass.

Fantasy by German authors was mostly restricted to juveniles and Romanhefte – the saddle-stitched publications distributed through newsstands – but there was a strong streak of fantasy in mainstream fiction, from Günter Grass to Wolfgang Hildesheimer (1916-1991) and Michael Schneider (1943-    ), with Das Spiegelkabinett ["The Room of Mirrors"] (1980). Especially important was the fantasy by writers of the former German Democratic Republic: Rolf Schneider (1932-    ), Irmtraud Morgner (1933-    ), Günter Kunert (1929-    ) and Anna Seghers (1900-1983). The first German novel after WWII to be internationally acclaimed and to be translated into several languages was Die Gesellschaft vom Dachboden (1946; trans Robert Kee as The Attic Pretenders 1948 UK) by Ernst Kreuder (1930-1972), which tells of a group of young people who have found refuge in an attic from the mundanity of normal life. Some remarkable ghost stories were written by Marie Luise Kaschnitz (1901-1974), especially in the collection Lange Schatten ["Long Shadows"] (coll 1960). There is a strong element of fantasy and the grotesque in the work of Herbert Rosendorfer, who burst onto the literary scene with Der Ruinenbaumeister (1969; trans Mike Mitchell as The Architect of Ruins 1993 UK), an involved novel built from stories-within-stories. Stephanie und das vorige Leben (1977; trans Mike Mitchell as Stephanie, or A Previous Existence 1996 UK) transfers a personality into the past.

The most successful German fantasy author has been Michael Ende. He consistently used fantastic themes in his Children's Fantasies. Jim Knopf und Lukas der Locomitveführer (1960; trans Maurice S Dodd as Jim Button and Luke the Engine Driver 1990 US) was well received, but Die unendliche Geschichte (1979; trans Ralph Manheim as The Neverending Story 1983 US) was a major hit.

Also eminently successful, but at a much lower literary level, is the work of the prolific Wolfgang E Hohlbein (1953-    ). He writes all kind of fantasy, from Sword and Sorcery to Horror. Hohlbein started with stories in fan magazines, went on to write Hefte – the occult series Professor Zamorra and Damona King – and won the Ueberreuter fantasy competition with Märchenmond ["Fairy Moon"] (1993). This juvenile novel sold more than 100,000 copies, and Hohlbein has written one fantasy juvenile every year since. His horror novel Das Druidentor ["Gate of Druids"] (1993) was the huge Bertelsmann bookclub's bestselling book in its category.

On a more literary level is Hans Bemmann, whose Stein und Flöte (1983; trans Anthea Bell as The Stone and the Flute 1986 UK) was an international success.

Unlike sf, which in Germany is strictly restricted to paperbacks, genre fantasy regularly appears in hardback, following the success of Tolkien, Ende and Marion Zimmer Bradley, and there have also been fantasy series in hardback and quality paperback (Klett-Cotta's "Hobbit-Presse", with Lord Dunsany, Mervyn Peake, Peter S Beagle and similar writers). A paperback fantasy series has been Terra Fantasy (94 releases 1974-1982). All of the big paperback publishers issue plenty of fantasy, though this is almost exclusively translated material. A German Hefte fantasy series was Dagon (1973-1975). More successful has been horror-fantasy; among long-running series has been Dämonenkiller, which was both a Hefte and a paperback series: it appeared first as a subseries within Vampir-Horrorroman (451 issues 1972-1981), then as Dämonkiller-Gruselroman (143 issues 1974-1977) and Dämonenkiller-Horror-Serie (175 issues 1983-1986), with paperbacks appearing as Dämonenkiller-Taschenbuch (63 releases 1975-1980). The Hefte were by German authors, the paperbacks mostly translations. The most prolific and successful German horror writer of the Hefte is Helmut Rellergerd (1945-    ), who writes as Jason Dark about a ghosthunter named John Sinclair, whose adventures appeared first in a series of Gespenster-Krimis and since 1978 in its own series. Since 1981 there has also been a monthly John Sinclair paperback.

A theoretical discussion of fantastic literature was the five Phaïcon ["Image of the Fantastic"] almanacs (anths 1974-1982) ed Rein A Zondergeld. These combined theoretical essays with fiction. A notable survey, including a bibliography, of German-language fantasy between Decadence and Fascism by Jens Malte Fischer appeared in #3 (anth 1980). The critical anthology Phantastik in Literatur und Kunst ["The Fantastic in Literature and Art"] (anth 1980) ed Christian W Thomsen and Jens Malte Fischer combines theoretical works with author studies. Winfried Freund's Literarische Phantastik ["The Literary Fantastic"] (1990) traces the development of the fantastic novella. Peter Cersowsky, in Phantastische Literatur im ersten Viertel des 20 Jahrhunderts ["Literary Fantasy in the first Quarter of the 20th Century"] (1983) concentrates on Kafka, Kubin and Meyrink, while Marianne Wünsch in Die Fantastische Literatur der frühen Moderne ["The Fantastic Literature of Early Modern Times"] (1991) discusses the occult context of fantasy literature. Stephen Berg in Schlimme Seiten, Böse Räume ["Bad Times, Evil Spaces"] (1991) conducts a discourse on the structures of time and space in Meyrink, Kubin, Leo Perutz and Alexander Lernet-Holenia, among others. Clemens Ruthner discusses in Unheimliche Wiederkehr ["Uncanny Return"] (1993) the ghostly characters in the novels of Strobl, Franz Spunda (1890-1963), Otto Soyka (1882-1955), Meyrink and Ewers. Gero von Wilpert wrote on the motifs, narrative form and development of the German ghost story in Die deutsche Gespenstergeschichte ["The German Ghost Story"] (1994).

Most useful is Bibliographie der utopischen und phantastischen Literature 1750-1900 ["Bibliography of Utopia and the Fantastic in Literature 1750-1900"] (1984) compiled by the antiquarian Robert N Bloch. Excellent is the brief and personal Lexikon der phantastischen Literatur ["Lexicon of Fantastic Literature"] (1983) by Rein A Zondergeld. Profiles and bibliographies of many important German authors are included in Bibliographisches Lexikon der utopischen Literatur (1984-current) ed Joachim Körber. Especially valuable in it are the contributions of Robert N Bloch, who has also written many descriptions of old texts in Werkführer durch die utopischen phantastische Literatur (1989-current) ed Michael Koseler and Franz Rottensteiner. Fantasy of the Tolkien kind is primarily covered in publications of the Erste Deutsche Fantasy Club ["The First German Fantasy Club"]. The Inklings Gesellschaft für Literatur und Aethetik publishes a printed yearbook with some interesting material on Charles Williams, George MacDonald, C S Lewis and J R R Tolkien. [FR]


This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.