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Literature: Max and Moritz

Ah, how oft we read or hear of
Boys we almost stand in fear of!
For example, take these stories
Of two youths, named Max and Moritz,
Who, instead of early turning
Their young minds to useful learning,
Often leered with horrid features
At their lessons and their teachers...

Max and Moritz: A Rascals' History in Seven Tricks is a German children's book of 1865, written and drawn by Wilhelm Busch. Like the rest of Busch's work, it is a combination of sequential drawings and rhyming verses and a forerunner of comic strips.

Max and Moritz, two naughty boys or should we say, young sociopaths subject the good citizens of a German town to a crossfire of cruel pranks. One after another the Widow, the Uncle, the Teacher, the Tailor, and the Baker fall prey to their rascally crimes, until the delinquents find their master in a crafty Farmer and their reign of terror comes to a surprisingly final end.

Max and Moritz was a 19th century bestseller and spawned a train of parodies, pastiches and imitations. Its probably most successful derivate are the Katzenjammer Kids, who were created in 1897 in New York by German immigrant Rudolph Dirks.

You can read it online (translation and original) here.

Tropes in Max and Moritz:

  • Animals Not to Scale: The may beetles which Max and Moritz put into Uncle Fritze's bed are drawn as big as a human hand.
  • Ash Face: The teacher Master Lämpel, after the boys have filled his pipe with gunpowder.
    When the smoke-cloud lifts and clears,
    Lämpel on his back appears;
    God be praised! still breathing there,
    Only somewhat worse for wear.
    Nose, hands, eyebrows (once like yours),
    Now are black as any Moor's;
    Burned the last thin spear of hair,
    And his pate is wholly bare.
  • Covered in Gunge: While breaking into the bakery, Max and Moritz fall into a trough of dough and emerge completely covered in dough.
    All enveloped now in dough,
    See them, monuments of woe.
  • Declarative Finger: The Teacher Lämpel is introduced with this pose.
  • Explosive Cigar: Max and Moritz maliciously stuff the teacher's meerschaum pipe with gunpowder, with predictable results (trick no. 4)
  • For the Evulz: For most of their tricks, Max and Moritz have no motives other than to cause pain and misery. Only nrs. 2 (stealing the Widow's roasted hens) and 6 (stealing the Baker's pretzels) have a material motive.
  • Horned Hairdo: It is probably no coincidence that the miller, who delivers the final punishment on Max and Moritz, has only two locks of hair which look like horns.
  • Just Desserts: Max and Moritz are ground in the mill and eaten by geese.
  • Parental Abandonment: Max and Moritz' parents are never seen or mentioned.
  • Written Sound Effect: Schnupdiwup! (snatching roast chicken with a fishing line), Rawau! (Row-wow!) (dog barking), Ritze-ratze! (sawing wood), Kracks! (Crash!) (wood breaking), Rums! (explosion), Kritze-kratze! (crawling beetles), Ratsch! (skidding through a chimney), Puff! (falling into a chest of flour), Knacks! (chair breaking), Schwapp! (falling into a trough of dough), Ruff! (shoving bread into/out of an oven), Knusper knasper! (Crispy crunchy!) (gnawing through a bread crust), Rabs! (shoving boys into a sack), Rickeracke! (Creaky cracky!) (noise of mill grinding).

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