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Literature: Momo
Lots of things take time, and time was Momo's only form of wealth.

Momo is a German fantasy novel written by Michael Ende in 1973. An English translation has been published in 1974 as The Grey Gentlemen, and again in 1984 as Momo.

Momo takes place in an unnamed Italian town which is home to the eponymous homeless girl, who is known to be wise and has an almost supernatural ability to listen and help people come to terms with their problems. At the beginning of the book she leads a happy life, living in an old amphitheater on the outskirts of the city, surrounded by a community of friends who bring her food and share their problems with her. One day strange men with pale skin, grey suits, and grey hats appear in town and offer people to take their spare time into an account and pay it back with interest at a later time. More and more people agree to the offer and give away more and more of their spare time, and gradually give up any activities that are not considered completely necessary and eventually lose all their emotions. When the grey men approach Momo, one inadvertently reveals that that they are trying to drain the people's time away for their own uses. And unlike everyone else in the city, Momo can remember them after they have left.

One day a tortoise named Cassiopeia appears and leads her to the house of Master Hora, who guards the stores of time against the grey men, but needs Momo to help him. Meanwhile, the gray men are bringing all their powers against her, since they know that she is the only one who can stop them.

A film was made in German in 1986. Michael Ende involved himself in the production of the film, after having been disappointed in the adaptation of The Neverending Story. The best way to get the DVD is from South Korea via Ebay, as that version is All-Region and has English subtitles. The European version is Region 2 only and has no subtitles.

Not to be confused with Momo, the English translation of La Vie Devant Soi by Romain Gary.


This book provides examples of:

  • The Air Not There: during the timestop, Momo can still move around, as can the Grey Men and Cassiopeia. Justified because all of them carry a bit of their own time with them - Momo has the flower, the Grey Men have their cigars, and Cassiopeia is explicitly stated to have her own time within her.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: "Doesn't anybody love you?" causes Agent BLW/553/c to crack.
  • Bad Future: While Momo sleeps, the Grey Men change the world into a place where nobody has time, with rampant construction and fast food diners, where children's games rely on computers instead of imagination, and where the public only admires idols which could be easily destroyed.
  • Bald of Evil: The Grey Men.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Gigi's biggest dream is to become famous (in the book by telling stories, in the movie by becoming a singer). When his dream comes true, he eventually feels lonely and empty and even says "Momo, the most dangerous things in life are idle wishes that come true."
  • Face Death with Dignity: The Grey Men are an aversion, fighting each other over the last remaining cigars - until the very end, when the final words of the last one are "It's good that it's all over."
  • Good Smoking, Evil Smoking: In this case, definitely evil.
  • Good with Numbers: It is seemingly one of The Grey Men's Required Secondary Powers to be able to make massive multiplication and substraction equations in a few seconds for the purpose of making people feel like they are wasting their time.
  • Everyone calls him Beppo Roadsweeper.
    • Even when a policeman asks him if Roadsweeper is his surname or his job, he replies "Both".
  • Framing Device: The story of Momo was supposedly told to the author by a stranger on a train.
  • The Heartless: The grey men are at one point heavily implied to be these.
  • Hope Bringer: Momo!
  • Humanoid Abomination: The grey men.
  • Impossible Thief: More accurately Impossible Con Men.
  • Long Title: The original German subtitle translates to "The strange story of the time-thieves and of the child who returned the stolen time to the people/humans."
  • Mathematician's Answer: "As far as I can remember... I've always been around."
  • Meaningful Name: Master Secundus Minutius Hora.
  • Mind Screw: The entire thing!
  • The Movie: From 1986, with John Huston as Master Hora.
    • Also, an Italian animated movie in 2001.
  • Narrator All Along: The stranger from the framing device is implied at the end to be one of the characters.
  • Only Sane Man
  • Parental Abandonment: Momo doesn't know where her parents are, and before the book started she had escaped from an orphanage of some kind. Her parents are never mentioned again after the first chapter.
  • Placebo Eureka Moment: Momo's listening power has this effect on others.
  • Senseless Sacrifice: The grey men convince people that the time they give away is being invested in a bank, and that they will earn interest on it. Instead, they consume it through their cigars. Meanwhile, the people let their lives grow greyer and greyer...
  • Talking through Technique: The tortoise Cassiopeia communicates with Momo by words that appear on the back of her shell.
  • Time Abyss: Master Hora is implied to be this - then again, how couldn't he be, seeing as he's the keeper of time for all humans?
  • Time Dilation: The brightly lit area on the way to Master Hora's house, where you move faster the more slowly you go and vice versa. The last road to his house is a zone of completely reversed time.
  • Time Stands Still: During the book's finale.
  • Turtle Power: Cassiopeia the tortoise
  • The Watcher: Master Hora.
  • What Kind of Lame Power Is Heart, Anyway?: Cassiopeia can see into the future, but just 30 minutes, and she cannot change how things are going to turn out.
    • At first glance, Momo herself, with her listening power, might qualify. Until that scene with Gray Man BLW/553/c, where she gets him to betray himself.
  • Wise Beyond Their Years: Momo
  • You Are Number Six: The grey men don't have names, just a code in the form of a string of letters and numbers.

Michael KohlhaasGerman LiteratureNesthaekchen
Molly MoonChildren's LiteratureThe Moomins
Mommie DearestLiterature of the 1970sThe Monster at the End of This Book

alternative title(s): Momo
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