(lower German: Dyl Ulenspegel
, Dutch: Tijl Uilenspiegel
) is a 16th century folklore character from Dutch, Flemish and German oral tradition. He's a jester/fool who enjoys tricking people or driving them mad by taking things too literally.
In the 19th century Belgian author Charles De Coster adapted this folklore tales into a novel which changed Uilenspiegel into a Flemish/Belgian Folk Hero
who uses his intelligence and comedy to fight against the Spanish occupation during the 16th century. Uilenspiegel also got a clear background story. He was born in the Flemish village Damme on the same day of Philippe IV
, the Spanish king who later would lead the Eighty Year's War against the Netherlands. Eulenspiegel's father is Claes, who is later burned at the stake by the Spanish occupiers, and his mother is named Soetkin. She later turns mad because of Claes' death. All these events motivate Eulenspiegel to fight against the Spanish oppressors. He is also given a girlfriend, Nele, and a gluttonous but jolly Sidekick
named Lamme Goedzak.
Comic strip artist Willy Vandersteen
(of Suske en Wiske
fame) also drew two well known comic books about the character.
Compare similar characters: Nasreddin from the Middle East, Herschel of Ostropol in Jewish folklore, Anansi the spider in Carribean folklore, Brother Rabbit in Afro-American folklore and even Alfred E. Neuman of Mad Magazine
and Bugs Bunny
seem to be made from the same mold.
- Anti-Hero: Eulenspiegel is a trickster who enjoys fooling people.
- Back from the Dead: The novel ends with Eulenspiegel's miraculous reappearance. He claims that his spirit cannot be killed.
- Big Eater: Lamme Goedzak
- Black Comedy: In one story, he "cured" all the patients in a hospital. How? He stated that he wanted to make a medicine for them... with a powder made out of the sickest one of them. After which they all wanted to prove that they were not that sick.
- Book Ends: Just as his funeral was uncommon, the same applied to the start of his life. As the story goes, Eulenspiegel was baptized three times.
- Comic Book Adaptation: Two albums were drawn by Willy Vandersteen.
- And he also has a cameo in the Suske en Wiske album "De Krimson Crisis".
- Corrupt Church: Eulenspiegel often tricks morally fallible priests.
- Darker and Edgier: The Charles De Coster novel and especially the opera based on it take the character in a decidedly different direction than the original tales. De Coster makes him a jolly Robin-Hood-esque freedom fighter. The opera takes this even further and makes him a grim, determined badass in the end after all his loved ones are dead.
- Exact Words: Eulenspiegel enjoys driving people crazy by taking things too literally. Only one of many examples: when the duke of Lüneburg forbad Eulenspiegel to set a foot in his country, Eulenspiegel bought a cart and filled it with soil that didn't belong to the duke.
- Folk Hero: In Germany and Flanders Eulenspiegel is considered to be a folk hero. The Flemish see him as the spirit of Flanders and in 2003 the Germans even voted Eulenspiegel to the 160th place in the election of "The Greatest German" ("Unsere Besten"). He is the only fictional character to make the list!
- The Fun in Funeral: The guys who carried his coffin goofed up, and the coffin fell into the grave, standing upright instead of lying down. The priest decided this was OK: "He lived in a weird way, so he shall be buried in a weird way."
- German Humor
- Happy Harlequin Hat: Originally didn't have one, going hatless or having a different jester hat. However, later adaptations and monuments have him wearing it.
- High-Altitude Interrogation: In a classic Eulenspiegel story Till is tightroping for money, when suddenly some spectactors cut the rope, causing him to fall in the river across which he had tied the rope. He climbs ashore, tells the audience he enjoyed the joke and informs him that he will make his rope trick more complicated the next day. Out of curiosity the spectators return again the following day to see what he will do. Till then explains to them that he will climb the rope while holding two bags full of shoes. But since he hasn't got that many shoes he asks the spectators to give them one of their shoes for the act. Everyone does so, but once he is one the rope Till threatens to throw the shoes in the water if the audience doesn't pay him double what they paid him the day before. The frightened spectators pay up and Till disappears, after throwing the shoes randomly in the crowd, causing the spectators to fight for their possessions.
- Iconic Outfit: Usually depicted as a medieval harlequin.
- The Jester: Eulenspiegel served as one at the court of the Danish king.
- Karmic Trickster
- Lighter and Softer: Many early stories of him are quite crass (see: Toilet Humor, Mooning, Squick). In many stories many long after his death, he is more like a Karmic Trickster who fools stingy merchants or bad rulers.
- Literal-Minded: Or acts like it, anyway. Never use Sarcasm Mode if you are his employer, he will do it.
- Love Interest: Nele.
- Manipulative Bastard: Till is able to convince people to do things that they wouldn't do in other situations.
- He once made a waitress pay him for having worked so hard to eat and drink everything on his plate.
- He once placed a bet with a priest, daring him to defecate in the middle of his own church. The priest takes the bet, but being a bit ashamed he does it at the back where nobody is able to see him. Till still wins, because the priest didn't do it in the middle of the church, as he had dared him to.
- Meaningful Name: Literally, it means "owl-mirror". There are other interpretations.
- In Medieval Low German, "eulen" meant basically "to clean", while "spiegel" was a slang euphemism for "buttocks". Subtle.
- Mistaken Identity: One night, when Till slept inside a bee hive, two thieves who wanted to steal honey stole the hive, unaware that Till was still inside. So Till started to pull the hair of the thief in front of him and the beard of the one behind him. Both of them thought the other was bullying him and they started fighting, while Till managed to escape.
- Not Quite Dead: Eulenspiegel is hanged near the end of Charles De Coster's novel, but miraculously revives, claiming that his spirit cannot be killed.
- Obfuscating Stupidity
- The Pope: In one story, Eulenspiegel bets with a rich woman for hundred ducats he can arrange that the pope will talk with her.
- Sidekick: Lamme Goedzak
- Significant Birth Date: In Charles De Coster's novel Eulenspiegel is born on the same day as Philippe II of Spain. As fate will have it Philippe II of Spain will terrorize the Lower Countries as an adult and Eulenspiegel will lead the resistance against the Spanish king.
- Toilet Humor
- The Trickster: Eulenspiegel claims that mankind wants to be tricked, thus justifying his actions.
- The Unfettered
- Walking the Earth: Till just goes from town to town.
- Why Do You Keep Changing Jobs?: Except during the time when he worked as a jester, he did many different apprenticeships in his life. Usually he was fired only a few days later, after he pranked his master.