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Literature / Jim Button

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Jim Button is the protagonist of a two-book series by Michael Ende (author of The Neverending Story), consisting of Jim Button and Luke the Engine Driver (Jim Knopf und Lukas der Lokomotivführer) and Jim Button and the Wild 13 (Jim Knopf und die Wilde 13).

The first book tells the story of Jim Button, an orphaned boy who's been Happily Adopted into the tiny island kingdom of Morrowland, but who, when concerns been growing that there won't be enough room for him on the tiny island when he grows up, finds himself having to leave Morrowland together with his adult friend, Luke the Engine-Driver. They eventually find themselves on a quest to save Princess Li Si of Mandala from the evil dragon, Mrs. Grindtooth.

The second book is set a year later and sees Jim and Luke off on another adventure. This book ties up all the plot threads left loose by the original book, and explores Jim's past and background more thoroughly as he discovers who he really is and where he came from.

The Jim Button books were Michael Ende's first novels and are still regarded as beloved classics. They have received a number of adaptations over the years — the most well-known screen adaption is the Puppet Show by the Augsburger Puppenkiste from the 1960s and 1970s, but there was also an anime (which took a lot of liberties with the story) in 1974, a Saban Entertainment-produced cartoon show (which stuck closer to the original story but added a lot to it in order to get to 52 episodes) in 1998, and most recently a live-action movie in 2018.

The books provide examples of:

  • Always Chaotic Evil: Dragons. Or so we're told, but it's ultimately subverted when Mrs. Grindtooth reveals that dragons are evil by nature but are unhappy because of it, and that they act as terrible as they can in the hope that someone will defeat them and turn them good — upon which they become Golden Dragons of Wisdom.
  • Bad Is Good and Good Is Bad: The general philosophy of dragons. Half-dragons like Nepomuk often try to imitate them, with various levels of success.
  • Balcony Speech: Mentioned to be King Alfred the Quarter-to-Twelfth's usual method for communicating with his subjects. Since said subjects consist of three people (four after Jim arrives), this seems to be more about the ceremony than any sort of practicality.
  • Being Evil Sucks: Directly referred to by the Golden Dragon of Wisdom/ex-Mrs Grindtooth, who states that all dragons are unhappy because they're evil, and when they revel in their evil it's in the hope that some hero will come along and defeat them and as such turn them into Golden Dragons of Wisdom. Unfortunately, most heroes who defeat dragons kill them in the process, so the transformation is a rare thing.
  • Blackface-Style Caricature: The 1960 German print features the main character with a clear blackface design on the cover. Even the 1986 TV puppet adaptation follows the design very closely, as it did not hold the same negative connotations in Germany as it did in the United States.
  • Book Dumb: Jim, for most of the story, doesn't have much in the way of book-smarts... in fact, he doesn't have any book-smarts since he can't read. He is, however, quick-witted and usually good at handling himself in a crisis. Particularly in the second book he repeatedly expresses the opinion that book-learning isn't worth much compared to practical knowledge and experience, and part of his Character Development consists of realizing that books and learning are actually quite valuable.
  • Defeat Means Friendship: Happens in both books, more spectacularly with the dragon Mrs. Grindtooth, as in this universe any dragon who is defeated but not killed turns into a Golden Dragon of Wisdom.
  • Defector from Decadence: Nepomuk, after the dragons headhunt him for helping Jim and Luke, pretty much renounces the evil ways of dragons, claiming he'd much rather be a good guy like Jim and Luke, since they've actually treated him decently. He does have the occasional relapse into Jerkass behavior, though since he was never worse than a Jerk with a Heart of Gold to begin with, the worst he ever does is sling around a few insults and act impolite.
  • Divided for Publication: Jim Button and Luke the Engine Driver was supposed to be just one book, but the editors felt it was too long for a "kiddie book", and made Ende split it in two. (This was long before J. K. Rowling.)
  • Dub Name Change: While there are many examples of mere translations, Luke's homeland still had to rhyme with "Sorrowland" ("Kummerland" in the German original) and be different by only one letter, so "Lummerland" became "Morrowland". Also, the change from "Alfons" to "Alfred" cannot be justified by translation.
  • The Emperor: Mandala has a non-evil one.
  • Evil Chancellor: Mandala has one who nearly succeeds in getting the two protagonists executed. Thankfully, The Emperor saves them from this fate and demotes the Chancellor.
  • Extreme Omnivore: Dragons and half-dragons can eat and digest anything, but are most partial to lava.
  • Famous Ancestor: Sort of. During the climax of the second book, it's revealed that Jim is the last descendant of one of The Three Wise Men and therefore a literal prince.
  • Fantastic Racism:
    • Dragons forbid "racially impure" dragons from entering the Dragon City, leaving the half-dragons to a miserable existence in the Land of the Thousand Volcanoes.
    • Fire creatures (like dragons) and water creatures (like mermaids) also despise each other after an undisclosed falling-out a few thousand years before the story takes place.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture: Mandala is an idealized version of Imperial China. (In earlier editions, it actually was named China.)
  • Genius Bruiser: Luke. Despite his peaceful nature, he's phenomenally strong and quite a skilled fighter — but he's also extremely knowledgeable about the world and often plays Mr. Fixit when needed.
  • The Good King: The Emperor of Mandala. King Alfred the Quarter-to-Twelfth of Morrowland is also considered a good king and is genuinely concerned with the well-being of his subjects, but is rather more ineffectual than most examples of the trope.
  • Happily Adopted: Jim. Though he is surprised and momentarily distressed to find out that Mrs Whaat isn't his real mother, the distress doesn't last for long.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Jim and Luke.
  • Hollywood Mirage: Jim and Luke encounter some really surreal ones in the desert.
  • Intergenerational Friendship: Jim and Luke, again. Luke occasionally takes on the role of a sort of Parental Substitute for Jim.
  • Interspecies Romance: Dragons can breed with various other animals, and this is evidently common enough that there is an entire community of half-dragons living in the Land of the Thousand Volcanoes. These half-breed offspring are frowned upon by pure blood dragons however.
  • In Which a Trope Is Described
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Nepomuk. This is a pretty big problem for him, since dragons are supposed to be evil, and as a half-dragon Nepomuk strives to be like the pure-blood dragons... but to his frustration, he just isn't that bad a guy and seldom manages to be more than just rude and impolite.
  • Living Ship: Luke's locomotive Emma literally gives birth to Jim's locomotive, Molly.
  • Logical Fallacies:
    • Despite being extremely tiny, Morrowland has a railway, even though, according to the author, it is just double as big as his apartment.
    • The region of the black rocks is located between a desert and Sorrowland, therefore it is impossible for it to be that cold.
  • Mix-and-Match Critters: Half-dragons. Nepomuk, for example, is half-dragon and half-hippo.
  • Mordor: Sorrowland.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: While the dragons of Jim Button fulfill the classic role of dragons who are evil, breathe fire and kidnap princesses (well, at least one princess), this trope turns out to be a very important plot point.
  • Perpetual Motion Machine: Invented by the protagonists of the second book. Essentially, their version is based on a magnet which you can switch on and off, which pulls their locomotive.
  • Perspective Magic: Poor Mr. Tur Tur appears to be larger the further away from him you stand. It didn't do wonders for his social life. He eventually managed to make good use of this by getting a job as a lighthouse keeper (or actually, as a light house) at Jim's island home.
  • Pinball Protagonist: Jim certainly has traits of this, especially in the first book; since Luke is effectively both the brains and the brawn of the duo, this often leaves Jim with very little to do. He gets his moments, though, and part of his Character Development in the second book revolves around him growing out of this trope, learning to use his brain more, and eventually single-handedly saving the day.
  • Plot Tailored to the Party: Most of the supporting characters have skills or powers that eventually turn out to be very useful for some part of the plot.
  • Quintessential British Gentleman: Mr. Sleeve, despite being a Morrowlander and not actually English, is portrayed as a stereotypical Englishman. He's unfailingly polite and well-educated, and is most often seen taking a stroll, wearing a bowler and carrying an umbrella.
  • Sadist Teacher: Mrs. Grindtooth in the first book.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Ping Pong has a mild case of this.
  • She Is the King: Well, Li Si was considered for the position of King of the Sky Kingdom but she turned it down. Anyway, her father is the Emperor of Mandala and it's not clear if she'll become Emperor or Empress once she inherits the throne.
  • Supreme Chef: Mrs. Whaat, with ice cream as her specialty.
  • 2 + Torture = 5: The dragon Mrs. Grindtooth (Frau Mahlzahn) tries to use this technique on her pupil/slave Li Si. Li Si, being both very intelligent and very brave, refuses to fold.
  • Underwater Ruins: Jamballa.
  • Wise Beyond Their Years: Babies in Mandala are well-educated and verbose even before they get the hang of walking, as Ping Pong demonstrates.