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Literature / Krabat

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Krabat is a German Young Adult novel by Otfried Preußler, loosely based on an old Sorbian folk legend. It has been published in English under the titles The Satanic Mill and The Curse of the Darkling Mill, but later also under its original title.

Set in Saxony, Germany in the early 1700snote , it tells the story of the beggar boy Krabat. One night he has a dream of a voice and some ravens telling him to go to a mill in the village Schwarzkollm, which he eventually does. He gets accepted by the sinister, one-eyed miller as an apprentice, but he soon learns that he is in no ordinary mill: It is a "black school" — a school for Black Magic. An avid student at first, Krabat slowly recognizes the danger he is in: As part of the miller's Deal with the Devil, each year, one of the apprentices has to die.

Note: In ancient times, mills and millers were generally suspected to be somewhat too close to the devil. Consider this: There were no machines around yet, and when the people saw a mill move by itself, as it seemed, and make strange sounds, they became scared. The fact that some millers cheated the peasants and kept some of the flour for themselves also didn't help. Also, sometimes mills would explode because flour (like all kinds of fine organic dust) is very flammable.

There are also two movie adaptations: A Czech animated one from 1978 by Karel Zeman, and a German live-action film from 2008, starring Daniel Brühl as Tonda.

Krabat provides examples of:

  • Abnormal Ammo: A golden button used as a bullet.
  • Affably Evil: The miller. Ok, he is a bit weird but still a strict but benevolent master on any field he teaches you - he even takes you to one of his trips to show you what magic can do for you. That and he eventually will sacrifice you to prolong his life. The movie emphasized this even more.
  • And I Must Scream:
    • This may happen if you separate your spirit from the body and don't return until dawn - you'll become a kind of ghost who is completely unable to interact with the world. Almost happens to Krabat.
    • Also this: To make some money, one of the boys turns into a big fat ox, who is sold to a rich merchant. However, they have to make sure to keep the rope around his neck, otherwise this trope would happen. This time it doesn't - but one year later, they try the same trick, with Krabat turning into a horse, and when Juro sells "Krabat" to a one-eyed lord, he forgets to mention the halter until it's too late, dumb as he is... and since the lord is whom you suspect already, he won't give it back either.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: Merten, after his cousin Michal dies. It doesn't work.
  • Big Brother Mentor: Tonda for Krabat, later Krabat for Lobosch.
  • Butt-Monkey: Juro most of the time. He rolls with it most of the time and to him it is never mean... Lyschko on the other hand... deserves what he gets.
  • Bystander Syndrome: There's one useful spell which does this.
  • Clever Crows: During their magic lessons, the boys are changed into ravens.
  • Closed Circle: You can't run away from the mill - the master will prevent it. Even suicide won't work.
  • Contrived Clumsiness: Juro stumbles, and as a result, Lyschko gets Covered in Gunge (pig feed, to be precise). Of course, when it happens, it doesn't seem contrived yet.
  • Deal with the Devil: The master did one. As a price, he has to sacrifice one of his students each year - or will lose his soul himself. And sometimes at night, the boys will have to do an extra shift - as Krabat finds out, to grind bones and teeth, presumably human ones.
  • Devil in Plain Sight: Everyone should recognize Pumphutt for his big hat immediately, but they never do until he tells them who he is. Can be explained with A Wizard Did It.
  • Dig Your Own Grave: In his second year as an apprentice, Krabat learns the miller's contract with the Devil requires one apprentice to die on every New Year's Eve, and that the unmarked graves in a clearing nearby are the graves of previous apprentices that have been sacrificed by the miller. When Krabat, on Christmas morning, meets the apprentice Michal returning with a pick and shovel, he understands that Michal knows he will be the next victim and has spent the night digging his own grave. The third year, Krabat himself is ordered to dig a grave which the miller calls "his last task", and which he obviously intends for Krabat.
  • Do You Want to Haggle?: When they sell the "ox". They're lucky to find a fat rich trader who buys the "ox" for 30 thalers (and expects to get twice the money somewhere else).
  • Eye-Dentity Giveaway: The evil sorcerer is missing his right eye and, although he can turn into different animals, these always have only their left eye.
  • Eyes Are Mental: The master has magic to take on a different appearance, but he'll always be missing the one eye he lacks in real life. Also applies to animals he creates. (When Krabat tries to run away, he repeatedly meets black animals with one eye - it's not sure whether they're the shapeshifted master, or created by him.)
  • Fat Bastard: Ochsenblaschke, a livestock merchant who buys the "ox" from the apprentices and expects to re-sell it for at least twice as much.
  • Flight: Also possible thanks to magic. You can even take a non-magic user as a passenger, so to speak.
  • Functional Magic: Rule magic based on words, gestures, drawn signs and a few other bits, with some theurgy.
  • Glamour Failure: In each shape he transforms into, the miller is lacking an eye.
  • Golden Bullet: The only thing that can kill a magic user.
  • Good Colors, Evil Colors: The magic book the master uses has black pages with white letters.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: Almost all of the apprentices, when the year is coming close to the end. Of course, since they know one of them is going to be sacrificed. What they dislike most: Putting Christmas decorations on the table. Doesn't really fit in a place which is under control of the devil.
  • Here We Go Again!: In the first year, Krabat has a hard job at the beginning, but his mentor Tonda helps him. In the third year, the boy Lobosch becomes the new apprentice and Krabat becomes his mentor.
  • I Don't Like the Sound of That Place: Once per year, the boys have to spend the night at a place where someone has died. "Mordkreuz" (murder's cross) and "Bäumels Tod" (Bäumel's death) certainly fit.
  • I Gave My Word: Once per year, the boys have to swear that they'll obey the master. Which binds them by magic.
  • Impossible Task: Theoretically, the master can be defeated easily - but he twists the words of the condition to his advantage. If a girl who loves one of the master's students asks on New Years' Eve to let him go, this would do the trick. However, she has to recognize her boy for this - and there's nowhere written that they may not turn into ravens. Which lead to the death of one girl and her boy Janko.
  • Initiation Ceremony: After his first year, Krabat goes through this. (Also Witko and Lobosch, in the next years.) It involves the other apprentices putting a sack over his head and punching him quite thoroughly.
  • Jerkass:
    • Lyschko. Even the miller claims he doesn't like him.
    • Also, some soldiers who visit the mill (when the master is absent) and demand that the boys become their servants.
  • The Little Detecto: Krabat gets a knife from Tonda which can detect if he's in mortal danger. If this is the case, its blade will be blackened.
  • Love at First Note: In the book - Krabat falls in love with the Kantorka when he hears her singing at the Easter procession.
  • Love Redeems: Only if a girl pleads for the release of her beloved one can the contract that binds the apprentices to the mill be broken.
  • Magic Mushroom: Once Krabat went to the forest looking for mushrooms but found none. Then Andrusch shows him a spell that creates lots of mushrooms. But before Krabat can pluck them, they disappear in the ground again, and Andrusch states that these magical mushrooms cause some terrible bellyaches.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: The apprentices who die each year in the silvester night look like they died from an accident, but everyone knows how things are.
  • The Movie: The Czech animated movie from 1977 (original title: Čarodějův učeň) is highly praised, but lacks a DVD release until now. The German adaptation from 2008 changed the setting; the book was set during the reign of August the Strong of Saxony, the movie during the earlier Thirty Years' War, which is better known.
  • Mood Whiplash:
    • The Master happily and drunkenly talks about his youth when he left the Black School he studied at and wandered around with his best friend, playing tons of pranks. When asked what happened to his friend he curtly admits having him killed.
    • An instance from the movie is the ending. The boys are free and leave the mill and the Master behind, the very night one of them - Krabat himself this time around - would have been sacrificed to the Devil/Death. White flour dust creeps through the mill - and as the boys and the Kantorka leave the mill bursts up into flames. It is at once subdued and very, very awesome and works with a soft, hopeful score. And then the credits roll. And Polarkreis 18's Electro-pop "Allein, allein" starts to play. And many a movie goer in the theatre almost suffered a heartstroke. (not to mention that the song, talking about solitude and apparent freedom in it stands in stark contrast to a film that put o much emphasis on friendship and cameradine.)
  • Mundane Utility: The boys may and do use magic for their daily work and even Just for Fun.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: The magic book used is called the Koraktor, or Höllenzwang (Hölle = hell, Zwang = coercion)
  • Needle in a Stack of Needles: Once an apprentice named Janko tried to get out of the mill with the help of a girl. The master made all the apprentices turn into ravens, so the girl wasn't able to find her man out. Krabat and Juro expect this will happen again, but instead the master blindfolds Kantorka. She still finds out Krabat - he's the one afraid for her, and she can feel it.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Pumphutt defeats the master in the magical duel and leaves. The master makes the apprentices (who were witnesses) suffer for it. Pumphutt doesn't seem to be aware of this.
  • The Quiet One: Kubo, who has just one line in the whole book.
  • Red Herring: Since Krabat's mentor expects a duel of willpower between Krabat and the master, they train for this. But the master is Genre Savvy enough not to use the same trick twice.
  • Rule of Symbolism: Just the most obvious example: Where Jesus had twelve apostles, one of which became a traitor and thus responsible for his death, the master is an Evil Sorceror with twelve students. One of them stops following him, which leads to the master's death.
  • Rule of Three: The book is divided into three parts. Each one takes a year; the live action movie averts this by having the Story take place over the course of just two years. Krabat has three dreams of the mill before he decides to go there. In the first year in the mill, he ages three years.
  • Satan: He visits the mill at each new moon. Interestingly, he gets a Pet the Dog moment - when the miller whips an apprentice, he orders him to stop it. Krabat still shudders when hearing the voice.
  • Secret Test of Character: On their first day working, the new apprentices have to sweep up the flour in a small chamber. Which is sheer impossible to do, since the flour dust is too light and won't stay on the ground. Krabat carries on with the work, even if it's futile, Lobosch later gives up. Fortunately, Krabat's problem is solved by Tonda. And two years later, Krabat does the same for Lobosch.
  • Shapeshifter Showdown: In a dream. Krabat as a bird is hunted by the miller (also polymorphed). Krabat sees a well, turns into a fish - but now he's caught in the well. Fortunately, Kantorka is there to take him out. He shapechanges into a golden ring on her finger. Then suddenly a one-eyed nobleman appears. Krabat turns into one grain, which Kantorka throws on the ground. The miller turns into a rooster - but Krabat is faster, turns into a fox and bites him dead.
  • Sic 'Em: Lyschko pretends to sic the miller's dogs on the farmers who asked him for a favor. (They're not real, but the peasants think so.)
  • Sore Loser: The master, after losing a magical duel against Pumphutt.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: At the closing credits of the 2008 movie adaptation, the song Wir sind allein is played. Why does a suitingly old-timey, folk-ish soundtrack have to end with electro pop? You'll also wonder why they sing "we are alone" after a movie which point is that he is not alone.
  • "The Villain Sucks" Song: Once per year, the boys are allowed to make fun of the miller, and do this.
  • The Voiceless: Merten, after Michal's death. He gets better, however.
  • Wizard Duel: The master vs. Pumphutt.
  • Wizarding School: The mill.
  • You need a Freaking drink: A short time after the miller declines the peasants' wish to make it snow (and Lyschko had his nightmares about dogs), it starts snowing and the peasants return with the food they promised the miller. He answers that he wasn't responsible for the snow and tells the peasants to get away, or else. Juro advises them to drink a glass of strong schnaps and forget the whole story.

Alternative Title(s): The Satanic Mill