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Literature / Max and Moritz

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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.

As Max and Moritz is Wilhelm Busch's most well-known work, the most important German comics award is named after it. The Max-und-Moritz-Preis has been awarded every two years at the International Comic Salon in Erlangen since 1984.

A roller coaster ride based on the book opened at Dutch Theme Park Efteling in June 2020.

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.
  • And There Was Much Rejoicing: The villagers, after hearing the miller had ground the boys alive and the geese had eaten their remnants.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: After Max and Moritz put gunpowder into the teacher's pipe and it explodes, the author (or Lämpel?) muses: Who shall teach the children now? Who shall multiply the knowledge? What should the teacher use for smoking now?
  • Ash Face: The teacher Master Lämpel, after the boys have filled his pipe with gun%powder.
    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.
  • Cooking the Live Meal (suggested): Breaking into the bakery, Max and Moritz fall into a trough of dough and are caught by the baker, who rolls them up like two loaves of bread and shoves them into his oven to bake them. There is no definitive indication that the baker intends to eat them, but the fact that the narration describes them as "brown and good to eat" when they come out sounds rather ominous. However, apparently contrary to the baker's expectation, Max and Moritz are still alive and eat through their crusts from the inside while the baker is not looking, and run off.
  • 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.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: While the boys aren't exactly angelic, the miller murders them in cold blood by pushing them in the mill feedstock chute and grinding the boys into pellets alive.
  • 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.
  • Get Thee to a Nunnery: Max and Moritz provoke a tailor by calling him "goat-Böck". Nowadays it just sounds like a pun on his name (well, in German). At this time though, it implied he was doing improper acts with goats.
  • Just Desserts: Max and Moritz are ground in the mill into pellets and eaten by geese.
  • Meaningful Name: The name of the village teacher, Lämpel, is a diminutive of Lampe (lamp); hinting that Lämpel is a "little light" rather than a shining beacon of knowledge.
  • 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).