Monday, July 14, 2008

Reading Notes - Tieck: Der Runenberg

Characters
Christian
Christian’s father
Elisabeth
Der Fremde (Wald)
Der Fremde (Dorf)
Die Frau im Berg/die Schöne/das Waldweib

Plot points

Christian leaves home (doesn’t want to be a gardener like his father), planning to be a hunter. Meets der Fremde who tells Christian of treasure to be found in the mountains (in a kind of mine). (Much talk of Bergwerke – technical things, unnatural space, magical potential, downward motion.) He goes into the cave/mine and sees the beautiful woman (she undresses in front of him), singing her song about precious stones and power. He awakes as if from a dream, outside the mine, remembers the Tafel he left behind and begins to wander. Comes to the Dorf where Elisabeth lives, goes into church (holy space, opposite to mine, heavenward motion). He has a spiritual awakening and eventually settles in the village, working as a gardener (taming, organizing nature), marries Elisabeth and establishes a successful life. At some point, he goes on a journey in search of his father, who he meets not far into the forest. He had set out shortly before in search of his son and on the way found a sign of his son’s approach in a flower that he had only seen once before and had always searched for. The two return to the village and continue living peacefully. A stranger comes and stays with them for long enough to be counted as one of the family, then leaves his riches, saying he was going in search of something in the mountains, and if he did not return in a year, then Christian, et al should keep the money. This happens, but Christian becomes obsessed with the money, counting it and worrying about whether he will get to keep it. Onset of sleepwalking, disturbed sleep, dreams, but wild happiness during the days. Elisabeth is freaked out and we learn from Christian’s father that he had always been obsessed with metal (read money?) as a child. More talk of Bergwerke. (opposition of metal and earth, money and nature) Finally, Christian sees an old woman (identified with the beautiful woman from the Bergwerk), who tells him to come back to the woods. He finds the Tafel. He wanders off into the woods in search of the riches promised him by the Waldweib (kind of Gaia/Mother Earth/pagan figure). Father tries to stop him, but fails. Family falls apart, Elisabeth marries a cruel drunk, their money disappears. Father dies. After a few years, Christian comes back, but is not recognized. Reveals himself to Elisabeth and tries to get a kiss from his daughter, who is afraid of him. Leaves them and returns to the Waldweib.

Spatial analysis

The most important contrast here is between the Mountains/Woods and the plain. Christian grew up in the plain and found it unbearable, felt a compulsion to go into the woods (repeatedly). Contrast between relationships to nature: gardener/miner/hunter. There is a push-pull between taming nature and being drawn into its wildness. Seems to be overtones of Christianity vs. paganism (hence also the name Runenberg – Runes being aligned with pagans). Christian descends (down/hell) to meet the Waldweib and be seduced by the riches buried in the earth, but has a spiritual awakening in the Church, which is associated with upward verticality, heavenward motion.

One could also read this in a Freudian manner – Christian goes into the mountain through a tunnel at the end of which he has his first sexual awakening – seeing the Waldweib as a highly sexualized figure. His attempt at becoming a sexual being is aborted, however, and he finds himself back outside and quite disoriented. Also, his leaving the mine through the tunnel, with a powerful female force behind him, could be a scene of rebirth. All in all, the journey into the woods and mountains and exit to the other side seems to be a coming of age allegory. The mountains and his experiences there are meant to stand in for adolescence and sexual maturation.

This is another story that deals with the technical in conjunction with the supernatural. Could be interesting for the potential dissertation project. It doesn’t dwell on the technical, but does mention it enough that it’s noticeable.

Wild nature in general is associated with riches, mystery, and vaguely threatening forces. Ordnung and cultivated nature/civilization is definitely preferred over venturing into the unknown and the wilderness is seen as forbidden to humans. The woods/mountains and Christian’s journey through them are taboo.

Formal/stylistic notes

Narrated in the 3rd person, omniscient. Preterite. Also, in many places, subjunctive is used to cause uncertainty in the reader about the reality of what’s happening. Tieck also does this in Der Blonde Eckbert.

Author notes

Tieck was leader of Romanticism – one of first to show romantic enthusiasm for old german art. Assoc. with Wackenroder, others. Wrote Märchen, poems, dramas, and a few novels.

1 comment:

Glen said...

Does the fact that Christian must climb up, not down to get to the Runenberg change your reading? "ein steiler Berg auf welchem uralte verwitterte Ruinen ...sich zeigten"; "Ich möchte die Höhe besteigen...auch mag's sich wohl treffen, dass noch manch Wunder aus der alten Zeit daoben fände"; and finally when he leaves the Runenberg, "die steile Höhe hinunterstürzte."