In the jungle, the quiet jungle

Once in a while my human indulges me and sends me off to an adventure. So where am I going this time?

Deep into the jungle of Guatemala.

Guatemala? Is that near London?

Not quite. But close enough by orc standards.
Anyway, hidden deep inside this Guatemalan jungle you will find an ancient temple of the Mayan God Chac.

Chac? That sounds rather orcish. I like it. What’s his domain?

Rain.Entrance to the temple

Oh dear. Still, I’m going.

Good. Here you are, right at the entrance. The door closes behind you. Thank goodness, orcs have darkvision.

Orcs are superior, I always told you that. Now, what is that? A large room with carved pictures all over it.

the main room with carved motivesRight. If you look very closely, you will also recognize a lot of fine powder on the ground.

What is it?

Finely ground bones.

Never mind. There are other goodies. Treasure! Loot! Jewels and stuff!

You should pay some attention to the glyphs on the walls. Actually, you should pay some attention to the walls themselves.

walls closing in

Why? Walls? Nonsense. Loot! Oh, wait. What’s that noise? That scraping? Hang on! I’m getting taller.

Nope.

The walls are …?

Closing in on you, yes. Told you to pay attention.

Right. Moving on.

You enter a long corridor, a tube-shaped downward slope. The noise you hear is not only coming from the moving walls.

in the corridorYeah, whatever. Oh, what is that? It’s pretty hot. I mean that literally.

That is a lava field. A few slabs stick out of the molten lava.

No shit, human.

You could get across it, if you remembered the correct glyphs from the room with the carved pictures. Only those slabs are safe.

wobbly tiles

Are you kidding me? Remembering anything? Me? I hardly remember the number of my own offspring! And why would I step onto any of those wobbly stones? I mean, okay, there seems to be some treasure lying on the slabs, but seriously. See how wobbly they are? There is no reason other than that to step onto them. Right?

You sure about that? I told you about that other noise, didn’t I? Look behind you.

Where? What?

irritated orc

 

boulder coming

Noooooooooooo!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

orc running

I’ll make a run for it. Never mind the trea–, hang on, what is that glitzy stuff?

There is a lot of treasure in the alcoves along the corridor. Might I add that it is not okay to plunder an ancient temple?

alcovens

Bla bla, I’m an orc, bla bla, natural habit, bla bla. I get some of the stuff before the boulder gets me.

No problem, you can grab some statuettes and jewelry. But it will slow you down. Just sayin’.

Yeah, yeah.

Boulder is coming.

escaping the boulder

Alright, alright. I’m on my way. That stuff is pretty heavy, I have to admit.
There is something shiny in the water. Might I hop in and pick it up?

You might. But the current is pretty strong. Swimming is not your strong point.

wobbly bridge

Hm, you’re right.
Oh, look. There is a bridge. I’ll take a short cut across the waterfall. My, that looks pretty deep.

Just make sure, the wooden planks can hold your weight. They look rather rotten, don’t you – oops!

I’m too heavy. Don’t say, you told me so.

Not a word.

boulder closing in

Make sure you keep it that way.

Now what? Oha. The boulder is getting pretty close now. I just keep going on this path. It will lead to an exit, right?

Right?

Ey! Speak to me.

It will lead to an exit.

Of course it does.

carving of Chac Oh, wait, what’s that? You may speak.

That is a carving depicting Chac himself. It’s probably priceless.

Surely there is still time for that, right? I mean, I could just …, damn, it’s stuck. I …

Boulder coming.

boulder getting even closer

Right, no Chac then. Though it would have been nice to have in the tent at home.

The path is rather slippery here.

You might be faster, if you dumped your loot into the water.

You’re kidding, right?

Do not stop to look behind you, is all I’m saying.

 

 

 

 

 

Jump, Thrakbog! Jump! Or it will smash you!

saved

Now, that was fun, wasn’t it?

I had to leave all my loot behind!

But it was exciting.

Well, yeah, hm, nah, alright. It was. I think I sprained my ankle.

Home now?

Yes. And a cookie please.

You said please, Thrakbog.

Don’t tell anyone.

 

___________________

Thrakbog was playing:

The Adventurers: The Temple of Chac (German edition)
Published by: Pegasus Spiele

Later editions published by Fantasy Flight Games

all editions are out of print

A little Halloween story

Somewhere in an ordinary living room:

»Right, so, the group has gathered near the secret passage that leads into the old castle in the dark forest«, the game master says. »What are you going to do next?«

The four players are looking at each other.

»If the others are really quiet, can I hear anything?«, asks Lara, who plays the elven warrior.

»Make a listen check.«

»Can I just say that I still think it’s a bad idea to enter this castle?«, Tom interrupts.

»Is that your opinion or your dwarf’s?«, the game master wants to know.

»Only mine, I guess«, Tom admits. »My dwarf actually cannot wait to get his axe dirty and slaughter some evil fiends.«

»We don’t even know what lies behind this moldy old door.« Mark doesn’t appear to be too concerned about it though. His human fighter will deal with whatever the game master throws their way.

»Have you made your listen check yet?«, the game master asks Lara.

»Sixteen.«

»Okay, you hear the dwarf’s breathing right behind you. Also, there is a strange metallic noise, like the rustling of chainmail.«

Lara glares at Tom reproachfully.

»What?«, he cries, »I didn’t do anything. I’m hardly breathing. That noise did not come from me. Maybe you only imagined it, what with inhaling all that herbal stuff you got from the old witch we met yesterday.«

»I didn’t inhale it. It is some sort of tea or so.«

»Or so«, remarked Boris, who had been silently listening to their usual discussions during game play. »Not one of us did actually understand what that old hag told us and yet, we had nothing better to do than drink that stuff for breakfast. Although« he adds as an afterthought, »my halfling quite liked the taste of it.«

»Which is why Lady Clematia Brimstock drank almost all of it by herself before we even got our mugs out«, grumbled Mark. »Greedy halfling lady.«

»And the fact that this hag was just sitting by the side of the path, seemingly waiting for you, did not occur at all strange to any of you«, the game master rejoiced. »And neither did her appearance.«

»I remember thinking: That skin looks mighty green for a hag«, says Boris. »And then I got distracted by all the food she was cooking in that bubbling cauldron.«

»Personally, I think she was rather pleasant«, Tom says. »But I rolled a 1, so …«

»Oh, will you please shut up« moaned Lara, »I can’t hear a thing if you constantly bitch about everything.«

»Mimimi«, the other three made in unison.

»While the party is discussing vital aspects of their group dynamics and lack of common sense you all hear a terrible shrieking sound, coming from somewhere deep inside the castle«, the game master explains. »It is so terrifying that you all need to make a courage check.«

The four players roll their dice. Mark cheers when his die comes up with an automatic success, Lara and Tom nod approvingly and point at their dice. Boris moans painfully.

»My halfling lady is scared but not so much that she wants to run away. She probably hides behind the human or the dwarf.«

»I will protect you«, Tom says with a generous smile.

»So will I«, Mark chimes in.

»That is all very heroic of you, guys, but can we just for a moment focus on it what actually was that made this terrifying sound?«

»Good point, pointy-ear«, says Tom.

Lara groans and looks at the game master as if seeking help.

»Right«, says the game master. »You may all make an intelligence check and add any knowledge skills that might help you here.«

»Knowledge skills«, Mark repeats in a tone that shows his utter amazement that anyone might actually have spent some points on such a useless skill during character creation.

»Whatever«, the game master says. »Make your checks.«

»Fifteen«, Lara says. »My elf might actually have an idea what that could have been.«

»Natural twenty!«, Boris and Tom yell in unison and raise their fists to the sky as if they already won the battle against whatever was probably waiting behind those moldy doors.

»Nineteen«, Mark adds with an air of dignity, as if his human fighter had no need for sheer dumb luck.

»Nice«, says the game master. »You all have heard about a vicious creature that was mentioned in the local folklore. It is called a nightmare and it usually rears its ugly head at a specific time of the year, the autumn equinox, when the world awaits the coming winter.«

»A nightmare?«, Mark asks incredulously.

»That’s a horse«, Tom explains.

»Am I honestly being dwarf-splained now?«

»Are you two discussing this in-game or out-time?«, the game master asks.

Tom and Mark look at each other and grin.

»Oh no«, groans Boris and facepalms. »Don’t give them ideas.«

»This is not getting us anywhere», Lara complains. »I am drawing my elven longsword and kick the door in.«

»Strength check«, the game master says with a delighted glee on her face.

»Oh no! Just a 9.«

The group sighs.

»Too bad. You kick against the door and hurt your foot but not dramatically. The door stays shut but it creaks and rattles a bit, disturbing a crow that had been sitting on the eaves right above you. It makes an angry noise and flies to the nearest tree. If you keep an eye on it you realize that the crow is doing that too. Moldy spores fly off the wood, you may all make a resistance check.«

»Poisoned by mold, that would just be typical for us«, Tom complained.

»Anyone below 10?«, asks the game master.

Mark raises a hand. »Just a 6.«

»Too bad«, says the game master with a mischievous grin. »That is not your run-of-the-mill kind of mold spore. Or perhaps it is under the influence of the equinox as well. Anyway, you feel sort of dizzy, but not in a bad way. Everything is rather colorful, almost hippie-esk, and your warrior has not a single worry in this world.«

Mark grins stupidly and raises two fingers. »Ey, peace, ey.«

»Exactly. Also, all your rolls will suffer from a -5 penalty until I say otherwise.«

»All of them?«

»Do you find the meaning of the word “all” in any way confusing?«

»Perhaps the effect of the mold spores is rubbing off«, Lara suggests.

»I mean, it is Halloween, the veil between the two worlds is rather permeable tonight«, Boris adds. »So it could be that the spores not only hit Ram the Warrior but also Mark the Dice Roller.«

»Ha ha.« Mark pulls a face and dutyfully notes the -5 penalty on his character sheet.

»While you all are distracted as usual, a creaking noise causes your attention. The door, that you were unable to kick in, opens with a jarring sound.”

»I still have my elven longsword ready«, Lara hastens to remind the game master.

»I still hide behind the dwarf«, Boris explains quickly.

»If I can, I ready my axe, otherwise I will just ram them into the wall, whoever will come through this door now«, Tom says and rubs his hands with joyful expectation.

»I couldn’t care less about any of that.« Mark leans back in his chair and grins stupidly.

The game master looks at them and takes a deep breath.

»Roll for initiative.«

*~*~*

Somewhere in an old, spooky castle:

The sun was setting behind the mighty  Mountains of Doomage and the orcs of Castle Dreadful gathered in the courtyard in order to receive their orders for the night. Not everyone in their little band was totally agreeable about the  fact that they had entered the service of a non-orcish evil entity but strange times had called for strange measures. At least that was what their shaman hat told them. Some had questioned it, others were still pondering over the true meaning of that enlightening speech, most of them couldn’t even bring themselves to listen whenever the – probably slightly demented – shaman raised his voice. There was mention of a lucrative raid, that was all that mattered.

At least to most of them. Some still wanted to understand.

»Explain to me again, why we are here?«, Thrakbog asked Noden the Shaman, who not only was his  daughter’s mate but also the sorcerer of their little group. In fact, nobody had been aware that he was also a shaman, until Noden himself had told them so. Not everyone of them had an inkling what a shaman really was so they let him have his fun with it. Whatever “it” was.

»There is a portal in this castle and at a certain time of the year it opens into other worlds where no orc has ever pillaged or looted«, Noden repeated for the umpteenth time. 

»Right, right«, Thrakbog said absentmindedly. »But why did we have to sign up with the old hag in order to get through the portal?«

»Because it is hers. She wouldn’t let us use it without making a deal.«

»And what was that deal about, remind me again?« Groisch had joined them finally and looked as if he had never heard of it all before. Which might just as well be true because his mental capacities were rather limited, even by orcish standards.

»We help that hag defend the castle against whatever might come through that portal tonight and we can loot as much as we like in that other world.«

»Couldn’t we just kill the old hag and do whatever we like?«, Groisch suggested.

»My thoughts precisely«, said Thrakbog.

Noden waved a clawed finger in front of them and made that  face he usually made when he felt intellectually superior to the rest of them, which was always.

»I really couldn’t advise that« he said and shook his head in addition to the finger. »That is a very old green hag. They are not to be trifled with.«

»I don’t want to trifle her, I want to kill her«, Groisch insisted.

»Right, well, please, feel free to try«, Noden said and grinned wickedly. Who was he to tell the other orcs how to meet their end? And a rather painful one at that.  He had heard lots of truly gruesome stories about green hags and had no reason to assume that they were in any way exaggerated. Well, not more than any stories usually are, as orcs were rather boastful creatures and so were their bedtime stories.

Not that they had beds. But you get the point.

»I think it is best that we do what we agreed to and be done with it«, Thrakbog said with an air of authority. Being the oldest in the group, he demanded to be listened to, even if his ideas had never been the cleverest from the beginning. Only Noden had the intelligence to be aware of that though. And as Thrakbog was the father of Noden’s beloved she-orc, he usually kept is gob shut when the old orc said anything stupid. Or when the old orc said anything. Period.

»You are getting soft in your old age«, Groisch said, »what with all your agreeing and sticking to it.«

»Wisdom comes with age.«

»As does rheumatism«, a hoarse voice said behind them,  They turned around and saw the old green hag standing in the doorway that led into the yard.

»Get into position, it is almost time.« She pointed towards a long and narrow tunnel leading into the depth of the inner castle.

»Oh, this is gonna be fun«, Groisch rejoiced and rubbed his massive clawed hands expectantly.

»Define fun«, Noden said but waved him off with a quick gesture.

Groisch and Thrakbog immediately flinched, as if they expected something else to happen. Noden grinned. They were terrified of his magic. Good. It had not taken long and not too many fireballs gone seemingly astray to make them fear his abilities.

»Are we going to charge right through that portal?«, Groisch asked hopefully. It had been far too long since they had a proper fight. There was a lot of tedious planning going on these days and all of it went way over his head.

»You can if you like«, Noden said and looked at his comrade with huge innocent eyes. Well, as far as any orc manages to look innocent.

Thrakbog eyed his son-in-law suspiciously.

»I would normally approve of that plan because that is the orcish way of doing it«, he said. »But given your evil grin – which by the way makes me rather proud of you – I am assuming that it might actually be a trap und you’d love to see Groisch being beaten up properly by whatever is on the other side of that portal. You still have not forgiven any of us for abandoning you under fire. Am I right?«

»You just know me too well, Papa«, Noden said and sighed dramatically.

»Now you just sound frightfully like the teacup-fighting soldiers in one of those dreadful books. Could you please not do that?«

»You said please.« Groisch made a face of utter disgust.

»I can only apologize«, Thrakbog said.

»Urrgghh.« Groisch pretended to vomit.

They all started laughing almost hysterically. It felt good to be a proper orc again.

»Guys«, the old hag said, »would it be too much to ask if you focused at least for a couple of minutes on the task ahead?«

»Actually«, Noden began, but a whinnying noise cut him short.

»Ah, the nightmare arrived«, the old hag said and gave a satisfied cackle. »And about time too. These stupid idiots were getting on my poor nerves.«

»That sounds familiar«, Thrakbog said.

»The neighing nightmare?«, Noden asked.

»No, that thing about her poor nerves. I’ve heard that before. Say, old hag, have you, by any chance. ever met a certain Mrs Bennet?«

The hag and the other two orcs looked at him rather incredulously. But before anyone could ask any more stupid questions, the green hag clapped her hands.

»Come on, guys, get ready. The hour is upon us.«

»Who?«, Groisch asked. »And where exactly?« He pulled his rusty old sword and looked around.

»Never mind», the hag said. »Come this way, I show you the portal.«

They followed the old green hag through a dark and narrow passage until they reached a moldy old wooden door.

The hag raised a finger to her lips to silence them, and the long dirty fingernail, with remnants of blood on it, made them shut their gobs for once without any discussion.

They listened and heard several voices complaining about trifle matters on the other side of the door. A loud bang, followed by a crow’s cooing, made the old door shake, but it held firm. More discussions followed.

»Who are those idiots?« Groisch asked in a whisper. It was a strange feeling that for once he shouldn’t be the stupidest guy in the plot.

»Gamers«, the old hag answered softly. »From beyond the veil.«

»You mean the other world?«

»Exactly. The portal opens. Get ready.«

As she opens the door with a creaking noise, they all hear a voice say:

»Roll for initiative.«

*~*~*

Somewhere in between:

»Roll for Initiative«, the voice echoed. Oll or nitiative … tiative … ive.

Two groups were facing each other, weapons more or less at the ready. On the left: a dwarf, an elf, a human and a halfling, on the right: three orcs and a green hag. Somewhere behind her the gleaming eyes of the nightmare appeared in the long and dark corridor that lead to the moldy old door.

»What the …«, began the elf, when a loud rumbling noise was heard from above. Eight massive rocks, rather shaped like edgy boulders, fell from the nightly sky and landed right behind the group of adventurers. Numbers were carved into the stone.

»What the …«, repeated the elven warrior and sounded remarkably female and Lara-like. The other members of her group exchanged nervous glances.

»Boris, is that you?«, the dwarf asked and eyed the halfling that used to be Lady Clematia Brim.

She looked down at herself, then up again. Fear visible on the small creature’s face. »It certainly feels like me«, he said.

»The halfling and Thrakbog win the initiative«, said an echoing voice that did not seem to come from anywhere and yet filled all their heads.

»Great», Boris said. »Does that mean we can leave?«

»No«, the voice answered. That only means you can attack first or run.«

»I’ll do that then.«

»Wait«, Thrakbog yelled. »I don’t understand.«

»Nothing new there«, muttered Noden beside him.

The adventurers exchanged another irritated look, then the halfling rushed behind the dwarf.

»Next«, the voice in their head demanded.

»What next?«, Groisch asked. »This is stupid. I’m gonna attack now.« He tried to rush forward, sword raised above his head, only to find that he was incapable of making a single step forward.

»It’s not your turn yet«, the voice said.

»Who is that?«, Thrakbog asked and gave the hag an accusing glance, as it had to be all her fault, naturally.

»I am your game master«, said the voice. »And it is your turn to do something, Thrakbog.«

»Right, of course. I’m gonna …, I’m gonna …«

»Just attack those idiots already, will you?«, Noden complained.

»Right, that’s exactly what I was about to do, before you started yelling at me. Show a little respect, I am your father-in-law after all.«

Noden sighed. »And don’t I know it.«

The hag smacked Thrakbog on the head.

»Hey«, complained Lara the Elf. »It was not her turn yet.«

»I consider it a free action«, the hag said and cackled. »Now go, Thrakbog, and kill them.«

»Right, I was just about to do that.« He raised his hammer and charged forward. As he brought his hammer down onto the gender-shifting elf, the mighty blow should have struck her/him down by any means and the poor creature started screaming, as if their live was coming to an end already, but nothing really happened. The hammer overered a teensy bit above her elven face.

»Make your attack roll«, the voice said.

»What do you mean?«, asked the orc. » You do not expect me to roll around the floor here, right? I just attacked pointy-ear with my hammer. The elven bitch just refuses to fall.«

»Ey! Mind your language, you misogynistic asshole.«

»Ah, the good old days, when an orc could just insult anyone to his heart’s content«, mused Thrakbog.

»You still need to make your attack roll«, the voice reminded him.

»Whatever. How do I do that?«

»You just need to think about it«, the voice explained. »There is an app doing it for you.«

»I always knew that one day the apes would take over the world«, Groisch murmured.

Everyone stared at the stupid orc for a moment, utterly speechless, even the nightmare.

Then a giant boulder fell from the night sky and almost smashed the little halfling into the ground.

»Hey!«, he complained.

»Sorry«, the voice said. »It’s getting a bit crowded. The two maps don’t match properly. Anyway, Thrakbog’s attack roll was a success. Deal some damage.«

»We could have been at that point ages ago«, the orc complained. »Do I have to think of the damage or can I just smack that bitch with my hammer?«

»You are learning fast, Thrakbog«, the voice said.

»Shshshshsh!«, the orc hushed alarmed. »Don’t let my fellow orcs hear that.«

»We’re right here, Thrakbog«, Noden said amused. He would have a field day reminding his father-in-law of his unorcish behaviour as soon as they were back with the tribe.

»Watch out!«, Tom yelled. »Giant die incoming!«

A strangely shaped rock dropped onto the ground right next to Lara the Elf.

»Bam!«, Thrakbog screamed with delight.

»Indeed«, the voice said. »That makes 12 points of damage, Lara.«

»Shit, I was low on hit points anyway.«

»Perhaps we should have some of that herbal stuff the old hag gave us«, Mark suggested, drooling a bit. His eyes were glazed over and he was grinning stupidly.

»What is the matter with him?«, Noden asked.

»Magic spores», the witch behind him answered.

»Hey, hang on«, Boris the Halfling said. »You!« He pointed accusingly at the witch. »You were the old hag that gave us the herbal tea yesterday!«

The green hag cackled again.

»Really?«, the voice demanded to know.

The hag lowered her eyes and shrugged. »I … I was just curious what you had in store for me this year. I just love Halloween and couldn’t wait to see it.«

»Tsk tsk tsk«, made the voice of the game master. »You really should know better than to get a sneak peak in advance. I’m afraid you need to be punished for this, my little green hag.«

»Oh, must I?«, the old hag grumbled but didn’t dare to raise her head.

»You must indeed.«

»Yes! Punish that old coot«, demanded Lara.

«Relax, everybody«, Mark said. »I think she deserves a second chance. I mean, this herbal stuff wasn’t all that bad, was it?«

»No, I have to admit, that was rather tasty«, Boris the Halfling admitted.

»Um, guys, can we just for a second focus on the fight that’s been supposed to happen right now?«, Thrakbog asked with the utmost politeness he was capable of, but nobody paid any attention, as usual.

»I will not do it again, game master«, the old hag whined.

»Of course you won’t. Because I am going to teach you a lesson. Being nosey might be your downfall one day. And you need to be taught that lesson.«

»What a nit-picker«, Noden grumbled.

»Would you like to join the hag, Noden?«, the game master asked.

»Not necessarily. Unless it contains some proper fighting. This is getting rather silly right now. Can we get on with the rock throwing and all that, so we can proceed to the part where we loot and pillage like there is no tomorrow?«

»Actually, there is no tomorrow«, said the voice of the game master with some mirth. »This is supposed to happen all within an hour or so. And you wasted it all with pointless discussions.«

»We?«, they all asked in unison. »You were the one throwing rocks at us and blathering about stupid lessons and all that.«

»Right. And your time will be up in a few minutes. So, old hag, step forward and accept your punishment.«

»This is not fair«, complained the witch.

»Indeed it is not. It is called game master despotism, and I’m loving it.«

Still grumbling and mumbling to herself the old hag stepped forward. The nightmare had given up by now and started munching on Noden’s spell book that was sticking out of his bag.

»Alright then«, said the hag, »what are you going to to with me?«

»Actually, I will make you young again. Not exactly pretty, but young. And you will learn a lot about magic. That doesn’t sound so bad now, does it?«

The old hag shrugged, clearly suspicious that there was a rub in it somewhere.

»You will learn about magic and about the dangers of sticking your nose into all sorts of stuff that is none of your business. In fact, I will send you back to school. True, a weird one, but a school nonetheless. Step forward, Hermione Granger, and learn your lesson well.”

A pond full of melancholy

Jump right in, it’s warm

Do you remember the summer of your youth? That one summer that lasted for years? When a single day felt like an entire lifetime? The endless blue sky? The sweet scent of the wild flowers along the way? The earth underneath you, while staring at the impeccable blue above? Your trusted friends next to you? Silent and in awe of the grandness of the world? That one moment, when you knew with absolute certainty, that you were a part of it all, of its grandness, of its splendor, of its eternal beauty? That one summer of your youth when you felt you were at one with yourself and with the world. And in the evening, staring into the flickering light of a fire, you knew just as certainly, that it all would have to end. And like innocence once lost, it would never come back.

But.

We got lucky.

We have books.

Books that can bring us back to that sweet moment when that endless summer was still grand and full of wonder.

Elizabeth von Arnim’s Enchanted April can do that wonderfully. But that is a story for another day.

Castle Gripsholm can do it too. Kurt Tucholsky takes us back to a summer of splendor and sated laziness in Sweden.

 

Hop on the train

Princess and Peter leave Berlin for a five-week holiday in Sweden. We all know what it feels like to get away from it all, the pointless routines, the busy cities, the noise. So does Princess. Her real name is actually Lydia, but Peter calls her Princess, because that’s what she is to him. Which is fair enough because his name is actually Kurt, not Peter, and Princess tends to call him Fritzchen, for reasons unbeknownst to us. Never mind.

The year is 1929 (when the real journey took place, or 1931 when the novella was published) and we, as well as our loving couple, are very much aware that this will be the last summer. And when it is over, there will be nothing left but fond memories of a moment in time, when the world moved on a hinge. Peter is aware of it. He knows perfectly well who is fighting in the streets of Berlin. This is more than just a summer vacation. This is the last chance to take a deep breath before everything falls apart.

 

The castle by the lake

The scenery couldn’t be more idyllic. A lake, a castle from the 16th century, no other tourists. Princess and Peter enjoy the silence and each other, they take long walks, they lie in the grass, they chat with the local folk. Every single moment feels feather-light in a strangely laconic way.

Friends come to visit, first Karlchen, then Billie. Their appearance on the scene does not spoil the lazy days, but it certainly adds a little spice to their evenings and nights.

A ménage à trois unfolds, tentatively, almost shy. And beautifully written.

 

The child

Not everything is bright and beautiful in the village of Mariefred. A child catches their eye, a girl, terrified and abused. It needs to be rescued from a brutal headmistress of a children’s home. But do they care?

They do. It takes some effort, it spoils their lazy days, but they know they have to do it, because no one else will.

Beside this being a wonderfully romantic and humorous feast of summer, it is also a story of not turning your back. Not looking the other way.

 

Lost innocence

It ends. Of course it does. It has to. Has the world ever been innocent? Probably not. Have we? It certainly feels like it. Thinking back to that one summer of our youth, we feel the loss most dearly. Princess and Peter know what they return to. Kurt Tucholsky knew that he could not return to it.

He was a publicist, a journalist, an essayist, a novelist, and a keen observer of the political development in Germany at the time. His experience as a soldier in WW 1 made him become a passionate pacifist. He used his sharp wit, his satiric sense of humor and his precise observations to expose abuse of political power wherever he found it. And there was lots to be found in the Weimar Republic.

In 1929, he moved to Sweden permanently, fully aware that independent journalism was no longer possible in Berlin.

His health suffered, he stopped publishing. On the 10th of May 1933 his books were among those that the Nazis threw into the fire. Behind the scenes he tried to support his friend Carl von Ossietzky, with whom he had published the magazine Die Weltbühne and who had been imprisoned in a KZ.

Kurt Tucholsky died on December 21, 1935, most likely of an unintentional overdose of pain medication. His ashes were buried in Mariefred, near Castle Gripsholm.

 

The memories

When I learned that Castle Gripsholm was to be published in English¹, I was worried. Worried that the local dialects, the satirical puns, the word-play would be impossible to translate adequately. For sheer sentimentality I immediately read it again, as if that would at least preserve its utter beauty before it was exposed to the transformation into another language. Stupid me.

The truth is, it doesn’t matter.

First of all, I needn’t have worried at all, because Michael Hofmann is a wonderful translator. He managed to do Döblin’s Berlin Alexanderplatz justice, so English readers are in very capable hands.

Furthermore, Castle Gripsholm is not about puns or dialects, it is about us, our youth, the inevitable loss of innocence.

With this short novella you can go back. Capture once more that splendor of a boisterously grand moment when everything seemed to be right in the world. The perfect state of being. Just being.

Now you do it.

Go back. And bask in that fleeting memory of that one perfect summer. At least for an hour or two. The colours may be a bit faded but I promise, you will smell the wild flowers along the way.

And while you’re there, save a child. It might be you.

¹CASTLE GRIPSHOLM, by Kurt Tucholsky, translated from the German by Michael Hofmann, NYRB Classics, ISBN: 9781681373348, Pages: 144, Publication Date: May 7, 2019

Victorian Orc

Greetings!

My human made me read another book. I admit, this might be related to the fact that I demolished her kitchen (again) because I somehow misinterpreted the whole idea of a barbecue. Took me a while to catch the furry creatures hiding behind the furniture. And then I wasn’t even allowed to roast them. (sigh). Humans. I will never understand them.

However, we agreed (she made me, by pointing directly to the door) that for reasons of redemption I am going to read another book or listen to one being narrated to me by a tin machine. Sadly, there is no orc liberation front anywhere near me to help me out of it.

Thrakbog listening to an audiobook
Me on the tin machine.

So, my human said, that she is not going to be an ogre (no shit, human!) and will allow me to listen rather than read. I think, I have mentioned it elsewhere that – what with being an orc an all that – the only reason I am capable of reading at all, is by mere caprice of a wisecracker of a deity, which is unknown to me by name or creed. Bugger.

She also babbled something about this being the month of #victober (I think she’s making up the calendar just as she goes, which is rather orcish of her and I like it), so I am supposed to deal with victorious literature. Now, that came a bit as a relief to me, because victorious I am usually, being an orc.

Okay, okay. Shut up!

You knew it already, didn’t you? Ghastly humans. Yeah, no victorious victory anywhere in sight. But let me tell you, this tiny Victoria wouldn’t have made much of an impression in an orcish society. But there you go.

The books I am forced volunteering to deal with are:

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell, published by Penguin Popular Classics

 

 

 

Victorian London: The Life of a City, 1840-1870 Audible Audiobook – Abridged
Anton Lesser (Narrator), Liza Picard (Author), Orion Publishing Group Limited (Publisher)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here are my very personal (and somewhat orcish) views on both:

 

North and South
Now, this is a proper title. Clear directions is all it takes. Well done, Lizzy Gaskell. (I am beginning to have a little weakness for humans by the name of Elizabeth) Upon my word, there is more introspection in this book than you’d find in our whole tribe over several generations. It is so unorcish to question inner ongoings. Most of the time there aren’t any, that’s why. So, yeah.
Here’s Maggie Hale. Very self-opiniotated. Good. That is what intimidates your enemies just as much as any axe in your hand does. Which she doesn’t have. So she must do it all by words. She’s really good at it. Well done, Maggie.
Enter Mr. Thornton.
He is a bit of a mystery to me. I think he might be of dwarven origin, with all his industrious organizing stuff, regulated busy working hours and means of production.
His mother on the other hand is utterly adorable.
When I was forced to read Pride & Prejudice (that was before I ate the book) I admitted to liking Mrs. Bennet the most. As a father of numerous orclings I can totally relate to all the shit they have to put up with in order to get their young orclings properly settled elsewhere. Preferably in a tent at the other end of the camp.
So, yes, I kinda liked this one. It was much too long but I learned my lesson: Never eat a book with so many pages. It gives you constipation.

Victorian London
This was quite interesting (and delightfully short). I have lived in London for a short while (I was crawling out of the Thames after the above mentioned deity had shoved me through a portal into this world, needless to say, against my wishes).
But the London that I explored wasn’t as nearly as delightfully grim, gritty and gruesome (Ha! See what I did there? Oh, the way I have with words. I am quite versed in the use of illiter…, allur…, you know what I mean). Apparently I came at the wrong time.
All those details about the great stink very much reminded me of home and made me quite sentimental. The lawless backstreets, the ruthless greed, lovely. Definitely the best book for an orcish reading pleasure I was forced to deal with so far.

My human mentioned, that this Dickens guy she constantly talks about, wrote lots of very short novels that are situated in that shady world and time. Bring it on, babe. (Should it make me suspicious that she is grinning from ear to ear?)

Thrakbog vs. literature

Thrakbog: What do you mean, there is no magic in it? It is called “The Magic Mountain”!

She-human: It is indeed. But no magic, sorry.

Thrakbog: That’s cheating. Why? WHY?

She-human: That is actually a question a lot of people would like to ask the author.

Thrakbog: And?

She-human: He’s dead.

Thrakbog: So what? Get a necromancer and resurrect him.

She-human: Good god, no!

Thrakbog: I want to know why he called it The Magic Mountain when there is no bloody bit of magic in it! Not even a miserable wizard? An old hag? Any supernatural stuff would fucking do.

She-human: Language, Thrakbog, Language!

Thrakbog: Oh, piss off.

She-human: Would you like to sleep on the balcony for the next couple of weeks? It looks a lot like rain, I must say. But then again, orcs like to live rough, don’t they?

Thrakbog: Um, well …, alright, just tell me about that fu… pseudo-magic mountain-guy.

She-human: Well, the main character has some weird dreams.

Thrakbog: Oh, good. Juicy? Wild?

She-human: Strange would describe them more accurately.

Thrakbog: But strange is good, right? It could mean orcish in some way.

She-human: Um, no. I rather doubt that.

Thrakbog: Is there at least an old wizard’s tower on that mountain? Maybe he just deserted it and on his return the magic will be back too.

She-human: Your optimism does you credit but that is not going to happen. Actually there is a sanatorium on that mountain where people stay if they can’t breathe properly.

Thrakbog: You must be kidding.

She-human: I’m afraid not.

Thrakbog: So it’s shit! And no, I don’t mind my language at all!

She-human: You might have a point there. But it is a highly acclaimed novel.

Thrakbog: You mean like the teacup-fighting-soldiers-novel about Prick Darcy and dear Lizzy?

She-human: That had a lasting impression on you, hm?

Thrakbog: I’m still suffering from constipation after having swallowed it.

She-human: You really shouldn’t have done that. Books are for reading, not eating.

Thrakbog: Well, I’m definitely not reading or eating that fake magic thingy.

She-human: What would you like to read then?

Thrakbog: Must I really? I am an orc. It is so unnatural.

She-human: It was part of our agreement.

Thrakbog: Sticking to an agreement is rather unorcish as well.

She-human: Boo hoo.

Thrakbog: Alright, alright. So give me something gritty and grim.

She-human: So, Dickens it is.

Thrakbog: What the …?

She-human: Dickens. Exactly.

Thrakbog: Well, I hope it is at least short.

She-human:

___________________________

Of course we were discussing this famous drivel:

The_Magic_Mountain_(novel)_coverart

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