Estara's Reviews > Rennefarre: Dott's Wonderful Travels and Adventures

Rennefarre by Tamara Ramsay
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's review
Feb 14, 13

bookshelves: ebook, read-in-2013
Recommended to Estara by: finally an English edition of a favourite German fantasy classic I can recommend to everyone
Recommended for: readers interested in finding out more about north-east Germany and its tales and traditions
Read from January 19 to February 10, 2013 — I own a copy, read count: 1

Rennefarre is a true labour of love - which can be seen by the index with alphabetical information about people and places mentioned in the book and, before that, the time-line of the times that Dott visits in her adventure. These weren't in the original but created by the translator. She also adds a short overview about the author's history - I've linked to two German sources for that on the author's profile here at Goodreads.

There are books that personify a time in a country's children's literature and a style that you just don't see published anymore - like Edith Nesbit books or C.S. Lewis Narnia books or for the USians Laura Ingalls Wilder and Lucy Maud Montgomery and her books. These books, come to think of it are from a time around the date 1900, some date before and some date later and while I'm not sure how many children or middle graders read them, I know lots of adults who have read them and still love them and reread them.

This is a German classic of around that time (first released in 1941, but written around 1938), of a book style that isn't written any longer, based on a mix of folklore and history with a moral core at its adventure centre as experienced by one little girl from a region of Germany, specifically the Mark Brandenburg - of what was East Germany or the GDR when I grew up and therefore totally outside my experience as a kid.

My mother was born in East-Prussia and had to flee west as a ten-year-old child - I wouldn't be surprised if that was one of the reasons I picked the three volume edition from our church library's shelves - another were the amazing illustrations by Alfred Seidel in the edition I borrowed (and now own because they sold the edition, from 1956 or thereabouts, around 1985 for a few Deutsche Mark).

A lot of the books from the time between the two wars or after the second one have homeless children finding a new place to belong or deal with their experiences or waiting for father to return, etc. at their core. There are some truly moving ones that I loved to read and still own, like Cordula, Heiligenwald, Wohin mit Fritzi, Friedel Starmatz, Irene und ihre Tiere, Josi schafft es dennoch.

Dott's marvellous adventures aren't like that because while she goes on her travels after the Great War, the story totally centers on her and not on a family and country in the aftermath of war. That doesn't mean you won't meet war in this book - which is why I wonder if US readers will want to hand this book to their middle graders.

Disney has politically corrected Grimm's fairytales to an extent that people who have never read the original versions (or the even harsher Perrault versions for those fairytales that are French based, like Sleeping Beauty) seem to be repulsed by what German kids have no problem accepting as appropriate retaliation, etc. in a fairy tale setting.

You know your tastes best, so I say if you can handle the real fairy tales and you think your child can do so, and you're interested in a bit of German children's literary culture that you would usually not be able to read in another language - I can't remember anything of its ilk ever being translated - then you might enjoy this book.

For a fan of folklore and children's literature with a moral core from the beginning of the last century, this is a no-brainer purchase - just to compare to the equivalent in English literature.

And you know, I think I haven't read Dott, since I sent the German two volume edition from Prignitz Pur Verlag to Sherwood Smith - in 2010? - and I never read the one volume edition in German. I'm 46 now and the story still holds up for me, even without ever having visited Mark Brandenburg myself. In 1995 one of the big German newspapers - Die Zeit - did a feature on the book that pointed out that people could still follow Dott's travels if they wished.

What is it about?
Dott is around twelve years old. She's the oldest girl of a small farming family in the Prignitz in Mark Brandenburg. It's Midsummer Night and all the older children are allowed to join the parents at the big fire outside the village - but Dott isn't. Her youngest sister, Mummerle, is very weak and needs to be looked after and Dott drew the short straw. Her younger brother isn't old enough to be allowed to go anyway.

So Dott stews and can't sleep and wants to see juuuuuuuust a bit of the glow of the fire and thinks if she just goes there, or there, or even there, she'll be able to see bits of it better - until she suddenly runs off through the meadows up to the big fire where everyone is.

And when she gets there, the adults aren't celebrating but looking at two chilren - her brother holding her sister who is doing not well at all, having run directly here after not being able to find his big sister. Dott, ashamed, goes up to stand near to her brother and face the music - but no one talks to her. The adults all seem to shun her and the celebration stops as everyone goes home.

A devastated Dott can't believe that her parents and the village folk have this reaction and breaks out in tears, complaining to the wise shepherd of the village about her treatment - when the kind man makes her aware that he can't see her, only hear her - and none of the other people could see her either. After hearing how she came to the fire, he tells her she probably has the Rennefarre plant in her shoe, having run through the meadow and is now invisible to humans.

With this start and Dott's introduction to the fact that she can now see the fae folk and talk to animals the story is off - Dott wants to be able to rejoin her family and needs all the help she can get to find out what to do about the Rennefarre. In the course of her travels through the region, the Rennefarre lets her visit important historical situations far into the past and once even a possible future of war (interestingly enough not based on Nazi images, but possible religious war again - Dott visits the Thirty Years War and the Seven Years War and also the time when the Mark Brandenburg was being christianized and the troubles of that time). The Hörturm Verlag, who have done two audiobooks based on the novel, have a page with some pictures from the places Dott travels to. More information can also be found at the book's homepage.

Instead of the Alfred Seidel illustrations, translator Malve von Hassel found a great replacement in Monica Minto's illustrations, to be found in the ebook as well as the print edition - there are quite a few of these. Here's the Red Boy, one of the fae:

Simple, Free Image and File Hosting at MediaFire

Tamara Ramsay had a strong Christian faith and this is something you need to be aware of, as one central theme of the book is the belief that humans may be the originators of the sadness in the world, but they will also be the ones who can carry the world and its animals and its fae creatures out of the darkness and into harmony with God in the end.

Here's Gurian, the heron, an important friend to Dott:
Simple, Free Image and File Hosting at MediaFire

So you have here a fascinating melding of a belief in folklore, in learning about responsibility, respect towards yourself and others and social contracts via history, and a deep faith that humans were put on this world to rule over it, but also to lift it up to the Lord.

Ramsay doesn't overpreach, I feel, she manages with the experiences of Dott and later her new and also enchanted friend Klaus from Berlin (a fascinating look at life in the poor quarters there), with the charm of the fae creatures and the animals that show Dott how to be noble and to take on responsibility for weaker cratures to make the experience a slow realisation and to be fascinated by the glimpses of the history of the whole regions as well - Dott's travels taking her into the Riesengebirge and to the town that is called Wroclaw these days and used to be Breslau.

As to the writing (the ebook edition has hardly any grammar mistakes, only occasionally some words that run into each other), I'd like to leave you with an excerpt of how Dott meets the ghost of Joseph von Eichendorff:

There was a castle up in the heights above the Oder. Quiet and lost in dreams, it sat in the middle of a large old park that seemed to be made for wandering around in and writing poetry. Indeed, a poet had once lived there. Some of the loveliest poems ever were created in that garden. The surrounding countryside was so beautiful that the poet never tired of singing its praises—he wrote about the gentle valley, the hillsides full of flowers, and the river rushing along between waving woods. His songs can make you feel odd and sad and full of longing—as if they come up from the depth of your own soul.

It was as if the sky
had gently kissed the earth
so, covered with blossoms,
she can but dream of him.
My soul
stretched wide her wings
and flew through the quiet lands,
as if she were flying home.

No one who has loved a little piece of land on this earth so much that it became a part of his soul would ever forget it. The poet wrote some of his most famous poems when he was away from home, his heart aching from homesickness. It would hardly be surprising to learn that he still walks along the same paths today, over one hundred years later, blessing them and loving them.

In fact, as Dott and her friends were flying by, there he was, walking through his park, tall, slender, and slightly hunched over just as he was in his own day, wearing his dark coat, with the vest closed all the way to the neck, crowned by a black scarf. He did not wear a hat. His silky soft white hair and his pale face were lit up by the morning sun.

Joseph Baron von Eichendorff walked through the park of his home, Castle Lubowitz, at Ratibor near the Oder. He stopped in front of an old pear tree and ran his hand over the gnarly bark. Why did he stop next to that frail old tree? As a boy, he used to climb up to the top of the tree and read. He read everything—legends, novels, and poems that opened his eyes to the marvelous secret behind all things, so that he, himself, came to wish to write himself. He turned and walked up the hill to an opening in the hedge of yew trees from where he could look down at the entire land below.

On just this morning, the two children and the flock of crows came from the church in Rosenberg in search of the Hodernyx. When the poet reached the opening in the hedge, he saw an odd assortment of beings on the other side. There were two children — a boy and a girl. Both looked exhausted as if they had been on a long hike through stormy mountains. They were surrounded by a flock of crows. Two of the birds stood out: one almost blind, old, and grey; and the other scruffy, but tough and strong looking. Being a poet, Eichendorff was not at all surprised to see the crows stand comfortably right alongside the children. It seemed that this was the way it should be everywhere between animals and human beings. Nor did he find it at all odd that the children and the crows talked to each — each in their own language but completely able to understand the other. A poet has to understand the language of all beings, and Eichendorff had been able to do that, too. Now that he had left his earthly life behind, he could perhaps do it even better.

"I think Schuschu the owl was already half asleep when he told us how we could recognize the Nöck," muttered the girl. "He said the Nöck Utoplotz appears as a leaf and as a grass blade, as a ball and as a ribbon, as a drop of water and as a fire brand, as a black horse and as gleaming gold. That means he could be practically anywhere and we would never even notice. We could be searching forever!" The girl looked sad and hopeless.

The tough-looking crow coughed a little and said: "True. The spirits can be anywhere without your noticing. That is why they are invisible. Or have you ever met one of the spirits if he did not want to show himself to you?"

The old grey crow intervened: "Let's not go on talking. I suggest that we leave the two human children here until they are in a better frame of mind so that a meeting with the Nöck Utoplotz might actually be productive."

The other crow chuckled and said: "Arrrah Let's go. Let's see if we can find some news about where the Nöck was last seen."

The crows took off—the younger ones in front, followed by the two old birds. The girl had blushed when the old crow spoke. Now, she brushed her hair out of her face and looked at the boy, who had sat down on the hill, watching her silently.

The girl threw herself down on the grass next to the boy. "Oh, Klaus, I am so unhappy. I really don't know, anymore, what I want. Until now it hadn't be so difficult—everything sort of happened all by itself. But during all this fruitless searching for the Nöck, I have been thinking all sorts of things. I know only one thing for sure. As soon as the Nöck tells us how we can be released, nothing will happen by itself, anymore. Then we will have to decide for ourselves whether we want to go back home or not— and now I just don't know what I want."

P.S. One of my favourite German chorals is mentioned repeatedly - it's lovely to be reminded of it especially as it isn't sung often in mass anymore (at least not in the Catholic ones I go to these days): Großer Gott wir loben dich. Also called Te Deum. Here's a lovely small church one, where you can understand the lyrics much better, and here's an organ version with brass and choir in the background recorded in Würzburg Cathedral.
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Reading Progress

01/19/2013 page 56 "Monica Minto's illustrations are lovely, I especially love her birds and the facial portrait of the Red Boy. So far I've found only one misspelling and once there's "beings" instead of "spirit beings". The one-volume edition proceeds ever so much faster. I had a look at my three volume one and it's mostly additional told folk tales that are left out, not Dott's storyline."

Comments (showing 1-8 of 8) (8 new)

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message 1: by Sho (new) - added it

Sho thank you for the recommendation (^_^)v
Looking forward to reading it soon!!

message 2: by Sho (new) - added it

Sho Just got the kindle version!

message 3: by Estara (last edited Feb 15, 2013 08:02AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Estara ^^ I hope you enjoy it, Sho. It really is a very different style than I normally read or recommend, but it has this lyrical voice, this ordinary and stubborn girl, the different times and people and a feeling of hope for a higher future for all the world. It really works for me, and I hope I described its peculiarities so it'll work for you.

message 4: by Katharine (new) - added it

Katharine Kimbriel This was and is so important to you! I will put it on the "when I get to buy fiction again: list. Thank you for your care in reviewing it.

message 5: by Estara (last edited Feb 15, 2013 08:03AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Estara Very true, as a very good representative of other books in this vein which will never be translated into English. And because of my personal history with the three volume edition, as well.

But that also means I'm not too sure about my objectivity here, and even the ebook is not at a price for casual purchase, except if there is a coupon code or a sale involved.

I did try my best - thanks for appreciating that, Katharine.

message 6: by Katharine (new) - added it

Katharine Kimbriel :^)

message 7: by Salimbol (new)

Salimbol This sounds great, and it's going onto my to-read list! I think I remember you talking about this on LJ once upon a time, before there was a translation/ebook available?

Estara I think so, too, I definitely wrote about it in comments before, Salimbol.

When Sherwood and I got to talk about it on Cora Buhlerts's blog that's when Malve von Hassel (who must have been looking for mentionings of the book) made us aware that she was in the process of translating it - and when it was finished she contacted me here.

And since I can now vouch for the quality of the translation, I thought I'd make people aware who I thought might conceivably be interested in such an odd little gem.

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