It’s the End of the World as We Know it (Time to Read Period Drama)

Look at me writing an essay on March 15 and not even mentioning… oops.

North and South vs Pride and Prejudice

As the world seems to come to a standstill caused by the Coronavirus, I have taken the opportunity to pick up one of my favourite books of all time (my favourite, excepting Tolkien) and escape into the Victorian setting of Elizabeth Gaskell’s 1855 classic North and South.

North and South is to me what Pride and Prejudice is to many other women. It’s my favourite romance of all time and I read it (or watch the film adaptation) anytime I’m in need of some distraction from real life problems. I love it so much that I’ve even travelled to Edinburgh, where the adaptation was filmed, to visit the sets. (One of which, Calton Hill, is my profile picture on

My comparison is not arbitrary. North and South has often been compared to Pride and Prejudice and, on the surface, they have many similarities. In North and South, we have a spirited, proud heroine who clashes repeatedly with a seemingly aloof man who secretly harbours feelings for her. There’s an iconic, passionate proposal in the middle of the book which comes just as out of the blue to Margaret as it does to Elizabeth, and is just as vehemently refused. The hero then goes on to help the heroine and her family out of a difficult situation, only for her to fall in love with him after all.

The plot-wise similarities and their status as beloved period dramas with even more well-known adaptations has led to Pride and Prejudice and North and South being considered as birds of a feather. Likewise, the BBC’s 2004 adaption North & South (starring Daniela Denby-Ashe and Richard Armitage – if you haven’t watched it yet, do so immediately!) has often been compared to the famous 1995 BBC miniseries Pride and Prejudice (with Jennifer Ehle as Lizzie Bennet and Colin Firth as Mr Darcy – I don’t think I have to recommend that one).

Two period dramas, two similar plots… Even the name North and South evokes classic Austen titles like Sense and Sensibility. (In fact, it was Charles Dickens who suggested the title to Elizabeth Gaskell and I’m certain he knew what he was doing.)

And yet, I have to confess that Pride and Prejudice has only ever received very lukewarm responses from me. In fact, I am rather indifferent to it. It might be just me, since I also fail to see the romantic potential of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, which is widely accepted as the archetypical romance. I have to insist, therefore, that this is not an evaluation based on the literary worth of these classics, but rather my own personal taste.

Nevertheless, if these two novels are so similar, the question remains: Why do I prefer North and South?

Part 1: Genre

First of all, the two novels were written at different times. While Austen’s novels are set during the Regency period (now synonymous with historical romance in general), Gaskell’s novel takes place roughly 40 years later during the Victorian era, at a time when the industrial revolution is in full swing.

The plot of Pride and Prejudice unfolds in the small space of a country community and follows the lives of several characters from the English gentry (the untitled, but land-owning upper class). Margaret Hale, the heroine of North and South, also regards herself as part of the gentry, since her mother hailed from this class. However, said mother married an impoverished clergyman and it becomes rapidly clear that, while the Hales might still feel they belong to a higher class, they are considered to be a regular middle-class family by virtually everyone else. From the point on when Margaret’s father quits his job and relocates the entire family to Milton-Northern (think: Manchester), all pretensions of an idyllic, carefree life are over for good. It is as if Austen had taken one of her heroines and hurled her into the dirty slums of a Northern English factory town.

This is the biggest difference between the two novels. In Austen, the worst that will happen to the hapless heroine is the loss of her fortune, resulting in a life in reduced circumstances. Just think of the Dashwood sisters’ horror at losing their ancestral family home and having to life in a rural cottage with only a handful of servants!

The stakes in North and South are much higher. In Milton, Margaret encounters devastating poverty. Her best friend, a factory girl called Bessy Higgins, dies of a work-related illness before she reaches her 20th birthday. Not much later, Margaret loses her mother. By the end of the book, six people have died. The constant threat of death and poverty creates a bleak atmosphere that is realistic for an era when virtually no social welfare services existed and people where left to live or die on their own. Having lived in Manchester herself, Gaskell was all too familiar with the struggles of the working people. Like Austen, she wrote primarily about her own immediate surroundings, only hers were a lot more upsetting.

I do not wish to devalue Pride and Prejudice (or any other Austen novel) by claiming that the conflicts in it are not as serious as in North and South. Both books have very different aims and focus on different matters. Pride and Prejudice is a novel of manners, which gives a detailed insight into a complex society. Nobody beats Jane Austen at observing the little quirks and missteps of human behaviour. With her characteristic dry wit, she gives us a realistic and entertaining portray of the Regency gentry, their pretensions, aspirations and ultimate humanity. Jane Austen never attempts to give a full picture of English society. The lives and troubles of the English working class are not her focus. Instead, she takes a small social circle and depicts it in detail, just like a miniature portraitist.

Gaskell, on the other hand, is more of a landscape painter. She gives us a broad scope of life in the mid-19th century, from the gentry to the middle class and the poor at the bottom of the social scale. Hers is a social novel, centred around a social problem, in this case, class difference or, more specifically, the struggle between factory workers and employers in industrial Northern England. Critics have called it an industrial novel for this reason.

Austen, in comparison, gives us a peaceful setting where the greatest tragedy that occurs is the marriage of Lizzie Bennet’s best friend to an unattractive churchman.  To the reader, Charlotte’s marriage to Mr Collins might be just as big of a shock as the death of Bessy Higgins in North and South. It alerts Lizzie – and the reader – to the realities of life as an unmarried woman in a society where a woman’s worth is defined by her success in making an advantageous match. It severely disrupts Lizzie’s world, but ultimately has her become a more rational, mature character.

Austen’s setting, as I have mentioned, is small. She cannot deal with every social problem as minutely as she portrays the Bennets’ struggles, so she just leaves them out altogether. This leaves a relatively harmonious setting without any great dangers, the perfect background for a flourishing romance like Lizzie’s and Mr Darcy’s.

The world of North and South is different.

It would be absurd to focus on love and marriage in a setting where factory workers threaten to stone a wealthy magistrate to death, where people die horrible, slow deaths and a man breaks down over the starvation of his wife and children, ultimately killing himself when he is unable to bear the situation any longer.

North and South is not a feel-good novel.

Which, in my mind, makes its appeal even stronger.

Gaskell does not flinch away from giving us a realistic portray of how hard life was for ordinary people in Victorian times. Through Margaret’s eyes, we see the harsh reality of a struggle that is as far removed from the problems of the gentry as can be. As an intermediary between the two different classes, Margaret comes to see both sides, workers’ and masters’, and is not afraid to take a political stance. To me, this is much more engaging than reading about the dealings of the gentry whose relatively carefree world I can never quite buy into, knowing that it was built on the suffering of less fortunate people. It might be due to the fact that I read North and South before encountering Pride and Prejudice, but I can never quite lose myself in the latter’s innocent world.

I fully understand that, in our own reality of social struggles and deadly diseases, it’s a relief to withdraw into a happier time, when securing a good marriage was the greatest challenge in a woman’s life. It’s simple escapism, which I will never condemn, not when my own love for Tolkien’s works is fuelled by it.

But to me, the allure of North and South is so much stronger because its world isn’t happy. It’s not idyllic. It’s every bit as bad as ours. Whatever struggles we are facing nowadays, it’s safe to say that people in the Victorian era had it far worse. To me, that is a welcome reminder amidst panic and apocalyptic scenarios. Knowing that people have overcome worse difficulties than Covid-19 helps me keep a clear head.

There is also the sentimental part of me, which wants to see the drama in period drama. After all, if people can find love and happiness in times as dark as the industrial revolution, why shouldn’t we?

I grew up on Tolkien’s books and their main message has influenced me deeply: The world is a fundamentally dark and perilous place, but there is goodness in it “and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater”. The same feeling resonates through North and South.

Or, with a little less pathos: I love drama and this novel has plenty of it.

Part 2: The Romance

As I have mentioned before, North and South is not a feel-good novel.

And yet, there is romance.

Although the plot of North and South is much more dramatic than Austen’s, the development of the heroine is not neglected. In fact, Gaskell’s protagonist is one of the most convincing I know. If I think of the kind of classical heroine I’d want to be, it is Margaret Hale who comes to my mind.

She is arrogant, confident and has no qualms at all about turning down men’s proposals if she doesn’t love them. Yet her empathy and acute sense of injustice drive her to take a stand for the rights of working people, even in defiance of her own class’s interests. She knows that she is right and is not afraid to stand up to powerful men like Mr Thornton and give them a piece of her mind.

Mr Thornton himself is very different from Mr Darcy.

Darcy’s main difficulties seem to come from his shyness. He’s socially awkward, has a penchant for saying the wrong things and yet gives the appearance of being extremely proud and self-assured. I can relate to him, but I wouldn’t want to date him.

Contrary to the typical regency hero, who doesn’t need to work and just lives to fulfil his social function, Mr Thornton has a clear agency. He has risen from poverty to become a wealthy manufacturer and is looking out for his own profit or, rather, survival in a world driven by market forces. His economic-liberal views clash with Margaret’s social activism. But while she quickly comes to dislike him, he treats her with the utmost respect and enjoys verbally sparring with her even though he disagrees with everything she says.  He is even able to overlook her arrogance and contempt of him.

This is where class differences come into play. To Margaret, Mr Thornton is not a gentleman because he does not hail from the same background as she does. He is a self-made man with no pedigree or estate who still needs to hold down a job to survive. She considers herself to be his social better.

In the eyes of everyone else in Milton, it is Mr Thornton who is superior to Margaret. He is wealthy and powerful, a magistrate of the city and well-connected not only in Milton but amongst all tradesmen in England. Margaret, however, has fallen on hard times and has no connections in Milton. Yet Mr Thornton is very much aware of his own lack of education, which marks him as different from the Hales. He lets Margaret keep her pretensions and always acts like she is at least his equal. It’s a very different picture from Mr Darcy insulting Elizabeth’s family when he proposes to her, expressing his self-contempt for falling in love with his social inferior.

It’s a matter of personal taste which character constellation you prefer. While I do like the ending of Pride and Prejudice, where Mr Darcy resolves the whole Wickham-debacle by paying a man he hates to marry the woman Wickham has disgraced, all in order to help Lizzie, it does not resonate with me as much as the plot of North and South. I suspect it is Lizzie’s passiveness that irks me, her being saved by the male hero who, by virtue of his economic prowess, is able to resolve the conflict and restore everyone’s happiness. North and South is different. It is Margaret who saves Mr Thornton in the middle of the book by protecting him from the rioting strikers who are willing to stone him to death. But she does this because it was her who brought him in danger in the first place, questioning his masculinity and making him face the enraged mob. His misinterpretation of her actions leads to the proposal, which is again misinterpreted by Margaret, who turns him down for acting like it is his duty to save her reputation even though he professes his love for her. Sigh. If that’s not the epitome of romantic drama, I don’t know what is.

Not long after the strike is ended, Mr Thornton is able to redeem himself to Margaret by saving her from being taken to court when she lies to a police officer to protect her brother. It is this relatively minor act (compared to Mr Darcy’s heroics) which has Margaret realise for the first time that she is not Mr Thornton’s superior, at least not in a moral sense. But she does not fall into his arms after this revelation. It would be a poorer book if she did.

Matters play out very differently. Due to the strike and his refusal to risk his employees’ wages by engaging in speculation, Mr Thornton loses his wealth and his business. Now he has indeed become socially inferior to Margaret, who – in the meantime – has inherited a fortune. In an ironic turn of events, she has become the owner of the property on which his factory is built and is now his superior in a very literal sense. By this point, Mr Thornton has revealed himself to care much more about his workers than he previously let on. Yet all his schemes to improve his employees’ living conditions have come to an end as he travels to London to ask Margaret to end his tenancy.

It is very rare for a period drama to see the male hero completely defeated. His social and economic power has been stripped away and nothing remains but his character. For once, the heroine holds all the strings.

In comparison: When Lizzie Bennet accepts Darcy’s second proposal in the end, she does not only marry the man she loves but also a very eligible bachelor with £10,000 a year. It is a love match, but according to the conventions established over the course of the book, the advantage lies very clearly with her. Lizzie has come to appreciate Darcy for the man of character he is, and is rewarded with a rich, desirable husband.

Margaret’s decision at the end of North and South is much more difficult. Over the course of the novel, she has been repeatedly courted by the ambitious lawyer Mr Lennox, a friend of the family, who was the first to propose to Margaret, recognising in her a kindred spirit. He bears some similarities to Darcy in that he loves the heroine despite her reduced circumstances. Later, after she returns to London and becomes rich, he rekindles his interest in her and they grow close again. Returning to the safe haven of London after the horrors she has seen in Milton, Margaret has become a stronger, wiser character. Marrying a wealthy man who resembles her in character and social station, the first who proposed to her and recognised her desirability… It seems like the happy ending she has earned.

But Gaskell knows better. There is no coming back from Milton, no return to the happy paradise of Margaret’s youth. The upper class’s obsession with rank and appearances feels shallow to Margaret after all the suffering she has experienced.

We know that she will refuse Henry Lennox, and tellingly, he knows it too. It is why Lennox stays so mysteriously absent in the final chapter of the book, not turning up to Margaret’s and Mr Thornton’s appointment to discuss her “business proposal”.

The book has a somewhat open ending, but when Margaret and Mr Thornton finally express their feelings for each other and start building a future together on the final two pages of the book, we know that they will end up married.

The heroine’s choice to marry a man only after he has lost all his power over her seems like a feminist utopia. I can think of no similar ending in any other novel of the period. But it would be going too far to claim that the upper hand in this relationship belongs to Margaret. In fact, I would argue that, in the end, both partners are as equal as it is possible to be for a couple in this period.

Margaret giving her money to Mr Thornton to help him restart his business appears like an odd choice for the woman who once thought of all factory owners (and this one in particular) as heartless tyrants. It shows how they have both developed as characters, him having developed more of a social consciousness and her coming to see the struggle between masters and workers as more than just black and white. In the end, Margaret chooses a financially ruined man with nothing to commend him but his character.  Call me a hopeless romantic, but to me, this feels like a much grander gesture than Lizzie marrying Mr Darcy who’s not only a great guy, but also the wealthiest man of her acquaintance. Of course, Mr Darcy cannot help being rich, but in many ways, he is just too good to be true. The relationship between him and Elizabeth will always be unequal, due to his superiority of rank, wealth and, of course, the institutional oppression of women in marriage.

In North and South, at least the genders are flipped. Margaret is rich, young and beautiful, not quite a female Mr Darcy, but a desirable match nonetheless. Mr Thornton, on the other hand, has no money or social standing, he is not even handsome. Granted, he is still a man and as such in a position of power over his wife. Yet, due to Margaret’s advantage in all other aspects, it feels to me like their relationship is perhaps the only one in all the 19th century novels I have read with a chance for true equality.

Maybe that is why I’m drawn to this story. Perhaps I can’t quite lose myself in the fantasy of an eligible, handsome, honourable man who will fall passionately in love with me like Mr Darcy. Perhaps I would rather be the one doing the choosing than being chosen, for whatever attributes I might possess. Or maybe I’m actually identifying with Mr Thornton, indulging the fantasy of a woman falling in love with me on the basis of my character alone, with nothing else in my favour. (Hey, a girl can dream.) In all probability, it is just the idea that even in the worst circumstances, amidst poverty and death, love can persist. It grows between two equally flawed people who have to walk through hell together before they can finally find happiness in each other.

Contrary to Austen, the ending does not solve all conflicts. The social conflicts around which North and South is centred won’t cease to exist just because two people get married. Margaret and John won’t leave these problems behind, but together, they will find the strength to face them.

And that’s all the escapism I need.

Schwarze Segel

Kategorie: Texte, die ich eigentlich schreiben wollte, bevor ich in einen Exkurs über Shakespeare abgeschweift bin

Warnung: Kann weitere Exkurse über Shakespeare enthalten.


Ein Vater in Angst um seinen einzigen Sohn. Der Anblick von schwarzen Segeln, der ihn in die endgültige Verzweiflung treibt. Ein Missverständnis, das in einem Suizid endet, der so leicht zu vermeiden gewesen wäre.

Anders als im Film wird Denethor im Buch nicht einfach wahnsinnig. Der geistige Zustand, in dem er sich kurz vor seinem Tod befindet, ist nichts, was wir heute als „verrückt“ klassifizieren würden, sofern wir dieses Wort überhaupt noch benutzen. Denethors scheinbar irrationales Verhalten ist tatsächlich logisch und verständlich – ist es Wahnsinn, so hat es doch Methode. Angesichts der Zerstörung seiner Heimatstadt und der Verwundung seines einzigen verbliebenen Sohnes gerät Denethor in Verzweiflung und befiehlt, alle Verteidigungsmaßnahmen abzubrechen. Was für seine entsetzten Diener nach purer Willkür aussieht, würden wir wahrscheinlich eher als Symptom eines Nervenzusammenbruchs deuten. Der Druck, unter dem Denethor seit Langem steht und die unverarbeitete Trauer um Boromir haben seiner Psyche zugesetzt. Dieser letzte Schlag war nun einer zu viel.

Ein moderner Psychiater würde bei Denethor vielleicht Depressionen diagnostizieren; seine Lethargie, Empathielosigkeit und Lebensmüdigkeit passen jedenfalls ins Krankheitsbild. Doch Mittelerde ist eine Welt ohne jegliche Psychoanalyse und es ist unklar, inwieweit Tolkien sich auf dem Gebiet auskannte.

Um zu verstehen, was Wahnsinn in Mittelerde bedeutet, hilft es, in der Zeit zurückzublicken. Mit dem Aufkommen des Humanismus wuchs auch das Interesse an der menschlichen Psyche und in der Renaissance war man geradezu besessen von melancholy, wie man jegliche Art von Geisteskrankheit damals nannte. In den Stücken Shakespeares und seiner Zeitgenossen finden sich zahlreiche Szenen, in denen Charaktere dem Wahnsinn verfallen. Und obwohl sich in Londons einziger Irrenanstalt, Bedlam, nur ca. ein Dutzend Insassen befanden, war das ganze Land fasziniert von der Vorstellung eines Hauses voller Irrer, wie zahlreiche Schriftstücke beweisen.

Besonders eindringlich ist der Umgang Shakespeares mit Wahnsinn in King Lear. Der greise Herrscher, der in seiner Verblendung die älteren beiden Töchter mit Anerkennung überhäuft und seine jüngste Tochter ohne ein Wort der Zuneigung verbannt, verliert den Verstand, als er seinen Fehler erkennt. Von den beiden älteren Töchtern grausam verstoßen, stirbt er schließlich an gebrochenem Herzen über dem toten Körper seiner ermordeten jüngsten Tochter. Auch der Earl of Gloucester trifft die falsche Wahl zwischen zwei Kindern: Nach einer Intrige des jüngeren, illegitimen Sohns verbannt er seinen rechtmäßig geborenen Erben. Ebenfalls enteignet und von seinen Feinden geblendet, will Gloucester in seinem Unglück Selbstmord begehen. Beide Väter erkennen ihren Fehler erst, als es schon längst zu spät ist.

Das Interessante an Lears Wahnsinn ist, dass er eng mit zeitgenössischen Geschlechter-Stereotypen verbunden ist. Während Rationalität, Logik und geistige Stärke der damaligen Auffassung nach männliche Qualitäten sind, rechnet man Unbeständigkeit, Irrationalität und Emotionalität den Frauen zu – Frailty, thy name is woman.

Lear ist aber ein zutiefst emotionaler Mensch, der jedem Impuls nachgibt, innerhalb von Sekunden in cholerische Wutanfälle ausbricht und sich von keiner rationalen Argumentation überzeugen lässt. (cf. Greenblatt 116-7) Kurz um, er verhält sich, wie man es im Elisabethanischen England und auch später noch von einer Frau erwarten würde. Seine Freunde und Berater vermögen sich dies nicht besser als mit Wahnsinn zu erklären.

Und hiermit nähern wir uns einem möglichen Grund, warum Denethors plötzliche, extreme Verzweiflung für Wahnsinn gehalten wird. Sie passt schlichtweg nicht in das Bild, das sein Umfeld von ihm hat.

Denethor ist ein zutiefst rational agierender Mann. Seine Emotionen benutzt er als Waffe; selbst Boromirs Verlust wird für ihn zum Mittel, um Pippin zu manipulieren. Denethor ist nicht wie Théoden, der Merry aus aufrichtiger Zuneigung und einem Gefühl von Verpflichtung in sein Gefolge aufnimmt. Alles, was Denethor tut, geschieht aus reinem Kalkül. „You can use even your grief as a cloak“, wirft Gandalf ihm vor (RotK 758).

Von außen betrachtet wirkt Denethor wie eine fast schon übermenschliche Gestalt. Seine Untertanen wundern sich über sein allumfassendes Wissen und munkeln (nicht zu Unrecht), er könne Gedanken lesen. Niemand außer Beregond wagt es, sich ihm entgegenzustellen, als er versucht, seinen Sohn bei lebendigem Leibe zu verbrennen.

Für Pippin ist es bestürzend, einen so kontrollierten, berechnenden Mann plötzlich verzweifelt und hilflos zu sehen. „He saw tears on that once tearless face, more unbearable than wrath.” (RotK 823)

Dieser plötzliche Anfall von Emotionen ist immer noch im Rahmen von Denethors Persönlichkeit. Er wird nicht ausfällig, schreit nicht, wirft nicht mit Gegenständen um sich. Er sitzt einfach nur schweigend am Bett seines Sohnes und weint.

Für die Diener, die sich schon länger in seinem Dienst befinden als Pippin, ist es dennoch ein Schock, ihren Herrn so aufgewühlt zu erleben. Denethors eiserner Siegeswille ist gebrochen, er befielt, die Verteidigung abzubrechen und macht keinen Hehl aus seiner Absicht, Suizid zu begehen – im Gegenteil, er empfiehlt allen, das gleiche zu tun. Es ist keine blinde Panik, die ihn ergriffen hat, denn er geht immer noch nach logischen Maßstäben vor. In einem besonders schaurigen Moment befielt er sogar, warme Decken über Faramir zu legen, damit diesem auf dem Weg durch die kühle Märznacht nicht kalt wird. Dennoch besteht kein Zweifel daran, dass Denethor purer Verzweiflung anheimgefallen ist.

Dass die Menschen in seinem Umfeld dies für Wahnsinn halten, zeigt, dass sie es nicht gewöhnt sind, Denethor aus emotionalen Impulsen heraus handeln zu sehen. Es beweist auch, dass sie ihn nicht wirklich kennen.

Denethor mag nach außen hin kühl und kontrolliert wirken, aber Verzweiflung und Angst sind sein ständiger Begleiter. Vielleicht ist er nur deshalb so gut darin, sie zu verbergen, weil er so daran gewöhnt ist.

Die „Nachrichten aus Mittelerde“ zeichnen ein interessantes Bild von Denethors Persönlichkeit. Er ist besessen von der Vorstellung, dass der Krieg gegen Sauron in seine Regierungszeit fallen wird. Daher ergreift er jedes Mittel, um einen Vorteil gegenüber dem Feind zu erlangen. Er ist, in Ermangelung eines freundlicheren Wortes, ein Kontroll-Freak. Dieses Bild setzt sich in den Anhängen fort: Denethor sieht Saurons Angriff voraus (er hat also tatsächlich übernatürliche Kräfte) und bedient sich daraufhin des Palantírs, um einen Wissensvorteil zu bekommen. Es ist sein Stolz (nicht Selbstüberschätzung oder Arroganz, sondern Stolz, also ein berechtigtes Selbstbewusstsein), der ihn dazu antreibt und obwohl er vor seiner Zeit altert, kann er den Stein seinem Willen unterwerfen und Sauron standhalten. „Thus pride increased in Denethor together with despair”, heißt es in den Anhängen (RotK 1056). Pride and despair. Immer wieder sind es diese beiden Begriffe, die Denethor charakterisieren und die er Gandalf in der Stunde seines Todes zurück ins Gesicht werfen wird, weil er sie als einen ureigenen Teil seiner Selbst erkannt hat.

Warum aber begeht Denethor nun Selbstmord? Immerhin hat er die Attacke gegen Minas Tirith lange vorgesehen. Ist es nur der Schock über Faramirs Verwundung? Und warum diese, wenn er Boromirs Tod noch scheinbar verkraftet hatte?

Es ärgert mich bis heute, dass der eigentliche Grund für Denethors plötzlichen Anfall von „Wahnsinn“ in den Filmen nicht gezeigt wird. Es ist die schwarze Flotte der Korsaren von Umbar, die er im Palantír sieht, die Denethor endgültig von der Ausweglosigkeit seiner Situation überzeugt – etwas, von dem seine Diener nicht wissen und das er nur Gandalf gegenüber erwähnt. In ihrer letzten Konfrontation verzichtet Gandalf darauf (!) zu erwähnen, dass die rohirrische Armee bereits auf den Pelennorfeldern eingetroffen ist und lässt Denethor im Glauben, dass Théoden ihn im Stich gelassen hat und sich überdies eine feindliche Flotte nähert, um Gondors Streitkräfte endgültig zu überwinden. Tatsächlich ist Gandalfs einziger Versuch, Denethor vom Scheiterhaufen abzuhalten, der Rat, er solle lieber auf dem Schlachtfeld kämpfen, um seinem Tod einen Sinn zu geben. Diese Art von Suizidprävention ist, wenig überraschend, nicht besonders effektiv.

Denethor begründet seine Absichten mit dem Wissen, das er durch den Palantír erhalten hat:

“All the East is moving. And even now the wind of thy hope cheats thee and wafts up Anduin a fleet with black sails. The West has failed. It is time for all to depart who would not be slaves.”
“Such counsels will make the Enemy’s victory certain indeed,” said Gandalf. (RotK 853)

Gandalf hat eine ziemlich gute Vorstellung davon, wer die Flotte anführt, aber er lässt Denethor im Unwissen darüber.

Die schwarze Flotte ist natürlich nur ein Trick – Saurons letzter Versuch, Denethor zu brechen, nachdem es ihm mit anderen Mitteln nicht gelungen ist. Er zeigt ihm nichts anderes als die Wirklichkeit, doch was Denethor nicht erkennen kann, ist, dass die schwarze Flotte nicht mehr den Korsaren gehört, sondern nun von Aragorn angeführt wird. Womit wir wieder bei Tolkiens literarischen Vorbildern wären.

Nun bitte ich die geneigte Leserin, sich noch einmal das Szenario am Anfang durchzulesen. Es ist nicht nur Denethor, dessen Situation hier beschrieben wird, sondern auch König Ägeus von Attica.

Die Sage um den Minotaurus dürfte allgemein bekannt sein. Der junge Königssohn Theseus zieht nach Kreta, um ein paar unschuldige Menschen vor dem stierköpfigen Monster zu bewahren. Sein Vater bittet ihn, bei seiner Rückkehr statt des schwarzen Schiffssegels ein weißes aufzuziehen, damit er schon von Ferne wisse, dass sein Sohn überlebt hat. Theseus vergisst dies jedoch und Ägeus stürzt sich aus Trauer über den Tod seines Kindes in das Meer, das heute nach ihm benannt ist.

Es ist ein simpler Mangel an Informationen, der Ägeus und Denethor das Leben kostet und ein Motiv, das sich auch in anderen Texten wiederfinden lässt. In Tristan und Isolde ist es der schwer verwundete Titelheld, der seinem Gefolgsmann den Auftrag gibt, ein weißes Segel zu hissen, wenn er mit der geliebten Isolde zurückkehre, die um das einzige lebensrettende Mittel weiß. Hier ist es nun Isoldes eifersüchtige Nebenbuhlerin, die Tristan vorgaukelt, das Segel wäre schwarz und ihn in den Tod treibt. Als Mediävist muss Tolkien diesen Stoff gekannt haben und wahrscheinlich hat er die Farbe der Segel in Anlehnung an dieses bekannte Motiv festgelegt.

Es ist die tragische Ironie von Denethors Geschichte, dass sein Tod leicht vermeidbar gewesen wäre. Es brauchte nur ein wenig mehr Verständnis der Diener, die ihren Herrn nicht gut genug durchschauen konnten, um zu verstehen, woher seine plötzliche Verzweiflung rührte. Ein wenig mehr Empathie von Gandalf, der zwar hellsichtig genug war, um zu erkennen, mit welchen psychologischen Tricks Denethor arbeitete, aber ihn dennoch im Glauben ließ, dass alle Hoffnung verloren wäre. Selbst Beregond hätte die Möglichkeit gehabt, Denethors Leben zu retten.

Nichts an dem, was Denethor tut, spricht für Wahnsinn. Es sind die Charaktere um ihn herum, die ihn für verrückt erklären, weil sie entweder nicht genug Informationen besitzen, um sein Handeln nachvollziehen zu können – oder wie Gandalf zwar begreifen, aber nicht verstehen.

Aus diesem Grund stirbt ein Charakter, dessen fundamentalste Eigenschaft sein Stolz war, einen verzweifelten und schmerzhaften Tod. Sein Vermächtnis wird das eines senilen Greises, der im entscheidenden Moment den Verstand verloren hat.

Denethors eigentliche Motivation, nämlich selbstbestimmt und in Würde aus dem Leben zu scheiden statt als Sklave vor Sauron gezerrt zu werden, wird im Film zunichte, als er erst von Gandalf in die Flammen gestoßen wird und sich dann als schreiende, menschliche Fackel wie Ägeus in den Abgrund stürzt. Dabei hatte sich Denethor die Art seines Todes genau überlegt. Er stirbt im Kreis seiner Ahnen und ihm vorangegangenen Familienmitglieder. Durch das Feuer des Scheiterhaufens zerstört er ihr Mausoleum und bewahrt ihre und seine eigenen Überreste vor Entweihung durch die feindlichen Truppen. Denethor hat den Stab des Truchsessenamtes zerbrochen, es ist sein letzter Wille, seine Dynastie nach seinen eigenen Bedingungen zu Ende bringen.

Es ist kein Wahnsinn, keine panische Übersprunghandlung, sondern ein letzter Akt des Widerstandes. Er stirbt in Verzweiflung, aber auch stolz, mit seiner verbliebenen Würde und, vor allem, ungebrochen.


Greenblatt, Stephen. Tyrant: Shakespeare on Politics. Norton & Company, 2019.

Tolkien, J.R.R. The Return of the King. Reset edition. HarperCollinsPublishers, 2005.

Wandelnde Wälder und andere Prophezeiungen

Kategorie: Dinge, die ich schreibe, wenn ich eigentlich für Prüfungen lernen sollte

Soundtrack: „The Prophecy“ aus dem Macbeth-Konzeptalbum von Rebellion


Tolkiens literarische Schöpfung steckt voller origineller Konzepte, die die Welt der Literatur nachhaltig beeinflusst haben. Dennoch lässt sich nicht abstreiten, dass er auch gelegentlich ein paar Motive aus älteren Stoffen übernommen und weitergedacht hat. Ich finde es immer schön, solche „Hommagen“ zu entdecken, eine Erinnerung daran, dass Tolkien nicht nur Autor, sondern auch Philologe war.

Eins der bekannteren Beispiele ist sicherlich Tolkiens Verwendung zweier Prophezeiungen aus Shakespeares Macbeth. Diese kam wahrscheinlich mehr aus Frust als aus Liebe zustande, wenn man Tolkiens ambivalentes Verhältnis zum Barden bedenkt. In einem Brief an W.H. Auden schreibt er über „my bitter disappointment and disgust from schooldays with the shabby use made in Shakespeare of the coming of ‘Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane hill’ (Letters 212).

In Shakespeares Stück sucht der Königsmörder und Tyrann Macbeth nach seiner Machtübernahme die Weïrd Sisters auf, welche ihm einst den Thron verheißen hatten. Die Hexen prophezeien dem zunehmend paranoiden König, dass er niemals besiegt werde, wenn nicht zwei Konditionen eintreten:

Macbeth shall never vanquished be until/Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane Hill/Shall come against him. (4.1.105-7)

Be bloody, bold, and resolute. Laugh to scorn/The power of man, for none of woman born/Shall harm Macbeth. (4.1.90-2)

Beruhigt durch diese scheinbar unmöglichen Szenarien widmet sich Macbeth also wieder seinem blutigen Tagewerk. Vielleicht hätte er sich lieber Gedanken darüber machen sollen, warum die Einschränkungen so merkwürdig spezifisch sind.

Als schließlich der rechtmäßige König Malcolm mit Macbeths Todfeind Macduff im Gepäck nach Schottland zurückkehrt und auf Macbeths Festung Dunsinane vorrückt, befielt er seinen Soldaten, den Wald von Birnam abzuholzen und sich mithilfe der Äste zu tarnen. Tolkiens Missfallen über diese sehr metaphorische Lösung hat schließlich zu einer der erinnerungswürdigsten Szenen in Die zwei Türme geführt, als sich die Ents – und mit ihnen der ganze Fangorn-Wald – tatsächlich in Bewegung setzen und gegen den Tyrannen Saruman vorrücken. Macbeth, der noch frohlockt hatte: “our high-placed Macbeth/Shall live the lease of nature”, wären sicherlich die Augen aus dem Kopf gefallen über so viel aktiven Ecocriticism.

Noch berühmter ist natürlich Tolkiens Auflösung des „none of woman born“. Shakespeare erlaubt sich an dieser Stelle etwas weit hergeholte semantische Spitzfindigkeiten: Weil Macduff per Kaiserschnitt zur Welt gekommen ist, seine Mutter ihn also nicht im engeren Sinne des Wortes geboren hat, ist er in der Lage, Macbeth den Garaus zu machen.

Tolkiens eigene Interpretation der Prophezeiung findet sich in den Anhängen des Herrn der Ringe, als Glorfindel im Krieg gegen den Hexenkönig von Angmar den gondorischen König Earnur daran hindert, gegen den fliehenden Nazgûl vorzugehen: „Do not pursue him! He will not return to this land. Far off yet is his doom, and not by the hand of man will he fall.” (RotK 1051) (Warum man nach diesen Worten im Ringkrieg nicht einfach Glorfindel oder einen anderen x-beliebigen Elben auf den Hexenkönig losgelassen hat, ist mir etwas schleierhaft.)

Diese Prophezeiung muss dem Hexenkönig zu Ohren gekommen sein, denn er ist sehr überzeugt von seiner eigenen Unbesiegbarkeit, mit der er vor der verkleideten Éowyn prahlt: „Thou fool! No living man may hinder me!“ (RotK 841) Tolkien macht sich hier die Doppeldeutigkeit des englischen Wortes „man“ zu eigen, das sowohl Mensch als auch Mann bedeuten kann. Wenn man sich jedoch das Original-Zitat von Glorfindel anschaut, wird klar, dass dieser das Wort „man“ eindeutig als Kollektivum für das gesamte Volk der Menschen gemeint hat. Zur Sicherheit gibt Tolkien Éowyn also noch Merry als Unterstützung mit, der als Hobbit nicht unter die Kategorie „Mensch“ fällt (wobei auch das umstritten ist). Vielleicht keine perfekte Lösung, aber immer noch deutlich überzeugender als Shakespeares Schlupfloch. 

Fallen euch noch mehr literarische Anleihen in Tolkiens Werken ein? Ich würde mich über Kommentare und Anmerkungen freuen.


Shakespeare, William. Macbeth. Ed. by Mowat, Barbara A. and Paul Werstine. Folger Shakespeare Library [online], [accessed 6.1.20].

Tolkien, J.R.R. The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien. Ed. by Carpenter, Humphrey and Christopher Tolkien. HarperCollinsPublishers, 2006.

Tolkien, J.R.R. The Return of the King. Reset edition. HarperCollinsPublishers, 2005.


February Wrap Up

The first book I read in February 2019 was The Absolutist by John Boyne, a book which wrecked me emotionally to a degree that I had to spend the rest of the month reading cheesy romance novels in order to recover. Since the main event in February seems to be Valentine’s Day and every book-related site I follow appears to have a romance special, I thought this was kind of fitting. My entire reading in February has dealt with love in its many forms: Straight and queer, destructive and healing, requited and unrequited. It’s a universal topic and from William Shakespeare to modern queer fiction, surprisingly little has changed.


The Classic

Love’s Labour’s Lost – William Shakespeare (c.1595)220px-Loves_labours_tp

What’s a lord to do when his king pressures him into celibacy? Ferdinand of Navarre’s friends are understandably unhappy when their monarch makes them swear to eschew all bodily pleasures for three years. In his philosophical zeal, however, Ferdinand has completely forgotten that he’s invited the charming, pretty and clever Princess of France over for a visit. And the Princess has her ladies in tow who will make keeping the vow even more difficult for the suffering gentlemen…

One of Shakespeare’s earlier works and far from his best. Call me a dour, depressed German, but the Bard’s comedies are my least favourite part of his oeuvre (with the exception of Much Ado About Nothing and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, whose fame is richly deserved). Love’s Labour’s Lost suffers from a surfeit of characters, with no less than five couples rivalling for the reader’s attention, and obscure humour which makes the play difficult to follow. However, the Princess of France proves to be an absolute scene stealer, leaving the surprisingly sober ending of the play a bit disappointing, albeit refreshingly realistic – where’s the sequel, Master Shakespeare?  3/5 stars


The Contemporary Novel

Tournament of Losers – Megan Derr (2016)27388497

Rathatayen suffers from a ne’er-do-well father, a chronic lack of financial funds and a ridiculous name that only adds to his misery. When Rath finds himself in dire need of money again thanks to his hapless father, he has to enter a tournament in order to pay off his Pa’s debts with the prize money. However, money isn’t all that’s in store: The victor of the Tournament of Losers will receive no less than the hand of a member of the royal family…

I loved ordinary, pragmatic protagonist Rath who reminded me of a Hobbit being dragged into adventure against his will. The romance with Tress was sweet and had its surprises, even though the plot was very predictable. For a feelgood novel, there were some surprisingly dark scenes and the protagonist’s poverty and its results were never downplayed or trivialised. Additional world building and a more complex plot and character development would have been appreciated, but all in all, it makes for a nice guilty pleasure read. 3,75/5 stars


The non-English novel

Unter einem Banner – Elea Brandt (2018)511jl37y6WL._SX350_BO1,204,203,200_

A traumatised soldier, a spoilt prince and a kingdom in distress make for an explosive mix. When a military coup sees the king murdered and the life of the crown prince in imminent danger, gruff, solitary Reykan is the only man to remain loyal to the crown. Trapped in enemy country, Reykan has to make sure Prince Benrik survives the upheaval – but is dangerously close to braining the bratty princeling himself…

Alright, alright, reading a book in my native language doesn’t really count as broadening my horizon, but unfortunately, it’s the only non-English book I’ve read this month.

The author writes for a small indie publisher, which is why I have lowered my expectations regarding the quality of the novel. (I take it that not everyone can afford a decent editor, I certainly couldn’t.) The writing is tacky even for a romance (I say that as a fanfiction writer guilty of the same offence), but the world building and the suspense make up for that. Besides, the characters are well fleshed-out and likeable, making it easy for the reader to sympathise. Not a masterpiece, but since this is only the author’s second book, let’s call it a promising start. 3/5



The Absolutist – John Boyne (2012)916VwgnwZRL

In 1919, ex-soldier Tristan Sadler travels to Norwich to meet the sister of a dead comrade. The meeting forces him to relive the darkest episodes of his past – the horrors of war, madness, cruelty, and a love bordering on obsession. Although unable to talk about what he has lived through, he yearns for an opportunity to relieve his conscience and finally tell the truth of what happened in the trenches – even if he cannot be forgiven.

An unreliable narrator unmasking himself bit by bit, a doomed love, deeply flawed characters and the horror of the First World War… all culminating in a heart-wrenching climax that will leave you shaken. 4,5/5 stars

Read my full review here.


The A Charm of Magpies series – K.J. Charles (2013-14)519EBWtHQyL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_

Haunted by the ghosts of his past – both figuratively and in reality – Lord Crane finds himself in need of professional assistance. Help arrives in the shape of Stephen Day, powerful magician and overall no-nonsense law enforcer, who is not thrilled when Crane attempts to solve the ghost problem by punching his dead brother in the face. It soon transpires that Crane’s otherworldly troubles are only the beginning of a dark plot that will change Crane’s and Stephen’s world forever. 

I blush to admit it, but K.J. Charles is a big role model of mine. I’ve read most of her works and, damn it, the woman can write. In A Charm of Magpies, she spins a Gothic tale set in Victorian England which also happens to be a m/m romance and a mystery. And she’s not yet at her A-game here. Lord Crane and Stephen Day are arguably not the most likeable protagonists of all time and the plot feels somewhat contrived on occasion, but Charles’s writing style and humour as well as her gift for dialogue and unique character voices make this series an undeniable success. Her Regency novels are even better, as are some of her stand-alones. I especially love the numerous literary and historical references in her works, but even if you leave out all the clever allusions, these are simply damned good novels proving that the romance genre can be much better than its reputation. 4/5

Book Review: „The Absolutist“

The Absolutist by John Boyne916VwgnwZRL.jpg

He frowns a little and looks up at me. ‘Don’t you have any principles, Tristan?’ he asks me. ‘Principles for which you would lay down your life, I mean.’
     ‘No,’ I say, shaking my head. ‘People, perhaps. But not principles.’

Rating: 4,5 / 5 starts

Verdict: Don’t read this when you’re depressed. In fact, it’s probably better not to read this at all. You’ll spare yourself the heartbreak, but you’ll also have missed a pretty great book.

Plot: In 1919, ex-soldier Tristan Sadler travels to Norwich to meet the sister of a dead comrade. The meeting forces him to relive the darkest episodes of his past – the horrors of war, madness, cruelty, and a love bordering on obsession. Although unable to talk about what he has lived through, he yearns for an opportunity to relieve his conscience and finally tell the truth of what happened in the trenches – even if he cannot be forgiven.


I did not realise, when I picked this book up at random from the library, that it was by the author of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. If I had, I would have stayed away from it. There is only so much tragedy that I can handle and this novel goes well beyond that. There were moments where I couldn’t read on because the pain in my chest became too much and I felt like screaming. But then again, it is a real page turner and I was always eager to get to the next plot twist, even if I knew that it would break my heart.

The Absolutist is about two young men, one who survives the war and one who doesn’t. Tristan and Will start out as friends, but they become estranged when Will begins to realise the horror beneath the surface of patriotism and forced bravery. One day, after witnessing a brutal murder, he lays down his gun and stops fighting. This makes him an Absolutist, someone who refuses to take any part in the war, not based on cowardice, but on principles. Tristan watches helplessly as the man he adores questions everything Tristan has believed in so far.

To understand the psychological pressure (bordering on torture) these young men where under, one has to know how any male British youth who did not wear a uniform was treated during the war. Whether they stayed at home because of their health, conscience or another reason, they were bullied and mocked until they finally volunteered. Some men were given white feathers by young girls to shame them into joining the army. While this doesn’t happen in the book, the term “feather man” is used prominently to mock the characters who stand up for their principles and are deigned cowards for it. This is the environment of fear in which Tristan and his comrades live and it drives more than one of them insane.

The reader encounters the reality of the First World War through Tristan’s flashbacks. Every second chapter takes us back into the past and every time, we learn another secret Tristan is trying to hide from Will’s family. The book is constructed in a neat fashion and never gets boring, because, more than once, Boyne will trick you. He’ll make you feel safe, thinking you’re clever because you presume you can foresee what will happen. If you (like me) believe that the twist won’t surprise you because you’ve already worked out from the blurb that Tristan is gay and had an affair with Will – well, you’re in for a surprise. Tristan might not be an unreliable narrator, but he keeps a lot to himself. In the end, the reader will know why.

Despite the effect this book had on me, it is not devoid of flaws. For a novel called The Absolutist, Will’s change of heart and subsequent turn to pacifism play a rather small role. Most of the book is dedicated to Tristan’s personal experiences and emotions – I would call this a smart move, because Boyne has decided to tell the story from the point of view of the less idealistic, less heroic of the two main characters, but some people might be put off by it. In terms of depicting the war, the book remains shallow, the descriptions are short, never really fulfilling their potential. In the end, the War is only a backdrop to prove how violence and discrimination can lead to a deadening of compassion. “The Absolutist” could have been a true epic if it had been longer and focussed on more than just two days in the life of a man and the memories he carries with him. As it stands, there is not enough room for all the topics Boyne wished to address and some – like feminism – feel grafted on and don’t really suit the plot.  Besides, Tristan’s high education as well as his morals, his sympathy for the plight of women and overall lack of hatred for the enemy seem oddly sophisticated for the son of a butcher who left school at 16 and has earned money through hard labour ever since. Some questions, like how Tristan came into the possession of the letters and found a job at a publishing company, remain unanswered. However, my biggest point of criticism is how the culmination of the plot, the moment where Tristan finally reveals his past to Will’s sister Marian, happens off-stage. After the whole book built up to this moment, I expected an emotional show-down. Instead, you get a flashback and a short mention of Marian’s reaction. But this is hardly enough when you had been waiting for 300 pages how Marian and her family would react to the big reveal.

Finally, I need to warn any reader who expected this book to be a romance. This is not a love story. To tell the truth, both Will and Tristan are problematic characters and what they do to each other is sometimes hard to stomach. Some readers might find them unrelatable. For me, it was the exact opposite. This book confronted me with the realisation that I have been both Tristan and Will at one point in my life, although it pains me to admit this. It is hard to be confronted with your darkest secrets and like Tristan, I found it impossible to come to terms with them. Even now, thinking about this book makes my heart sink. Nevertheless, it is necessary to confront one’s demons once in a while, if only to learn from them.

The Absolutist reminds us of the light and the dark lying dormant in every one of us and how choosing one of the two does not rid you of the other. It’s devastating, disturbing and utterly devoid of hope, but it breaks through the invisible barrier between reader and book and touches you, making you feel emotions you didn’t even know you had. If that does not make it worth reading, what else could?

January Wrap Up

One done, eleven to go! In January, I surpassed my goal of reading five books per month by reading six, although I cheated by including two books that mainly consist of pictures… Anyway, here’s my Wrap Up for January 2019:


The Classic

Far from the Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy (1874)


After Bathsheba Everdeen inherits her uncle’s estate, the inexperienced young woman becomes a major land owner in rural England and is promptly pursued by three very different men. Will Bathsheba succeed as a farmer or will misguided passion destroy everything she has been working for?

This was a fairly quick read for a Victorian Realist novel, although I had to pause it for a while after it became very depressing in typical Thomas Hardy fashion – there’s nothing romantic about the Fanny Robin plotline and even the moderately (for a Hardy) happy ending of the book cannot make up for the very bleak, overlong middle part.

However, with a strong heroine and a realistic depiction of both romantic and obsessive love, this was a compelling read. 4/5 stars


The Contemporary Novel

The Secrets of Wishtide – Kate Saunders (2016)


Private investigator Laetitia Rodd is hired to uncover a woman’s past. The beautiful Helen Orme has turned the head of a lord’s son – but everyone has a skeleton in the closet and Laetitia is determined to discover the secrets of the noble residents of Wishtide.

This was a diverting read, but with a weak resolution and mostly forgettable plot.  I liked Laetitia and enjoyed reading from her point of view, but the author will have to up her mystery game if she wants to turn this into a series. 3,75/5 stars


The Graphic Novel

Star Trek: Discovery IDW Annual 2018 – Kirsten Beyer,  Ángel Hernández,  Mike Johnson, Mark Roberts


Devoted scientist Paul Stamets and his friend Justin Straal are close to making the discovery of the century, a new way to transport not only humans but entire star ships across the galaxy. Too bad that no one else believes in the project…

Good fun, but far too short. I liked the art and insights into Stamets’s past, especially how he got to meet one very annoying, opera-obsessed Doctor in a café on Alpha Centauri. Still, the plot was incredibly rushed. They tried to cram several years, the discovery of the spore drive, Hugh and Paul falling in love and the latter’s budding friendship with Tilly into a mere 40 pages. Less is more, sometimes! 4/5 stars



Hogfather – Terry Pratchett (1996)


When the Discworld’s equivalent to Father Christmas has an unfortunate encounter with a member of the Assassins‘ Guild, it’s up to Death to fill some rather large boots. While the Grim Reaper is busy climbing down chimneys and filling stockings, his granddaughter Susan has to fight some actual monsters.

Terry Pratchett might have a brilliant way with words, but as a storyteller, he has some habits which make it difficult to follow the plot of his books. In Hogfather, this is particularly evident because important scenes take place off-stage without ever becoming explained and the book is largely composed of individual scenes with only loose connection to each other. Pratchett’s wit is amazing as always, but I find it difficult to enjoy a book when I don’t get what’s going on half of the time. Perhaps I was simply not smart enough for this one. 2,5/5 stars (rounded up to 3 because, you know, it was Christmas)


Disney Princess Enchanted Character Guide – Catherine Saunders (2014)


A picture book compiling the stories of some of the most prominent Disney Princesses of all ages.

This was a freebie (obviously), but I do like fairy tales and Disney (most of the time) so I had no problem with reading this as an adult. Listening to the soundtracks of the different films turned this into a reminder of why Disney is so popular – strong female characters, fantasy elements, catchy tunes and a dash of romance never go out of style.

While it would have been nice to see some of the lesser-known Princesses, I suppose there is simply no market for them. Which is a shame, because I miss Eilonwy, Lady Marian and other heroines from Disney’s so-called Dark Ages. 4/5 stars


The Murder of Roger Ackroyd – Agatha Christie (1926)


The peaceful village of King’s Abbot seems to be the perfect place to grow vegetable marrows in one’s back garden. However, the murder of wealthy businessman Roger Ackroyd forces his friend Hercule Poirot out of retirement – and away from his vegetable patch. Needless to say that no criminal is able to escape the Belgian mastermind, who will put even his own life on the line to catch a murderer.

People who follow me on Goodreads will know that I hardly ever give a book five stars… How embarrassing then, that I will have to break this tradition already in the first month of my new reading challenge! But there’s no other option here because The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is an amazing book which deserves all the love and praise it has been receiving for the last century. The characters are loveable, the story keeps you on your toes, and I would be hard-pressed to name a better plot twist than the ending of this truly outstanding novel. Chapeau to Dame Agatha Christie, the Queen of Crime. 5/5 stars


Book Review: „The Murder of Roger Ackroyd“

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie51Cf9ajBQ3L._SX310_BO1,204,203,200_

Understand this, I mean to arrive at the truth. The truth, however ugly in itself, is always curious and beautiful to seekers after it.

My Rating: 5/5 stars

Verdict: A complete gamechanger for the genre – if you could only read one mystery novel in your lifetime, you should make it this one.

The Plot: Dr James Sheppard and his sister Caroline lead their quiet lives in the peaceful village of King’s Abbot. Their only diversion is Caroline’s habit of collecting and spreading gossip, which annoys her brother who, as the local doctor, is under a pledge of secrecy (despite sharing his sister’s curiosity). However, trouble finds King’s Abbot when a rich widow named Mrs Ferrars commits suicide. Mrs Ferrars’s admirer, the equally wealthy and now grief-stricken Roger Ackroyd, discovers that his beloved was driven to suicide by an extortionist. Ackroyd vows to find the man responsible for her death… but is himself murdered shortly afterwards. It turns out that from the eaves-dropping butler to the beautiful but penniless niece, every member of Ackroyd’s household had a motive to kill him… Luckily for King’s Abbot, the Sheppards’s new neighbour turns out to be the famous detective Hercule Poirot who gives up his retirement in order to find the murderer of Roger Ackroyd. One thing is for sure: When Hercule Poirot starts searching for the truth, he will stop at nothing and no one is free from suspicion…


I am currently writing a mystery story so I thought it would be a good idea to go and read some works by my superiors. Growing up with a mother who loves good old-fashioned whodunnits has turned me into a mystery fan myself, leading to one very embarrassing incident when I was 11 and given the task to talk about my favourite celebrity in English class. When everyone else was choosing rock and film stars, I spoke about Agatha Christie… Soon after, I gave up on mysteries, probably because of an ongoing sense of embarrassment for owning up to my love of old, British crime novels in front of my entire class.

But, let me tell you, no one deserves the title Queen of Crime like Agatha Christie does. In fact, I will probably have to abandon my reading spree of mystery novels now because they are bound to fall flat after this one. (Which was voted the best crime novel of all time by the British Crime Writers‘ Association.)

Why on earth did I stop reading Agatha Christie again?

This book, her break-through novel, has everything I love in a mystery. There is small circle of suspects, derived from the setting and time of the murder, and a line of clues. The reader is provided with all the necessary information and it is up to them – and Hercule Poirot – to piece it together and figure out who the murderer is. In The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Christie does this in an unparalleled fashion. Unlike Saunders in The Secrets of Wishtide, where clues were discovered through luck and coincidence, Christie has her characters reconstruct the progression of events until there is only one possible suspect left. Yet, also unlike the previous novel, it is still incredibly difficult to guess the identity of the murderer and the reveal at the end of the book will probably knock some of the less auspicious readers (myself among them) out of their socks. However, going back and re-reading the novel will make you realise that it was actually the most logical solution all along. If you are one of many readers who like to spoil the ending of a mystery book for themselves, I can only entreat you to not do this for a Christie novel, because it will take the fun out of it. You can always go back and re-read the book afterwards and enjoy the little hints and clues the author had given you.

Previously, Murder on the Orient Express was my favourite Christie novel, but The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is a worthy contender. Hercule Poirot is brilliant as always, but I also loved the novel’s narrator, Dr Sheppard, who has replaced Poirot’s previous “Watson” – his faithful friend, Hastings, who had left Poirot behind when he decided to get married and move to Argentina. Dr Sheppard does his best to replace Poirot’s friend, but he is a unique character with a wonderfully sarcastic sense of humour and a great enthusiasm in re-counting his adventures with the great Belgian detective.

“It is that there are moments when a great longing for my friend Hastings comes over me. […] At times, he has said something particularly foolish, and behold that foolish remark has revealed the truth to me! And then, too, it was his practice to keep a written record of the cases that proved interesting.”
     I gave a slightly embarrassed cough.
     “As far as that goes,” I began, and then stopped.

Scenes like these will always endear a character to me, and a taciturn doctor with a secret passion for crime novels is totally my thing. As someone who is also working on a crime story, I was enthralled by the way Dr Sheppard wrote the story as he and Poirot went along. Normally, I’m not a great fan of the First-Person Narrator, but in this book, it worked perfectly.

Another favourite character of mine was James’s meddling sister Caroline. She is magnificent and so (wrong) genre savvy that I can’t believe this book was written in 1926. Every character seems to secretly read and love crime novels and Christie references them so often that there is something distinctively metafictional about this book (especially since it is written form the point of view of the detective’s sidekick while they are still working on the case).

If I were to criticise something, I would point out that the “dark secrets” of the main suspects are rather easy to guess. Everyone is in financial difficulties and it is fairly obvious who’s in love with whom. Personally, I was secretly hoping for handsome Captain Paton to end up with equally good-looking secretary Geoffrey Raymond (a girl can hope, right?), but this is 1926… Even if it is sometimes difficult to believe because the book feels so modern.

Overall, this book would be a solid four stars crime novel if it weren’t for the fact that it has my favourite literary trope of all time in it. Among the thousands of tropes on TV tropes, there are many which will either make or break a book for me. But I have a personal favourite which, unfortunately, appears in very few novels. Christie is the first author who has managed to pull it off convincingly and I am absolutely in awe of her because of it. There’s a reason why this book was her first commercial success and she has written literary history with it, even making it on to the “1001 Books to Read Before You Die” list. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd might have one of the blandest titles ever, but it also features one of the most incredible plot twists anyone could come up with. Even if you dislike mystery novels in general or Christie’s in particular – give this book a chance. You won’t regret it.

(Even if it means giving up your ambition to ever become a writer of mystery novels… Because how could my pathetic scribbling ever rival the genius of Dame Agatha Christie?)

Book Review: „The Secrets of Wishtide“

The Secrets of Wishtide by Kate Saunders91jNNhnBWoL

(* read in a German translation because I borrowed it from the library)

So much of people’s fortune, good or bad, depends upon how they choose to fall in love.

My Rating: 3.75/5 stars

Verdict: A charming, engaging, albeit somewhat shallow first instalment in what will hopefully become an even better series of novels.

The Plot: The Secrets of Wishtide is set in Victorian England – 1851, to be precise. Laetitia Rodd, a clever, empathic woman in her Fifties, has come up with a creative way of earning her income after the death of her husband. She is a private detective, with her brother Fred providing cases for her to solve, has apparently already built a reputation for herself as a discreet and reliable investigator. This is why the famously wealthy peer Sir James Calderstone approaches her in order to dig up some dark secrets from the past of one of his employers. The woman in question, a governess named Helen Orme, has captured the heart of Sir James’s only son, Charles. Since Helen is an unacceptable match for the son and heir of a peer, Laetitia is employed to find evidence in order to discredit Helen and break up the engagement. She starts living with the Calderstone family in their stately manor, Wishtide, posing as a private teacher for Charles’s younger sisters. However, Sir James soon gets more than he bargained for when a murder takes place and Laetitia begins to discover that everyone in Wishtide is hiding something…


I discovered this book in the library while searching for mystery novels to get in the mood of writing one myself. Previous to it, I had never read anything by Kate Saunders but I take it that she is most famous for writing romances and it is therefore unsurprising that love plays an important role in this novel. In fact, love is the driving force behind most of the character’s actions, with the notable exception of the killer, although even they would probably claimto have been motivated by love.

From the book’s cover and its title, I would have guessed that the action takes place predominantly in Wishtide. Now, I love a good old-fashioned mystery with a fixed set of characters, one of whom is bound to be the murderer. Unfortunately, this is not the case here. Laetitia travels quite often and spends little time at Wishtide, the secrets of which – or, rather, of its inhabitants – are quickly discovered and altogether trivial. I’m not well-read when it comes to crime novels, but I figured out who the murderer was almost immediately after their name was mentioned for the first time, which took away most of the book’s suspense. The revelation of the murderer’s identity at the end came with a weak plot twist and even the author seems to understand that this is underwhelming, hence why she did not trouble herself with stirring up any sense of excitement in the moment of the reveal. As a substitute for a shocking twist, she came up with a dramatic ending where one of the characters is kidnapped, but sadly, this failed to make up for the overall lack of suspense in this novel. After the kidnapping, the book is wrapped up very quickly and the author gives us one last glance into the future. This puzzled me since I was expecting the book to be the first in a series – showing us the main character’s future takes away most of the suspense in possible future novels, although it is done in a vague fashion (and therefore serving no purpose).

The book also differs from other crime novels in the fact that, while Laetitia investigates thoroughly, all the necessary revelations are discovered by accident. In fact, the identity of the murderer is revealed by a dog – I kid you not. For someone who loves to employ their “little grey cells” (as M. Poirot would call them) in figuring out whodunnit, this book was a disappointment.

What The Secrets of Wisthtide lacks in terms of plot, it tries to compensate with loveable characters and a rich atmosphere. I liked most of the characters, from the grumpy inspector (whose introduction as “the antagonist” I didn’t believe for a second) over the mischievous lawyer who takes a delight in helping his sister catch criminals to the protagonist, said sister. Laetitia is a wonderful character. She is smart, tactful and very empathetic without being too “soft”. I would have loved to learn more about her past, how she came to be a detective and solved her first cases, which are alluded to in this book, but never explained. Sadly, the shadier characters looked rather two-dimensional next to Laetitia. The Calderstones were shallow and could have done with some character development. However, I adored the spirited Mrs Hardy who resembles one of my favourite literary characters, Lady Milford from Friedrich Schiller’s “Kabale und Liebe”. Unlike most Victorian authors, Mrs Saunders seems to have a great deal of sympathy for a so-called “fallen woman” and several female characters in this book have strayed at some point in their lives. It is therefore unsurprising that the author based her novel on Dickens’ “David Copperfield”, but with a better understanding of the female mind than Dickens had.

Overall, The Secrets of Wishtide is a pleasant, engaging page-turner best enjoyed on a winter’s evening with a hot cup of tea. Although the book has several flaws, I am looking forward to more entries in what will hopefully become a series centering around Laetitia Rodd. In a time when most crime novels feature a detective almost as broken as the murderer, Mrs Rodd is a nice diversion: An almost Mrs Marple-like character whose practicality and unpretentiousness will hopefully endear her to all readers.



„The Secrets of Wishtide“ was published in 2016 by Bloomsbury USA.

Top 5 Books I’ve Read Last Year

The crazy train wreck that was 2018 is finally over, so I thought this might be a good occasion to try and wrap up the year in terms of the books I’ve read since I like keeping track of them. (I used to be an English undergraduate. Don’t judge me!)

Over the past few months, I’ve become interested in the world of BookTube, perhaps in a subconscious attempt to replace my uni seminars and reading cycles. (I miss geeking out with friends over the latest Neil Gaiman short story…) I’ve checked several BookTube channels and while I enjoyed all videos – including the ones where I totally disagreed with the critic – something keeps bothering me. Most of the critics I follow are American, one of them is Canadian and there is one Englishwoman as well, but they are all native speakers of English and therefore cover only books written in said language. Moreover, their preferred genre is YA, something that I’ve never quite gotten into although I still consider myself to be a young adult… But most YA books are actually intended for teens or that’s what I’ve gathered from my admittedly sparse experience with the genre.

Anyways, there appears to be a gap when it comes to non-native speakers of English who enjoy a broad variety of genres, including classics, and if anyone is interested in hearing my two pennies worth opinions on literature, I am happy to fill that void. (Occasionally. When I have the time for it.) Of course, I will not open a BookTube channel – I don’t read enough for that, my reviews will likely be of little interest to the recipients of said channels and, what is more, I don’t like seeing my face on the Internet. Or hearing my own voice. Both online and offline.

But, well, if anyone is interested in hearing my thoughts on literary works (presupposing I’ve read them), just ask me in the comment section. You can also give me tasks, like writing about the books I’ve loved as a child (and still do, in most cases) or whatever literary topic you’re interested in. Feel free to ask me things or criticise me if you wish to. (I’m aware that my English is somewhat less than what it used to be and even then it would have been pretentious for me to write literary reviews in a foreign language.)

Here are my top five books out of the 31 I’ve read in 2018. (For a full list of everything I’ve read over the past year, check out my goodreads channel to the right. 🙂 ) There will be no re-reads on this list, so you will not find Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone on it, despite it being the last book I’ve read in 2018. I hardly have to recommend that one to you anyway. Besides, I will only include those works which I’ve managed to finish last year so, sadly, there will be no War and Peace because that book is a bloody doorstopper…


5. Der jüdische Krieg – Lion Feuchtwanger

Download (1)Der jüdische Krieg is the first volume in the Josephus trilogy by German author Lion Feuchtwanger. It was lent to me by a friend whose favourite book it is, and I can definitely see why he loves it. Der jüdische Krieg (its English title is simply Josephus) is about the early years of the Jewish revolutionary, military commander, theologian and historian Flavius Josephus. Well-educated and ambitious, he longs to be a part of Roman society while also striving to free his native country, Judea, from the yoke of Roman oppression, ultimately befriending and changing the destinies of both freedom fighters and emperors alike.

It took me a long time to finish this book, mainly due to Feuchtwanger’s unique style of writing. He uses a very modern register that seems out of place in a historical novel at first but is very effective in demonstrating just how uncannily similar Ancient Rome is to modern Germany at times. Moreover, Feuchtwanger tends to switch tenses every couple of paragraphs which is, again, effective, but also off-putting.

What I loved most about this story is the characters. All of the recurring characters are three-dimensional and driven by their intense personal struggles, none more so than Josephus himself who switches sides several times and makes terrible mistakes before finally realising that his destiny is to write about the history of his people, not making it. But the secondary characters are equally compelling, every one of them trying to achieve their desperate goals, including the powerful and very cunning women in this book. My favourite character was Josephus’s rival and foil, Justus of Tiberias, who acts as a mirror to the protagonist and often brings out his darker side. It is no exaggeration to say that Justus’s final scene with Josephus in this book shattered me emotionally, although I cannot explain why without spoiling the ending of the book.

Despite the style which is by no means bad but really quite hard to get into, this is an incredibly complex, powerful and compelling book, which should definitely be read by more people. Feuchtwanger does a marvellous job at portraying the (sometimes very subtle and therefore even more terrible) antisemitism which is deeply ingrained into Roman society, and which Josephus, who so much resembles the Romans in mindset and education, is constantly confronted with. Given that the book was published in 1932, this is deeply chilling and once again demonstrates how little some things have changed since the Romans.


4. Small Gods – Terry Pratchett

This was the first book I read in 2018 and I finished it in less than 48 hours.


The first book I ever read by Pratchett, Small Gods tells the story of the once mighty god Om who, for a lack of believers, loses most of his powers and is confined to the shape of a small, but very disgruntled tortoise. Om’s constant attempts to regain his former glory and his consequent journey with the young novice Brutha are absolutely hilarious. In a country where everyone fears the Church, but no one actually believes in its god, Brutha is the only believer Om has left, mostly because it hasn’t occurred to him yet to question the teachings of the Omnian faith. Now he has been chosen by his god and being a prophet turns out to be even worse than the holy scriptures let on.

Small Gods is a real page turner and will, I believe, appeal to everyone who appreciates satire and British humour. Pratchett takes on religion, society, philosophy and everything else between heaven and earth. His jokes are so incredibly complex that I can only explain them as consisting of several layers. There is the first layer, which is the joke in itself which is already funny. But then there will be another layer, one that you can only understand with the necessary background information, i.e. general knowledge which should actually be called “very specific knowledge” in this case. This second layer turns many of his jokes and puns into inside jokes, giving them a double (treble?) meaning and making them even more hilarious. Pratchett constantly references history and literature in his works and I cannot claim to understand more than two thirds of his many hints and allusions. The fact that his books are still incredibly entertaining is a miracle and lies, I suspect, not only in Pratchett’s amazing skill with language, but also in his very humane and insightful observations. Sir Terry was a humanist in the truest sense of the word and even religious readers will love his satirical take on organised religion.

(And, well, you’ve got to adore the grumpy tortoise. It’s too cute!)


3. The Grand Sophy – Georgette Heyer

SophyAnother first for me – prior to this year, I had never read anything by Georgette Heyer, the mother of Regency romances (probably for that very reason). Heyer can only be described as the 20th century’s Jane Austen, but her books are juicier and (dare I say it?) more entertaining than Austen’s romances. The Grand Sophy is a about a heroine Austen would never have invented because she defies every social norm and absolutely refuses to fit into polite society. When Sophy descends upon the down-on-their-luck Rivenhall family, she changes their lives forever – much to the chagrin of her morose cousin, Charles Rivenhall.

With the strong chemistry between the characters and the witty dialogue, this book is great fun, provided you won’t take it too seriously. There is a very good reason why a heroine like Sophia Stanton-Lacy, the gun-wielding petrol head of a Regency heiress, was never the subject of a Jane Austen novel. While I usually tend to dislike heroines who seem to ridicule their setting due to their improbable modern moral standards and behaviour, Sophy provides an exception – perhaps because Heyer does not take her Regency setting all that seriously herself. She is very knowledgeable concerning the period and even has the characters speak in Regency slang but has no problem with bending the limits of the setting a bit (off-handedly mentioning adultery and other things that would have shocked Regency readers). She thereby creates a genre of her own, which has often been copied but never surpassed as far as I can tell.

There is, however, one massive problem that almost ruined the book for me. It is a scene in which Sophy confronts a greedy, spineless moneylender with a Jewish sounding name who is the exact antisemitic stereotype you can find in many works of fiction. While this can be explained – if certainly not excused – to be a product of the times in instances like Fagin from Dickens’s Oliver Twist, no such explanation can be made for Heyer who published Sophy in 1950, only a couple of years after the horrifying murder of at least 6 million Jews by the Nazis. Therefore, it pains me to put The Grand Sophy above Feuchtwanger in this ranking and while I honestly enjoyed this book more than his due to the lighter setting and easier readability, I will only recommend it under reserve.


2. Guards! Guards! – Terry Pratchett

Another Prachett. There can be no denying that Sir Terry’s books are the literary Download (2)discovery of the year for me, although I’ve known for a while that I’d probably love them if I’d only find the time to read them. What I did not expect was how I would end up spending every minute of my free time reading Guards! Guards! and developing actual withdrawal symptoms after finishing it. Seriously. It’s that good.

The story is the first in a series about the Ankh-Morpork night watch, a band of mostly incompetent cops with their own fair share of vices. Samuel Vimes is their disillusioned leader who has to protect his city from a dragon while simultaneously contemplating whether Ankh-Morpork is actually worth saving.

While the mystery plot is probably one of the weaker points of the novel – Pratchett is no Agatha Christie – the characters more than make up for this. They are all loveable in their own way while being far from perfect. My personal favourite has to be the Patrician, who bears an uncanny resemblance to the character whom I’ve named this blog after, which might or might not be a coincidence…

In Pratchett’s novels, the setting can be as important as the plot and Guards! Guards! thrives on this. Ankh-Morpork is a wonderfully dark, twisted and exciting setting and the Discworld in itself mirrors our reality in ways we probably wouldn’t want to admit. Pratchett is amazing at making us readers laugh about our pretensions and human flaws in general, which he handles with great sympathy. But there is anger and a good deal of frustration underlying the comedy and there can be no mistaking that Pratchett had a lot to say about modern society. The world could be a better place if more people read the Discworld novels.


1. Much Ado About Nothing – William Shakespeare

rsz_much_adoAlright, alright – this was never a fair competition. William Shakespeare plays in a league of his own and I’m fairly sure Sir Terry would not even mind being bested by him in this ranking.

When I started university in 2014, I knew only a handful of plays by Shakespeare and did not imagine I’d come to love his works as much as I do. It is widely known that you cannot study English without encountering Shakespeare sooner or later but that does not mean you have to like him and in fact, many students and professors don’t. I would not call myself a “fan” of his, in the same way that I would not claim to be a fan of Bach or Leonardo da Vinci. But there is a timeless beauty in what these men achieved in their lifetime and a sense of fascination that engulfs me whenever I encounter their work. As for Shakespeare, I did not read half the plays he’s ever written because I’m a fangirl. I read them because I discovered that I had less problems with understanding Early Modern English than most of my fellow students and that my essays about his plays generally tended to yield good marks. And somewhere along the way, almost by accident, I started to see the greater patterns underlying his works and fell in love with them. It’s the timeless appeal of the stories, the way Shakespeare mysteriously manages to address readers from all kinds of backgrounds (and centuries!) and the unrivalled way he handles language that set them apart from everything I’ve ever read. We use the phrase “mastering a language” when someone has become well-versed in a foreign tongue, but I would argue that Shakespeare is one of the very few people in history who have actually mastered English.

Much Ado About Nothing has become some sort of insider’s tip among Shakespeare’s comedies and while I usually prefer the history plays and tragedies to the comedies, I could not help but adore this one. The story is literally older than steam: Benedick and Beatrice dislike each other intensely and spend their time bickering while secretely enjoying their witty back-and-forth banter… until their friends decide to set them up with each other by convincing each of the two that the other is secretly pining for them. In the meanwhile, a coup is being staged, Claudio is a jerk and people are enjoying the Shakespearean hobby of dressing up in somebody else’s clothes and fooling everyone into believing they’re actually someone else. (Something that, somehow, only works on a theatre stage.)

To cut a long review short: Much Ado About Nothing is brilliant and you should totally read it. And if you have problems with the language or the idea of reading something that consists only of dialogue and stage directions repels you, check out the film adaptation starring Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson. (The German dub is a good translation.) That film might just be the best thing Kenneth “I’m the next Laurence Olivier, check out my four hours version of Hamlet” Branagh has ever made.



These are my personal top five books of 2018, none of which was actually published in 2018… For 2019, I will endeavour to read at least one contemporary (-ish) book per month and, after having complained about the predominance of American and British literature in book reviews (which I am totally guilty of myself – old habits die hard!), I will also try to read more international literature, even if it means having to rely on translations. I will also continue my journey through literary history, attempting to read at least one classic per month. And I hearby swear to finish that accursed brick of a book, that phenomenal literary masterpiece War and Peace by Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy before the year is out. Only 1600 pages to go…

Wie durch gesplittertes Glas

A/N: Dies ist mein ursprünglich für den Mittelerde Adventskalender 2018 geschriebener Oneshot zu dem Schlagwort „Aufgewühlte Schneekugel“. Ich hatte Orodreth als Charakter aus einer Liste meiner Lieblingsfiguren, über die ich noch keinen Weihnachtstext geschrieben habe, zufällig ausgewählt. Als ich bereits fünf Seiten geschrieben hatte, stellte ich fest, dass es schon einen Text mit Orodreth und einer Schneekugel gibt, der meinem ähnelt – Nairalins „Meere entfernt“. Ich weiß nicht, ob ich unbewusst von ihrem Text beeinflusst wurde oder ob es reiner Zufall ist – jedenfalls habe ich mich entschieden, für das Projekt einen anderen Text hochzuladen, der allerdings als Vorgeschichte zu diesem gelesen werden kann. Den ursprünglichen Oneshot wollte ich euch aber nicht vorenthalten, auch wenn ich vorwarnen sollte, dass er nicht besonders weihnachtlich ist.

Disclaimer: Die Rechte liegen bei J.R.R. Tolkien und Erben; ich habe nicht vor, Geld mit diesem Text zu verdienen.


Wie durch gesplittertes Glas

Der König von Nargothrond starrte nachdenklich in das Kaminfeuer, welches seine Gemächer erhellte und ihm Wärme spendete. Normalerweise erlaubte er sich einen solchen Luxus nicht. Feuer war in der unterirdischen Stadt eine Gefahrenquelle, nicht nur wegen der offensichtlichen Brandgefahr. Zudem war es schwer, an Feuerholz zu gelangen, ohne sich zu weit von Nargothrond zu entfernen. An den meisten Tagen verzichtete er somit auf die Wärme des Kaminfeuers, zumal er wusste, dass seine Fähigkeit, Kälte zu ertragen, noch weitaus niedrigeren Temperaturen gewachsen war. Aber nun, da der Winter selbst in den verborgenen Höhlen von Nargothrond Einzug gehalten hatte und seine Untertanen sich in ihren Wohnstuben um Feuerschalen sammelten, hatte auch Orodreth ein kleines Feuer entzündet.

Er hielt die ausgestreckten Hände vor den Kamin und bemerkte, wie weiß sie geworden waren. Die Knöchel zeichneten sich deutlich unter der Haut ab.

Ein Blick in den Spiegel sagte ihm, dass sein Gesicht sich fahl unter dem aschblonden Haar abhob, mit tiefen Schatten um die Augen, die einen zusätzlichen Kontrast bildeten. Die silberne Krone hatte er bereits beim Betreten seiner Gemächer abgelegt. Er ertrug es nicht, sie auf seinem Kopf zu sehen. Es sah falsch aus, wie ein Fremdkörper, ein Teil von Finrod, der nicht zu ihm gehören wollte.

Orodreth zog seinen Stuhl näher an das Feuer und beobachtete, wie sich die Schatten an der Wand bewegten, länglich verzerrte Abbilder seines Körpers und seiner Möbel, die sich in den dunklen Ecken des Zimmers verloren. Dann legte er einen Holzscheit nach.

Orodreth hasste die Kälte.

Jemand klopfte an der Tür seines Wohngemachs. Es war ein kleiner Raum, den sein Bruder nur als Schreibzimmer verwendet hatte, aber Orodreth hatte die meisten königlichen Räume unberührt gelassen. Die kleinen Räume gefielen ihm besser, und sie waren leichter zu heizen.

„Ada?“ Eine vertraute Stimme drang durch die Tür zu ihm und seine Tochter drückte den Griff ohne eine Aufforderung herunter und trat ins Zimmer. Ihre Wangen waren gerötet und ihre grünblauen Augen leuchteten aufgeregt. „Sieh nur, was Tyelperinquar und ich gebaut haben!“ Sie hielt einen kleinen Gegenstand in die Höhe.

Eine weitere Person war Finduilas in das Zimmer gefolgt. Celebrimbor blieb im Türrahmen stehen, die Hände hinter dem Rücken verschränkt und beobachtete das Geschehen. Es war dieser scharfsinnige, aufmerksame Blick, der Orodreth so fatal and Celebrimbors Vater erinnerte, auch wenn er wusste, dass er dem jungen Noldo damit Unrecht tat.

„Was ist es?“, erkundigte er sich bei Finduilas und bemühte sich, ein überzeugendes Lächeln zustande zu bringen. Es war ein Glück, dass er sich selbst nicht sehen konnte, so erkannte er nicht, wie sehr er bei dem Versuch scheiterte.

„Sieh selbst.“ Finduilas drückte ihm den Gegenstand in die Hand. Celebrimbor trat an ihre Seite und gemeinsam warteten sie Orodreths Reaktion ab.

Es war eine Miniaturlandschaft, eingefangen unter einer gläsernen Kuppel. Winzige Tannenwipfel schienen einem eisigen Winterwind zu trotzen, während ein vereister Fluss unter dem Schnee ruhte und ein Rotkehlchen auf einem Ast Zuflucht vor der Kälte zu suchen schien. Die Details waren so präzise ausgearbeitet, dass Orodreth für einen Moment glaubte, die Hand Nerdanels in der ihres Neffen wiederzuerkennen.

„Du musst es schütteln“, wies ihn Finduilas an. Orodreth blickte erstaunt auf. Es schien ihm falsch, etwas so Zierliches, scheinbar Fragiles zu schütteln. Celebrimbor nickte und Finduilas beobachtete ihren Vater gespannt.

Orodreth bewegte die Kugel vorsichtig auf und ab. Zu seinem Erstaunen setzten sich die winzigen Schneeflocken in Bewegung und schienen für einen Moment in der Luft zu schweben, bevor sie grazil wieder zu Boden sanken. Orodreth schüttelte die Kugel erneut, diesmal mit mehr Kraft, und die Flocken tanzten in ihrem Gefängnis.

Der König blickte auf und sah Finduilas‘ Strahlen, den Stolz in ihrem Gesicht, der sich in ähnlicher Form, wenn auch weniger offensichtlich, auf Celebrimbors Zügen finden ließ. Es verwunderte Orodreth, wie eng sich seine Tochter und sein Neffe in jüngerer Zeit angefreundet hatten. Aber er war Celebrimbor dankbar dafür, dass er Finduilas von ihrem Schmerz abgelenkt hatte, nachdem ihr Verlobter nicht aus der Nirnaeth Arnoediad zurückgekehrt war. In der Kugel sah Orodreth einen erneuten Versuch Celebrimbors, Finduilas auf andere Gedanken zu bringen und zwar auf die Art, die ihm am vertrautesten war: Das Handwerk. Hätte Orodreth das Geschick des jungen Künstlers besessen, wie froh wäre er über die willkommene Ablenkung gewesen. Aber Finarfins Sohn besaß zwei linke Hände und jegliche Arbeit, die er damit verrichtete, erinnerte ihn nur daran, wie ungenügend er in den Augen seiner noldorischen Verwandschaft erscheinen musste.

„Was für ein ungewöhnliches Artefakt“, murmelte Orodreth und wandte seinen Blick von der verschneiten Landschaft ab und Celebrimbor zu. Der jüngere Noldo betrachtete ihn aufmerksam, die Hände noch immer hinter dem Rücken verschränkt. Es war nicht Celebrimbors Schuld und er konnte ihn dafür nicht verantwortlich machen, aber als sein Neffe ihn mit diesem halb abwartenden, halb prüfenden Blick bedachte, sah Orodreth für einen Augenblick einen anderen Elben vor sich. Nicht Celebrimbors Vater, dem er ähnelte, sondern seinen Großvater, dessen Ebenbild Curufin gewesen war. Es war, als hätte Feanor ihm eins seiner Werke in die Hand gedrückt und würde nun auf sein Urteil warten.

„Das ist… sehr schön geworden“, sagte Orodreth und seine Tochter strahlte.

„Ich dachte, es würde sich gut auf deinem Schreibpult machen“, sagte Finduilas. „Tyelperinquar und ich wollen noch mehr davon herstellen.“

„Es ist ein Geschenk“, fügte Celebrimbor leise hinzu.

„Eine Kugel mit Tirion wäre wunderschön, findest du nicht auch?“, fragte Finduilas. „Die Schneeflocken auf den weißen Dächern und dazu die Berge… Es sähe majestätisch aus.“

„Der Winter in Tirion war sehr mild“, murmelte Orodreth. „Es schneite nur selten.“

Finduilas zog die Stirn in Falten. „Ist etwas nicht in Ordnung, Ada?“, fragte sie, hörbar besorgt. Celebrimbor betrachtete ihn noch immer aus diesen kühlen, grauen Augen, ohne die Miene zu verändern. „Du wirkt so…“

Orodreth zwang sich erneut zu einem Lächeln. „Nein, es geht mir gut.“ Er hob die Schneekugel hoch. „Ein wunderschönes Geschenk, Finduilas. Ich danke euch dafür.“

Sie lächelte, nicht ganz überzeugt, und verabschiedete sich dann. Celebrimbor folgte ihr und hielt ihr die Tür auf, bevor er selbst verschwand. Orodreth sah ihnen nach, auch, als sich die Tür bereits geschlossen hatte. Es war erstaunlich, welche Veränderung mit seiner Tochter vorgegangen war. Finduilas war immer ein stilles Mädchen gewesen, aber wenn ihre Begeisterung einmal geweckt war, sprudelten die Worte nur so aus ihr hervor. Ihre pure Freude über das Kunstwerk, das sie angefertigt hatte, war wie ein Farbtupfer in diesen grauen Wintertagen. Doch nun war die Kälte zurückgekehrt und das Kaminfeuer brannte herunter.

Orodreth starrte hinab auf die kleine Kugel in seinen Händen. Der Schnee hatte sich erneut über die Winterlandschaft gelegt und hüllte sie in eisige Stille.

Wie konnte es sein, dass Celebrimbor ihm ausgerechnet diese Kugel geschenkt hatte? Was bezweckte der Junge damit?

Orodreth schüttelte die Kugel leicht und während die Schneeflocken zu tanzen begannen, konnte er die beißende Kälte beinahe auf der Haut spüren. Fühlte die unendliche Dunkelheit, durch die er sich vorankämpfte, den Wind, der ihm Schneeflocken ins Gesicht trieb und sich in jeden Zoll unbedeckter Haut zu beißen schien. Orodreth fror bis ins Mark, doch der Schneesturm legte sich nicht. Er ließ alles erstarren. Jede Emotion, jeden Schmerz, das Gefühl der Verlorenheit. Zurück blieb nichts als die Kälte.

Erneut legte sich der Schnee und Orodreth setzte die Kugel ab, plötzlich angewidert von der friedlichen Winterlandschaft, von dem hübschen, dekorativen Schnee.

Wie konnte ihm ein Enkel Feanors eine solche Kugel schenken?

Der König erhob sich, den Rücken zum Feuer gewandt, und betrachtete die Wandteppiche, mit denen Finrod sein Arbeitszimmer geschmückt hatte. Bilder, die Tirion zeigten und die Gärten von Lórien. Überbleibsel aus einer lang vergangenen Zeit.

Es war der Winter, der die Erinnerungen zurückbrachte. Die Kälte und die Dunkelheit riefen Emotionen in ihm wach, die er sonst betäubte.

Da waren die Erinnerungen an seine Heimat und an die Frau, die er zurückgelassen hatte.

Sie waren einer Meinung gewesen in allen Belangen, auch dieser einen. Weder Orodreth noch seine Gattin hatten daran geglaubt, dass es weise wäre, Tirion zu verlassen und sich auf die Reise ins Ungewisse zu begeben. Doch hier hatte der Unterschied gelegen: Orodreth hatte sich der Entscheidung seiner Familie gebeugt. Seine Frau war zurückgeblieben.

In gewisser Hinsicht, so dachte der König, konnte er sich glücklich schätzen. Immerhin wusste er, dass seine Frau noch lebte, anders als Elenwe und die vielen anderen, deren Leben das Eis gefordert hatte. Das unsichtbare Band, das ihn an seine Ehepartnerin band, war noch immer vorhanden, doch nahm er es jeden Tag weniger wahr. Er wusste nicht, ob seine Frau ihn überhaupt noch erkennen würde, so viel Zeit war seit ihrem Abschied vergangen.

Da waren Bilder von Tirion und Bilder seiner Familie, glücklichere Zeiten in Alqualonde, unter der Herrschaft seines Großvaters Olwe. Ein Wandteppich enthielt alle Namen der noldorischen Prinzen und ihrer Wappen. Noch mehr Erinnerungen, noch mehr Andenken und dazwischen ein Bild seines Bruders, gewandet wie ein König. Die silberne Krone glänzte an seiner Stirn.

Während Orodreth schmächtig und unscheinbar war, war Finrod groß und blond. Während Orodreths Gesicht die feinen, leicht schrägen Züge eines Telers trug, sprach aus Finrod die kraftvolle Schönheit der Vanyar. Sein Bruder war von Kopf bis Fuß ein König gewesen und Orodreth würde niemals mehr sein als die billige Kopie eines solchen, ein Elb, der die Krone von Nargothrond aus dem Dreck gehoben hatte, nachdem sein Bruder sie zu Boden geschleudert hatte. Seine Brüder hatten Königreiche beherrscht, Orodreth hingegen hatte man lediglich eine kleine Stadt überantwortet, und selbst die hatte er verloren.

Finarfins Sohn wandte sich von den Wandteppichen ab und nahm sich ein weiteres Mal vor, sie abzuhängen. Er wusste nicht, warum er es bisher nicht über sich gebracht hatte. Vielleicht war es die widersinnige Hoffnung, dass die Nachricht von Finrods Tod eine Fehlinformation gewesen war und sein Bruder doch eines Tages zurückkommen würde.

Orodreths Blick fiel auf die kleine Kugel, die vergessen auf dem Boden stand. Ein falscher Schritt und sie wäre unter seinem Fuß zersprungen. Scherben, von denen er bezweifelte, dass sie Glück brächten.

War es nicht widersinnig, dass Feanors Enkel ihm ein solches Geschenk machte?

Celebrimbor, der Sohn eines der Elben, die Feuer an die Schwanenschiffe gelegt hatten? Die das Volk seines Großvaters niedergemetzelt und den Hafen von Alqualonde in Blut getaucht hatten?

Feanors Verrat bei Losgar hatte sie dazu verdammt, das Unmögliche zu versuchen und den Weg durch das ewige Eis auf sich zu nehmen. Sie hatten alles riskiert, und fast alles verloren.

Celebrimbor wusste das.

Und nun schenkte ihm der Junge eine dekorative Winterlandschaft.

Orodreth verbarg das Gesicht in den Händen, die Finger gruben sich in seine Wangen, bis der Schmerz die aufgewühlten Emotionen in seinem Inneren überlagerte. Wie die Schneeflocken im Inneren der Kugel zirkulierten die Gedanken in seinem Kopf, stürmten die Erinnerungen auf ihn ein.

Hatte Celebrimbor ihn verspottet oder war es seine eigene Schuld, die ihm dies vorgaukelte, um von sich abzulenken?

Verdammte er einen unschuldigen jungen Elben für die Sünden seiner Väter? Oder gelang es ihm zum ersten Mal, den Einfluss seiner Feinde wahrzunehmen, bevor ihn diese höhnisch lachend in den Staub traten?

Er hatte Curufin und Celegorm gehasst. Ihre Arroganz und die Selbstverständlichkeit, mit der sie sich wie Nargothronds rechtmäßige Herrscher aufgeführt hatten. Ihr Spott und ihre grausamen Schmähungen hallten in seinen Erinnerungen nach. Sie, die schon Elenwe und so viele andere um das Leben gebracht hatten… Seine feanorischen Vettern, die Verräter, die Sippenmörder… Sie hatten Finrod vertrieben und in den Tod geschickt.

Es war so leicht, sie zu hassen und zusammen mit der verdammten Schneekugel in die ewige Leere von Mandos‘ Hallen zu wünschen.

Aber – so dachte Orodreth, als er die Kugel benommen vom Boden aufhob und erneut betrachtete – machte er es sich damit nicht zu einfach? Betrachtete er die Welt nicht durch seine eigene, verzerrte Wahrnehmung, wie durch ein Stück gesplittertes Glas?

Es war leicht, die Feanorer zu hassen, weil der Hass auf sie ihn vor tieferen, schmerzvolleren Wahrheiten bewahrte.

Da war die Tatsache, dass er nichts getan hatte, um Finrod beizustehen oder ihn davon abzubringen, nach Tol-in-Gaurhoth zu gehen.

Dass die Bevölkerung von Nargothrond ihn ohne Zögern gegen Celegorm und Curufin eingetauscht hatte.

Dass er sich gerne hinter seinem Hass auf die Feanorer zurückzog, wenn es bedeutete, dass er vermeiden konnte, in ihren Kriegen mitzukämpfen.

Da war die Tatsache, dass er sein ganzes Dasein, alle seine Macht und Errungenschaften, dem Bruder zu verdanken hatte, der in der Festung gestorben war, die Orodreth nicht hatte halten können.

Für all diese Dinge konnte er Celebrimbor nicht verantwortlich machen. Er würde sie für den Rest seines Lebens mit sich tragen wie einen Splitter, der in seinem Fleisch steckte. Ein dumpfer, tief sitzender Schmerz, den er stets am Rande seines Bewusstseins wahrnahm und den zu lindern er noch schlimmere Qualen auf sich nehmen müsste.

Orodreth hob die Kugel vor sein Gesicht, doch als er sie betrachtete, sah er nicht die Tannenwipfel oder das Rotkehlchen unter der dichten Schneedecke.

Er sah sein eigenes Spiegelbild. Es blickte ihm entgegen, umgeben von den Flammen des Kaminfeuers. Und für einen Moment sah er sich so, wie ihn die Feanorer gesehen haben mussten.


Orodreth sah sich selbst in die Augen und spürte, wie die Verzweiflung in seinem Inneren in tiefen Hass umschlug. Dann packte er die Kugel und warf sie in den offenen Kamin.

Das brennende Holz leuchtete auf und Funken stieben, doch die Kugel lag unberührt in der Mitte des Feuers.

Nicht einmal das wollte ihm gelingen, nicht einmal dies vermochte er…

Zorn ergriff nun vollends Besitz von Orodreth und er packte den Wandteppich mit dem Abbild seines Bruders, riss ihn herunter und warf ihn ebenfalls in die Flammen.

Das Feuer flackerte kurz und schien beinahe auszugehen. Doch dann, langsam, begann es zu wachsen. Dunkle Löcher brannten sich in den Stoff.

Orodreth starrte mit weit aufgerissenen Augen in die Flammen. Oh, es tat so gut, sie zu verachten. Die Feanorer, die ihm alles genommen hatten. Und er würde sie weiter hassen, würde all seine Verzweiflung und Wut auf sie richten. Alles, um diesen Teil seiner selbst zu verbergen, den er verleugnete und den er niemals einer lebenden Seele gegenüber zugegeben hätte. Den Teil seines Ichs, der sich darüber gefreut hatte, dass sein geliebter, perfekter, unvergleichlicher Bruder nicht zurückgekommen war.

Das Feuer hatte sich durch den Wandteppich gefressen und griff nach dem Abbild des einstigen Königs. Finrods mildes Lächeln wurde vom Feuerschein rot gefärbt.

Orodreth stieß einen erstickten Schrei aus und sank auf die Knie. Wie ein Besessener griff er nach dem Stoff und zerrte daran, zog den brennenden Teppich aus den Flammen, während das Feuer weiter daran zerrte. Orodreth erstickte die Flammen mit seinem eigenen Gewand, während er den Teppich noch aus dem Kamin zog.

Halb verkohlte Holzscheite fielen aus der Feuerstelle, Asche rieselte auf den Boden und das Geräusch einer Kugel, die über den Boden rollte, drang an Orodreths Ohren.

Er saß dort, inmitten des halb verbrannten Stoffstückes und die Schneekugel rollte ihm vor die Füße. Das Glas wies einen Sprung auf, doch ansonsten war sie unberührt.

Ein Schmerzenslaut wie von einem verletzten Tier zerriss die Luft und Orodreth realisierte, dass das Schluchzen aus seiner eigenen Kehle kam.

Tränen rannen über seine Wangen und er vergrub das Gesicht in dem verbrannten Stoff. Der beißende Geruch ließ sich kaum ertragen, doch Orodreth ließ den Teppich nicht los.

Orodreth weinte. Er weinte und weinte, bis das Feuer beinahe heruntergebrannt war und die Luft kühler wurde. Als keine Tränen mehr kamen, presste er das Gesicht weiter in den Stoff, während sein Körper von trockenen Schluchzern geschüttelt wurde. Schließlich versiegten auch diese.

Ein Klopfen an der Tür ließ Orodreth aufblicken. Er wusste nicht, wie viele Stunden vergangen waren, seit Finduilas ihn allein gelassen hatte.

„Mein König?“ Er konnte die Stimme eines seiner Wachposten von der anderen Seite vernehmen. „Ihr werdet gebraucht. Eine Gruppe Kundschafter ist von einem Einsatz zurückgekehrt.“

Orodreth richtete sich auf. Er wischte mit dem Handrücken über seine Wangen und strich sich das Haar aus dem Gesicht. Dann faltete er wie mechanisch den halb verkohlten Teppich und legte ihn unter das Schreibpult, wo er nicht mehr zu sehen war. Mit einer ebenso steifen Bewegung hob er die Schneekugel vom Boden auf und stellte sie auf den Kaminsims. Dann ergriff er den silbernen Reif, der auf einer Kommode gelegen hatte.

Es klopfte noch einmal.

Orodreth setzte die Krone auf, hob das Kinn und schritt zur Tür.