Friday, May 06, 2016

The Rider on the White Horse


The Rider on the White Horse is the 1888 novella and best-known work of German author Theodor Storm, pictured above. It was his last work and was completed in the year he died. It could be described as weird fiction. It's in the public domain and can be read online. I read it here. You can listen to it here or here.

It begins:
WHAT I am about to tell I learned nearly half a century ago in the house of my great-grand-mother, old Madame Fedderson, widow of the senator, while I was sitting beside her armchair, busy reading a magazine bound in blue pasteboard-I don't remember whether it was a copy of the "Leipzig" or of "Pappes Hamburger Lesefruchte." I still remember with a shudder how meanwhile the light hand of the past eighty-year-old woman glided tenderly over the hair of her great-grandson. She herself and her time are buried long ago. In vain have I searched for that magazine, and therefore I am even less able to vouch for the truth of the statements in it than I am to defend them if anyone should question them; but of so much I can assure anyone, that since that time they have never been forgotten, even though no outer incident has revived them in my memory.

It was in the third decade of our century, on an October afternoon-thus began the story-teller of that time-that I rode through a mighty storm along a North Frisian dike. For over an hour I had on my left the dreary marshland, already deserted by all the cattle; on my right, unpleasantly near me, the swamping waters of the North Sea. I saw nothing, however, but the yellowish-grey waves that beat against the dike unceasingly, as if they were roaring with rage, and that now and then bespattered me and my horse with dirty foam; behind them I could see only chaotic dusk which did not let me tell sky and earth apart, for even the half moon which now stood in the sky was most of the time covered by wandering clouds. It was ice cold; my clammy hands could scarcely hold the reins, and I did not wonder that the croaking and cackling crows and gulls were always letting themselves be swept inland by the storm. Nightfall had begun, and already I could no longer discern the hoof of my horse with any certainty. I had met no human soul, heard nothing but the screaming of the birds when they almost grazed me and my faithful mare with their long wings, and the raging of the wind and water. I cannot deny that now and then I wished that I were in safe quarters.

It was the third day that this weather had lasted, and I had already allowed an especially dear relative to keep me longer than I should have done on his estate in one of the more northern districts. But to-day I could not stay longer. I had business in the city which was even now a few hours' ride to the south, and in spite of all the persuasions of my cousin and his kind wife, in spite of the Perinette and Grand Richard apples still to be tried, I had ridden away.

"Wait till you get to the sea," he had called after me from his house door. "You will turn back. Your room shall be kept for you."

And really, for a moment, when a black layer of clouds spread pitch-darkness round me and at the same time the howling squalls were trying to force me and my horse down from the dike, the thought shot through my head: "Don't be a fool! Turn back and stay with your friends in their warm nest."
....
The New Yorker calls it "long on atmosphere". The Washington Post calls it "a disturbing prose-poem". Kirkus Reviews concludes "There is nothing better in German fiction prior to the work of Thomas Mann."

2 comments:

  1. Goodness. When I have some time, I'm going to read this. It sounds very "atmospheric" to me. Thanks for the links.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "atmospheric" is the perfect word!

      Delete