Ratschläge einer Raupe

“Alice and the Caterpillar” by John Tenniel (1820-1914), from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland (1865)

Ratschläge einer Raupe is one possible German translation of “Advice from a Caterpillar”, which is the title of chapter five of Alice in Wonderland. But the drawing above doesn’t need a translation. John Tenniel and Lewis Carroll were a classic combination, like Quentin Blake and J.P. Martin or Thomas Henry and Richmal Crompton. Tenniel drew fantastic things in a matter-of-fact way, which was just right.

But that makes me wonder about Ratschläge einer Raupe. In German, Rat-schlag means “piece of advice” and Ratschläge is the plural. At first glance, the title is more fun in German: it alliterates and trips off the the tongue in a way the English doesn’t. And Schlag literally means “blow, stroke”, which captures the behaviour of the caterpillar well. Like many of the characters Alice encounters in Wonderland, he is a prickly and aggressive interlocutor. “Advice from a Caterpillar” is plain by comparison.

So perhaps that makes it better: it’s a matter-of-fact title for a surreal chapter. Tenniel’s art echoes that.

Tott ist Rot

• Lautlos und fein rann der rostrot gefärbte Sand durch die gläserne Enge, und da er in der oberen Höhlung zur Neige ging, hatte sich dort ein kleiner, reißender Strudel gebildet. — Thomas Mann, Der Tod in Venedig (1912)

• Silently, subtly, the rust-red sand trickled through the narrow glass aperture, dwindling away out of the upper vessel, in which a little whirling vortex had formed. — “Death in Venice” (translated by David Luke)

Noise from Nowhere

• Es war, als ob er irgendwohin horchte, auf irgend ein unheimliches Geräusch. — Thomas Mann, Der kleine Herr Friedemann (1897)

• He seemed somehow to be listening, listening to some uncanny noise from nowhere. — “Little Herr Friedemann” (translated by David Luke)