Walter Moers and Germany’s dark fantasy

Germany boasts an extremely rich history in the literary genre of surreal fantasy fiction, and this history has had a distinct influence on literature worldwide. We have the Grimm Brothers’ original gory tales, E.T.A. Hoffmann’s The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, Goethe’s Faust, Hermann Hesse’s short stories, Michel Ende’s Neverending Story . . . the list goes on and on. There is one author of our times who definitely deserves to be included in that list, and that is Walter Moers, one of the most popular authors in Germany.

Despite his fame, Walter Moers is very reclusive (as many great authors tend to be), making few photos of himself available and only contacting people through online chats. Interestingly, Moers does not take any credit for his works, instead saying that he is merely translating the works of a dinosaur called Optimus Yarnspinner.

But his peculiarities in no way diminish the quality of the stories he has produced so far. His stories start with downright absurd premises that will make you say “What?!” and your jaw drop. For instance, his most popular book, The City of Dreaming Books, begins with a young, innocent dinosaur who was educated by his dinosaur godfather to become the best writer, embarking upon his journey to a legendary city called Bookholm. The city of Bookholm is hundreds of years old, and filled with bookstores, publishing companies, agents, and newsstands. Moers’ creatures and places often leave the readers awestruck by how he presents them as if they are some ordinary incident one would see on street.

Though the premises of his books are wild, Moers’ style is well thought out; he professionally crafts and weaves a consistent storyline and creates likable characters with tightly knit backstories. His works boast detailed but hidden allusions to classical literature, unimaginable amounts of wordplay, and subtle references to his other novels. All of his books take place in the fictional world of Zamonia. He has created an enormous universe filled with his own monsters, which reminds me of the universes of Star Wars, Doctor Who, or Supernatural.

Every single one of his works of fiction is accompanied by very detailed illustrations, all of which are drawn by him using a magnifying glass; it is amazing that he never received formal education in art. His illustrations play a key role in his books, creating a unique atmosphere that manages to appear whimsical as well as haunting and gory.

Besides his fictional works, his satire cartoons and caricatures with enormous noses are a lot of fun to look at. He often plays with well-known faces,  Adolf Hitler for example, creating a cartoon of Hitler getting a prank call from Winston Churchill about free war insurance.

The thickness of the books might intimidate readers at first, often exceeding the ordinary Harry Potter volume; however, Moers has always captivated readers with his unstopping flow of thrilling story, taking readers to a whole new world. He also makes his devoted readers happy by continuing to take them into the familiar world of Zamonia with his new books. To a Walter Moers beginner who is an avid reader, I strongly recommend The City of Dreaming Books, which is written strongly in dedication to countless German poets and reminiscent of such classical literature itself.

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