A Fairy Tale

E.T.A. Hoffmann, ‘The Golden Pot’ (translated by Ritchie Robertson)

There are some stories that you need to read multiple times in order to get to grips with them. Not necessarily because they are overly complicated or particularly difficult to understand, but rather because there is so much going on in them and there are so many layers of meaning, that it would be impossible to grasp them all after reading them just once. These can be some of the most rewarding stories to read. When you first read them, there is the satisfaction of finding out what happens in the story, but then you are rewarded for subsequent readings with more and more interesting things to think about.

I suspect that is one such story. ‘The Golden Pot’ by E. T. A. Hoffmann is a relatively short story, so it’s a fairly quick and easy read. It tells the story of Anselmus, a student, and the adventures that result when he takes a job copying texts for the Archivist Lindhorst. The Archivist appears to be a man, but claims to be a salamander from Atlantis with three serpents as his daughters. There’s a love triangle, in which Anselmus is torn between Veronica and Serpentina, the Archivist’s daughter. One of the main themes of the story is the interplay between reality and a fairy world. Are the strange events in the narrative dreams, imaginative flights of fancy, or are they really happening to the characters?

I really enjoyed this story and am keen to read more of Hoffmann’s work. It was both fun and thought-provoking and I would recommend it to anyone interested in fantasy literature or fairy tales.

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