Max Und Moritz

How often one must read or hear

Of children, who should be so dear,

But are as naughty as can be

And practice darkest devilry.

 

Like most kids, I was raised on a diet of popular, perennial children’s books, like: “Green Eggs and Ham,” “Where the Wild Things Are,” and “The Giving Tree.”

But my grandmother also introduced me to Max and Moritz: two cartoonishly unattractive and unrepentant boys, who terrorize their community with cruel, malicious tricks.

Originally published in Germany, in 1865, “Max and Moritz, A Story of Seven Boyish Pranks,” occupied my grandmother’s bookshelf, and she frequently translated the tale — told in rhymed couplets — while I listened enraptured, and scrutinized each illustration.

The story was a welcomed diversion from typical books, laden with lessons and awash in sweet, furry animals and light-hearted fun.

These boys were rotten to the core. They strangled the neighbor’s chickens, in gruesome style.

They sawed through a bridge, nearly drowning the town’s tailor.

And they packed their teacher’s pipe with gunpowder, causing an explosion that disfigures his face and burns off his hair.

Not exactly warm and fuzzy bedtime reading…

But I never tired of this narrative.

Considering children’s literature that is banned or criticized — (Shel Silverstein’s whimsical poems have been banned for promoting disobedience) — it’s unlikely that school libraries will ever stock Max and Moritz.

Fortunately, my kids have not been deprived. While I’m unable to translate German, I recently stumbled on a tattered, paperback English version of the tale.

I read it over┬ádinner. The kids barely touched their food, opting to peer at the pictures of two gleeful boys, wreaking havoc and celebrating the suffering of others… just as I had followed my grandmother’s book, so many years ago.

I was happy to share another childhood memory — a story, which actually, has a happy ending.

The villagers get their comeuppance.

Max and Moritz choreograph 7 pranks… but the final one does them in.

When they slash open a farmer’s sack of corn, he catches them in the act. And he bags them, and hauls┬áthem to the local mill. There, they are ground into bits.

From an adult’s perspective, I see the lesson instilled — from the relieved villagers, who express no remorse:

“None but self to blame, mischief is not life’s true aim.”

And, although the chickens are victims of Max and Moritz’s first trick, ultimately, the poultry persevere.

The ducks — who live at the mill — are fat and happy.

They devour all that remains of Max Und Moritz.