Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Lord Of The Mountains

Between the historical lands of Bohemia and Silesia lie the Riesengebirge (Giant Mountains). There is a very old map of the area, and striding among the mountains may be seen a strange gigantic figure, horned and with a tail, walking upright with a tall staff. This is the earliest known picture of Rubezahl*, the Lord of the Mountains.

Rubezahl is a figure in German folklore, the tutelary spirit or genius of the mountains that derive their name from him. He is responsible for the weather of his peaks, and the thunder and lightning, rain, snow, and fog there reflect his capricious moods. He is Prince of the Gnomes in the Riesengebirge, and all lesser spirits are under his sway. The respectful way to address him is as "Lord of the Mountains" or "Lord John." "Rubezahl" is a name of derision and means "Turnip Counter," and it still angers him. According to the old tale he once captured a princess and swore he would do anything to win her love. She set him to counting the turnip seedlings in a vast field, and while he was busy doing so she made her escape.

Rubezahl is a shape changer, and appears in many forms, and can be anything from a gnome to a giant, and can be astonishingly ugly or "as fair as Apollo." He appears most often as an old man with a staff that appears to be an uprooted tree. He is something of a trickster, and his nature changeable. It was written of him in 1783 "...Rubezahl, you should know, has the nature of a powerful genius: capricious, impetuous, peculiar, rascally, crude, immodest, haughty, vain, fickle, today your warmest friend, tomorrow alien and cold;...roguish and respectable, stubborn and flexible..."

Rubezahl seems to take people as he finds them. To the simple and honest he is affectionate and helpful, but to the shiftless and lying his punishments can be severe. And the one sure way to provoke his wrath is to call him Rubezahl in mockery.

Rubezahl stories have been collected in many German books over the years, and many artists have painted him. Josef Madlener painted a picture of him as Der Berggeist (The Mountain Spirit); J. R. R. Tolkien had a postcard reproduction of this picture and labelled it "The Origin of Gandalf."

*There should be an umlaut over that "u."


AlanDP said...

Here's your umlaut u.


Babel said...

As fantastic as he is, he has a very human character, doesn't he?

Brer said...

And of course the quote uses the word "genius" in the sense of a type of spirit.

Mira Draken said...

Is there a chance you can give me the name of the artist who painted "ruebenzaehlen1.jpg"?
I write fantasy (among other topics), and I'm deeply interested in that mountain giant Ruebezahl.

Brer said...

Sorry, Mira, I made a quick look around and cannot find the artist, though I've seen the picture somewhere in my books before. Rubezahl is a great character, isn't he? There's a movie about him on YouTube.

Mira Draken said...

I think I found him. A German illustrator, Robert Engels,1866–1926. Illustrated a book about Ruebezahl by S.Beck, 1907. Publisher J.Scholz, Mainz, Germany.
Do you still own the book? (It seems to be rare).
Kind regards, Mira