Saturday, 16 June 2018

'The Professor and the Nixie'

We continue with the theme of folklore, but with a very different setting. The professor of the title is a German academic at Frankfurt University. Unfortunately for Herr Professor Hugo, his rise to academic success coincides with the political rise of the Nazis - or the 'marching morons', as he considers them. When Hitler seizes power the professor makes an injudicious remark and is sent on 'sabbatical', back to his family home in rural Bavaria.

After getting off the train the Professor goes for a stroll near a local mill-pond, seeking solitude to read. There he encounters an attractive young woman called Elise, who seems to remember an incident from the older man's childhood. It's clear what she is, though only towards the end of the story do we find out who. Finding his boyhood home unwelcoming, the Professor takes to meeting Elise by the pond, which the locals shun. Eventually he becomes mesmerised by Elise and ends up lying naked and wet in the undergrowth.

The Professor goes back to his university. We next meet him after the war, having lost his position thanks to his decision to join the Party. This time he has no choice but to try and live off the family farm. He only vaguely remembers his encounter with Elise. But when he passes the pond he finds not one but two strange, beautiful beings.

This is a curious tale, given the Nazi fixation with Germanic folklore and their origins in Bavaria. Perhaps Michael Eisele is arguing that the true folklore is apolitical and enduring. The revelations about Elise imply this, as from her own personal tragedy something new and beautiful emerges. And nixies are of course ineligible to vote.

More from this collection soon.

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