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Count Karlstein by Philip Pullman
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Count Karlstein

by Philip Pullman

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I read this quite a while ago and, whilst I remember liking it, I don't remember much about the story at all. Either I should reread it or it just isn't note worthy enough for me to remember. ( )
  RebeccaClareSmith | Jan 24, 2014 |
As a student teacher in 1973 I took part in a college production of Weber’s Der Freischütz, when I sang in the chorus and took a minor role as Prince Ottokar. First performed in 1821 this was a landmark opera sung in German, adapting native folksongs (the famous ‘Huntsmen’s Song’ has affinities with the traditional English tune ‘Strawberry Fair’, which may even have been influenced by Weber’s tune) and featuring supernatural Gothic horror. The Gothic horror tradition was also purloined by Mary Shelley when she first composed Frankenstein when holidaying near Geneva in 1816, though the novel wasn’t published until 1818. One of the crucial scenes takes place on a glacier near Mont Blanc; coincidentally, we were holidaying one summer in Chamonix when our son was reading Frankenstein as a set text for school, within sight of the very same Mer de Glace glacier where Viktor Frankenstein is confronted by his monster.

These personal memories came flooding back when reading this early piece of fiction by His Dark Materials author Philip Pullman. Many of the elements of Der Freischütz reappear, but with the action of the novel set in the same year as Shelley’s composition and in the same region where she wrote and set much of her story I have no doubt that Frankenstein is also an influence, though unacknowledged. Originally written to be performed as a school play, Count Karlstein‘s other subtitle the Ride of the Demon Huntsman includes not just allusions to the Wild Hunt to point up its supernatural credentials but also features broad slapstick humour, cliffhangers and a cast of pantomime heroes, villains and extras to bear witness to its melodrama origins; all are familiar aspects of the many school musicals I too have been involved in over the years as a Head of Music.

And so to the story. It is October, the lead-up to that most witching time of year. Only this is not about Hallowe’en but the eve of All Souls Day, the day after All Saints. The evil Count of the title has made a pact with Zamiel (Samiel in German, after Samael the angel of death in Jewish tradition); this is the same Zamiel who is the Black Huntsman in Weber’s opera. It’s the usual Faustian pact — one’s soul in return for power and good fortune in this world. But the contract runs out at midnight on November 1st 1816 and it’s curtains of the Count unless he can find one or more substitutes. At hand are his two nieces from England, Lucy and Charlotte, who like Catherine Morland in Austen's Northanger Abbey are (at the tender ages of twelve and ten respectively) obsessed with horror stories and forever imagining themselves as Gothic heroines. Will these two damsels in distress escape their real-life fate on that dread night when Zamiel comes to redeem his claim at a hunting lodge?

Another theme that runs through the story is that of the freischütz, literally a “freeshooter” in German. In folklore this is a marksman with magic bullets, traditionally made of silver, which unerringly hit their marks – all bar one which is at the devil’s command. Johann August Apel (who also died in this fateful year of 1816) published his version as ‘Die Jägerbraut’, the first tale of Volume I of Gespensterbuch, ’The Book of Ghosts’. Der Freischütz was based on ‘Die Jägerbraut’ (‘The Huntsman’s Betrothed’) as Count Karlstein was to be inspired by the opera, but Pullman adapts this tragic trope and, this being Switzerland, also explicitly borrows elements from the William Tell legend.

For young readers the rollercoaster ride of Pullman’s tale and the clear delineation of virtuous characters will be the main attractions, but there is further recompense for adults. The story is presented in 18th/19th-century fashion as ‘Narratives by Various Hands’, so that we can enjoy different perspectives on the action, though the bulk of it is told by the resourceful servant girl Hildi Kelmar. Diana Bryan’s silhouette caricatures of the characters also add a sense of period, while the humorous made-up names — Cadaverezzi, Rolipolio, Snitsch and Snivelwurst, for example – give the novel a sense of place without it taking itself too seriously. And who can resist a story offering adventures set in an old castle, an Alpine village and wild mountainous landscapes mountains with glaciers?

http://wp.me/p2oNj1-y6 ( )
  ed.pendragon | Oct 4, 2013 |
The reading cast on this was wonderful. The story was fabulously suspenseful and enjoyable throughout. What a great story!
( )
  matthewbloome | May 19, 2013 |
Count Karlstein isn't as good as Clockwork -- maybe that's the fact that I didn't read it as a child and I don't have associated nostalgia, though. Anyway, it's in a similar vein, a little bit of a Gothic story with suspense and an improbably wonderful conclusion. Fun, easy to read, but not ground-breaking, and predictable.

Definitely something I imagine children would get more out of than an adult. One thing I did find quite fun was Lucy and Charlotte's narratives -- their overwrought style of narration was perfect. ( )
  shanaqui | Apr 9, 2013 |
The Count is evil, of course, and in charge of his two young nieces. They live in a Swiss castle surrounded by forests and snowy mountains and inhabited by Zamiel the Demon Huntsman, which is the perfect situation for the Count to rid himself of the girls.

Written in almost a folklore style, this story has a bit of the supernatural, a little tension, and some humor. ( )
  mstrust | Oct 2, 2011 |
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» Add other authors (10 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Philip Pullmanprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bützow, HeleneTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Thurley, JoNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To Jamie, yet once more
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Peter crouched over the fire, stirring the embers so that the sparks swarmed up like imps on the rocky walls of hell.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0375803483, Paperback)

"I might have occupied my mind usefully with Improving Thoughts, but the only improvement I could imagine then was a pair of wings, to enable me to fly to freedom. And, of course, a Head for Heights. I cleaned the dust from the window and peered out hopefully, but there was nothing but a Horrid Precipice, with jagged crags several thousands of feet below." Such are the woes of young Charlotte, locked in a tower room of her uncle's gloomy Castle Karlstein in 19th-century Switzerland. Escaping this predicament seems the least of her worries: in a solemn blood pact, her evil uncle, Count Karlstein, has promised to sacrifice his two orphaned nieces, Lucy and Charlotte, to Zamiel the Demon Huntsman--on midnight of All Souls' Eve--in return for his current riches.

First, however, the heartless Count and his "lip-licking, moist-handed, creeping, smarming" secretary, Herr Arturo Snivelwurst, will have to catch Lucy, too--and it is no small task with the headstrong, 14-year-old Hildi Kelmar; her 18-year-old, handsome-in-a-scowling-sort-of-way brother, Peter; and the intrepid English teacher Miss Augusta Davenport on the girls' side. As Miss Davenport herself points out, "an English gentlewoman can rise above any circumstances, given intelligence and a loaded pistol." The events in this delightful gothic farce unfold quickly in a variety of narrative voices, artfully building in suspense to a powerful, terrifying, deeply satisfying stand-off between the Count and the Demon Huntsman of Impenetrable Darkness himself. Subplots and loose ends are gracefully, happily, justly tied up in the light of day, finally allowing readers to exhale.

British novelist Philip Pullman, masterful storyteller and creator of the bestselling adventures The Golden Compass and The Subtle Knife, mesmerizes us again with his playful, suspenseful thriller Count Karlstein, released in the United States 16 years after its appearance in the United Kingdom. Readers young and old will revel in every angle, twist, and turn of this breathlessly paced, very funny page-turner. (Ages 11 and older) --Karin Snelson

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:18:40 -0400)

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In the mountains of Switzerland the wicked Count Karlstein plots to abandon his two orphaned nieces in a hunting lodge as prey for the Demon Huntsman and his ghostly hounds.

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