The Sorcerer’s Apprentice… and the amazing music by Dukas that keeps going through my head… has left me thinking about more than just the uncontrolled viral spread of contamination, infection, or memes.
Once again I am struck by the power of narrative and the way a seemingly simple story can remind us of important truths.
The story is well-known in a 1797 ballad by the great German poet, Goethe.
Wikipedia summarises Der Zauberlehrling:
The poem begins as an old sorcerer departs his workshop, leaving his apprentice with chores to perform. Tired of fetching water by pail, the apprentice enchants a broom to do the work for him — using magic in which he is not yet fully trained. The floor is soon awash with water, and the apprentice realizes that he cannot stop the broom because he does not know how.
Not knowing how to control the enchanted broom, the apprentice splits it in two with an axe, but each of the pieces becomes a new broom and takes up a pail and continues fetching water, now at twice the speed. When all seems lost, the old sorcerer returns, quickly breaks the spell and saves the day. The poem finishes with the old sorcerer’s statement that powerful spirits should only be called by the master himself.
Whether a parable or a fable, a tall tale or a cautionary tale, the story has been retold many times, one version as early as 150 AD.
Even Alfred Hitchcock reworked the plot in 1961 for his television series.
I prefer the Disney version. Even with its premonitory hints about technology run amok and our inability to deal with impending disasters from global warming, the AIDS or avian flu epidemics, nuclear proliferation, drug addiction… and on and on… the Disney version has a “happy ending”. Of course, it has to, or it would not be Disney. The studio has edited, bowdlerised, and sanitized so many wonderful old stories, rendering them charming and suitable for children, but inevitably meaningless. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice concludes with the return of the sorcerer (Yen Sid, or Disney spelled backwards). Nice. Reassuring to both the kids and their parents.
Technology has replaced the magic spells, and there is no sorcerer who can fix the mess. Our society is in deep, deep trouble, and there is a viral meme of denial about how serious the mess really is. The suspense and horror of Hitchcock’s version may be much closer to “the truth”.
But I still love naive, curious, courageous little Mickey Mouse… and the music by Paul Dukas is awesome!
In 2010 the Disney studio released a futuristic action adventure called The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Despite Nicholas Cage as the sorcerer, I declined to see it. Smash them up, blow them up, computer generated rampages are not my entertainment of choice. Roger Ebert’s review is here. Watch the trailer to see how a really great story can be wounded and left for dead.