Coming soon as a Netflix series

Daniel Kehlmann
Translated from German by Ross Benjamin
Pantheon Books 2020

German novelist Daniel Kehlmann, in his magical fantasy novel, “Tyll”, invents a jester named Tyll as the protagonist to guide us through a historical and momentous adventure in Central Europe during the Thirty Years’ War from 1618 to 1648.

The tale begins with the now-famous Tyll and his circus troupe entering a village yet to be devastated by war. His theatrical performance makes mockery of the ”stupid Winter King, the Elector Palatine, who thought he could defeat the Kaiser and accept the crown from the Protestants, but he dies in the snow…”, which sets the stage for Tyll’s encounters with notables during this period.

Tyll was a young boy when Jesuits arrived, accusing his scientifically knowledgeable father of contradicting the church. His father is sentenced to death after a forced confession is drawn from the frightened and tortured Tyll. After the hanging, Tyll, accompanied by his friend Nele, set out to perform in villages, Tyll walking a tight rope while Nele danced. As they traveled, they are invited to the court of exiled Catholic King Frederick (known as the Winter King) and his wife, Queen Elizabeth of Bohemia. Every king needs a fool to tell them the truth, even if you didn’t want one, or as the Queen said, “…without a court jester, a court was not a court, and if she and Friedrich no longer had a country, at least their court had to be in order.”

 . . . likely will prompt many online historical searches to sort out players in the now-obscure Thirty-Years’ War.

Author Kehlmann vividly describes repugnance of war. Tyll, during his journey with King Frederick to meet the King of Sweden, passes through soldiers’ winter camps, where scent of decay and death is overwhelming, men dying of famine and the plague. Years later, Tyll finds himself in the midst of final battle in Zusmarshausen, Germany, a one-day clash involving the Holy Roman Empire and the French and Swedish armies where thousands died, France emerging as most powerful. 

Although this historical fantasy is daunting to read, Kehlmann’s character Tyll is a perfect foil. Tyll is charming, entertaining, and most of all, honest. Perhaps the greatest value offered in this novel is the senselessness of war, and seeking to prevent history from repeating itself, definitely a tall order. It’s not a one-time read, and likely will prompt many online historical searches to sort out players in the now-obscure Thirty-Years’ War.

Editor’s Note:

In October 2019, Netflix announced three serial projects based on books,  among them “Tyll” by Daniel Kehlmann. The bestseller of 2017, which sold more than 600,000 copies in Germany alone, is to be adapted by Baran Bo Odar and Jantje Friese, the showrunners of the Netflix hit “Dark”.

Who should write the scripts, direct and take over the lead role of the legendary rogue Tyll Eulenspiegel, is not known. Netflix said only that the production should start soon. So far, Kehlmann’s books have been filmed only for the cinema – from “fame” on “The Surveying of the World” to “Me and Kaminski”, however, with manageable success, according to The Limited Times.

Queen of the night: “Tyll” at the Schauspiel Köln

In addition to “Tyll” are the film adaptation of Elif Shafak’s hit novel “The Forty Secrets of Love” and the adaptation of “Folk med ångest” (English: “Anxious People”), the latest book by the Swedish author Fredrik Backman (“A man named Ove “) to the other Netflix projects.