No offense to Ms. Hazen (who I believe is still living and working in NYC), but this book is really about the pictures, which should come as no surprise to Ungerer fans. Based on a poem by Goethe—though best known in its Mickey Mouse incarnation—Hazen’s version of the tale of a ne’er-do-well apprentice who unleashes powers he cannot possibly control is a bit overworked and wordy for my taste (my kids think I’m being a snob). Probably anyone’s prose would seem colorless next to these illustrations, which are classic Ungerer: trippy, witty and always with a deep, dark underbelly. Full of cockeyed references to previous books, disembodied body parts and loopy creatures. Kind of like Highlights magazine’s “Hidden Pictures” reimagined by a very sinister mind. The broom alone is terrifying.
The story line doesn’t waver much from the classic telling of the tale. We meet a “wise old wizard” who lived in a castle “high above the River Rhine.”
In the middle of the workshop was a water tub. Every day the tub had to be filled. Heavy buckets of water had to be brought all the way up the steep stone steps which led from the River Rhine.
Enter the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, the hapless Humboldt, whose task it is to tote those heavy buckets of water every day. Humboldt aspires to wizardhood, but he’s a total slacker so the sorcerer really has to ride him. “An apprentice must work. An apprentice must learn. An apprentice must earn his magic powers,” he chides, before heading off to a wizard conclave and leaving Humboldt to hold down the fort.
After the sorcerer disappears in his trademark puff of blue smoke, Humboldt kvetches:
When Humboldt discovers his master has forgotten to take the key to his big book of magic, he immediately opens it and finds the spell that will make a broom “fulfill all the wishes of your will.”
The foolish boy calls out the spell and all hell breaks loose. The guardian owl awakens and knocks him off the ladder.
But you know what happens next. The animated broom stirs, and gets right down to business, filling the sorcerer’s tub with water from the Rhine. And “Humboldt kept on singing and dancing and the broom kept on hobbling and bobbling, and the water kept on rising in the tub.”
Things really start to spiral out of control; the cellar begins to flood and Humboldt can’t undo the spell.
He cuts the broom in two, which only results in…more brooms. Way more creepy-faced brooms.
By now the flood had reached the top shelf of the bookcase. Humboldt was swimming for his life, and trying to catch the magic book, bobbing always just out of reach.
And just in the nick of time, in his trademark blue puff of smoke, the sorcerer appears and banishes the broom army with a spell. Humboldt feebly begs forgiveness, but the sorcerer just puts him to work, cleaning up the mess of his making. And in a twist I don’t recall from the Fantasia version of the tale, the broom briefly awakens to whack him on the butt four times, “sending the sorcerer’s apprentice flying all the way down the steep stone steps to the River Rhine. AND THAT WAS THAT!”
The Mellops Strike Oil
Seeds and More Seeds
The Three Robbers
Christmas Eve at the Mellops’
I Am Papa Snap and These Are My Favorite No Such Stories
The Beast of Monsieur Ravine
Book of Various Owls
Beastly Boys and Ghastly Girls
Orlando the Brave Vulture
No Kiss For Mother
The Donkey Ride
Mellops Go Spelunking
The Great Songbook