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  The Sorcerer's Apprentice          From: Wikipedia

"The Sorcerer's Apprentice" (German: Der Zauberlehrling) is a poem by Goethe written in 1797. The poem is a ballad in fourteen stanzas.

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.

The apprentice splits the broom in two with an axe, but each of the pieces becomes a whole 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.

Click for footnote   

 Note points of light in the astral world beginning at 3:41

The acclaimed animated dialogue-free 1940 Disney film Fantasia popularized the story from Goethe's poem, and the Paul Dukas symphonic poem based on it, in one of eight animated shorts based on classical music. In the piece, which retains the title "The Sorcerer's Apprentice", Mickey Mouse plays the apprentice, and the story follows Goethe's original closely, except that the sorcerer ("Yen Sid", or Disney backwards) is stern and angry with his apprentice when he saves him.

Some versions of the tale differ from Goethe's, and in some versions the sorcerer is angry at the apprentice and in some even expels the apprentice for causing the mess. In other versions, the sorcerer is a bit amused at the apprentice and he simply chides him. The sorcerer's anger with the apprentice, which appears in both the Greek Philopseudes and the film Fantasia, does not appear in Goethe's Der Zauberlehrling.

Philopseudes (Greek for "Lover of lies") is a short frame story by Lucian, written c. AD 150. The narrator, Tychiades, is visiting the house of a sick and elderly friend, Eucrates, where he has an argument about the reality of the supernatural. Eucrates and several other visitors tell various tales, intended to convince him that supernatural phenomena are real. Each story in turn is either rebutted or ridiculed by Tychiades.

Eucrates recounts a tale extremely similar to Goethe's Zauberlehrling, which had supposedly happened to him in his youth. It is, indeed, the oldest known variation of this tale type. While the similarities are so great as to make it obvious that Lucian was Goethe's inspiration, there are several minor differences:

  • The sorcerer is, instead, an Egyptian mystic, a priest of Isis called Pancrates.
  • Eucrates is not an apprentice, but a companion who eavesdrops on Pancrates casting his spell.
  • Although a broom is listed as one of the items that can be animated by the spell, Eucrates actually uses a pestle. (Pancrates also sometimes used the bar of a door.)

However perhaps the most important difference is the moral of the story. In Der Zauberlehrling and in the story's iteration in the 1940 animated film Fantasia, it is generally presumed that the story embodies some maxim or moral, and that it is something along the lines of "don't meddle with things you don't understand" or offers a metaphor for modern society where youth and inexperience is enthroned, resulting in an increasingly out of control mess being made, and in need of 'our betters' to return and take charge once more. In Philopseudes, however, the intention is simply to ridicule tall tales.

Similar themes (such as the power of magic or technology turning against the insufficiently wise person invoking it) are found in many traditions and works of art:

  • Strega Nona
  • Golem
  • Frankenstein
  • Midas
  • Faust
  • The Man Who Could Work Miracles (and numerous other works by H G Wells)
  • "The Monkey's Paw"
  • Wish
  • Sweet Porridge
  • Forbidden Planet
  • The Master and His Pupil
  • Abhimanyu in Chakravyuha in the Mahabharata