I’m not talking about Nicolas Cage’s latest bid for movie immortality as the sorcerer who gets together with a cookie cutter twenty-ish student with the intent to train said cookie as an apprentice.  Trailers and commercials might lead you to believe that the true origins of this tale lie in the 1940 film “Fantasia”.  Mickey Mouse dons his sorcerer-master’s hat and causes all kinds of mischief involving walking brooms and lots of water to the music of Paul Dukas’ symphonic poem.

 

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice as a master-pupil story and as a cautionary tale is a good deal older than either of these film interpretations.  Before Dukas was inspired by the story in 1897, Johann Wolfgang Goethe wrote  Der Zauberlehrling a century earlier, channeling generations of the story as it was told throughout the German-speaking world.

 

Leaving his apprentice with a list of chores as long as the Rhine River itself, the sorcerer departs his workshop.  One of these chores is to refill the castle’s water supply by trudging up and down a set of steep stone steps to the Rhine, carrying river water back in a bucket.  The apprentice is sick to death of carrying water and decides to implement the magic in which he is not yet fully trained.  He animates a broom and after a crash course in the river relay, he sends the broom to do his work.  One thing leads to another, and by the time the apprentice wakes from a nap, the broom is flooding the castle with no sign of stopping.  In a frenzy, the apprentice grabs an ax and smashes the broom to pieces–only each individual piece becomes an enchanted broom and the cycle begins again.  Finally, the sorcerer returns and breaks the spell.  Instead of kicking the apprentice out of the castle, the sorcerer imparts the lesson that this magic should only be worked by a fully trained sorcerer, and the apprentice sees he has much work ahead of him.

 

This story in a basic form is found throughout European folklore.  The powers that be at Disney (which at that time would have included Walt Disney himself) did not simply pull the tale out of thin air.  Medieval hausfraus and Renaissance child care are responsible for the story enduring through the centuries to the point where we can try and spot the threads of the original tale through the summer blockbuster morass.

 

Taking folklore and twisting it into a spell of a movie–now that would be real magic!