cover image The Dykemaster

The Dykemaster

Theodor Storm. Angel Books, $24.95 (156pp) ISBN 978-0-946162-54-3

Like Theodor Fontane's Effi Briest, Storm's book combines a story of societal pressures with a touch of the supernatural and plenty of mood. Originally published as Der Schimmelreiter in 1888, the year of Storm's death, the main story takes place in mid-18th century. On riding past the dykes on the Friesian coast during a storm, the narrator believes he sees a pale rider on a gray horse (the Schimmelreiter). At an inn, he happens to mention his vision, which sets the schoolmaster off on his yarn of dykebuilder Hauke Haien, who eventually became this phantom. The son of a small landholder, Hauke was almost morbidly fascinated by the dykes that protected his community from the sea. When the old dykemaster died, the community grudgingly gave him the position, while the dykemaster's daughter, Elke, rather more happily gave him her hand. Hauke is scrupulous in his duty, forcing the lax citizenry to keep the dyke sound and eventually beginning work on a new dyke that will recover 1500 acres of fertile soil. Not everyone appreciates his efforts: resentment and narrow-mindedness mix with the indefinable sense that something is not quite right about Hauke or his household: his simple daughter; the old crone who once served his wife's family; or his gray horse, an abused creature Hauke acquired around the same time that a horse skeleton vanished from the waterside. There is plenty of eerie Germanic mood here, but there is also a fine and tragic story of a man who follows his own path to its final, terrible end and people who fail to recognize sacrifice. (Jan.)