/Till Eulenspiegel
this is mostly written by Frederick Betz from a preface of a 1909 edition…

Among the folkbooks of the German nation, not one has obtained so general a circulation as ‘Till Eulenspiegel’, a favorite among the young for its amusing and quaint adventures, and a study among those who strive, by the comparison of different eras of national literature, to arrive at a due appreciation of national character, Eulenspiegel, or Owlglass the peasant possesses a peculiar value. There is deep instruction in the pungent jests and literal ways of the man who held up his mirror for owls to look in, and each of whose tricks might form the groundwork of a moral reflection.

Rank was not respected, nor was vice in high places passed by with so-called discreet silence. Yet with all the graver objects, the immediate aim of amusement was never forgotten; and letting us into the secrets of peasant life in Germany at an era when peasants had little to rejoice over, we almost imagine that we can hear the shouts of laughter with which the blunt outspoken jokes of this sly clown were received.

Now, after [650] years Till Eulenspiegel’s native village is pointed is out with pride to the traveller, and his tombstone, with a sculptured pun on his name— namely an Owl and a Mirror— still stands, or pretends to stand, at Möllen, where since 1350 his once nimble bones have been at rest.

The author of Till Eulenspiegel is unknown as the authors of most of the German Volksbücher of the Middle Ages The book appeared between 1483 and 1500. It contains a large number of tales concerning the life of a vagrant peasant whose adventures were well known throughout Germany and who lived about a century and a half before the publication of the book bearing his name. It is, of course, impossible to say, how many of the stories are authentic, i.e. how many should really be associated with the historic Till Eulenspiegel. It is certain that a portion of the book goes back to a period preceding Till, for many of the stories are found in earlier publications, such as the Narrenbuch and the book of the Pfaffe Amicis. However, since Till was the typical jester, the supreme embodiment of the Fahrende Leute, all sorts of stories were connected with his name.

The original edition of the book was in Low German. There is no copy of it in existence. The oldest High German edition appeared in 1515. In 1519 Thomas Murner published a metrical version, Till Eulenspiegel Reimweis. Altogether there have appeared from fifty to sixty German editions.

The book has been translated into almost all European languages.

Till was the son of a peasant, and as such he exhibits the typical shrewdness of the peasant. Whenever he can play a trick on city-folk he is delighted. It is his point to execute all commands literally. When he is scolded, his usual reply is ‘You told me to do it, but I can’t satisfy you.’ It seems as though he wanted to teach his fellow-men that ‘the letter killeth.’ And this deeper underlying truth is perhaps the reason why the book has lived through [five] centuries. In a crude manner Till shows some resemblance to the fools of Shakespeare, and it certainly interesting to imagine what Shakespeare might have made out of such a character.

Till cannot be credited with nobility and refinement of mind. Some of the jokes perpetrated by him are coarse and cynical. But his age was coarse and vigorous and not easily shocked. There was little sentimentality and prudishness in those days. And so the humor of the people was bold and direct.
home