To close out April Fools’ Day, let’s take a look at one of the most famous pranksters in history. Well, at least he’s supposed to be famous, but I’ve hardly heard of him. I’m referring to Till Eulenspiegel, a German folk hero famous for his pranks on just about everybody. His name literally means “owl-mirror,” and while the actual significance of this isn’t entirely clear, he was known to use a drawing of these two things as his calling card. Stories of Eulenspiegel’s exploits were first known to have appeared in the sixteenth century, and they range from clever to crude to just absurd. Many of them are based on wordplay, and while this doesn’t always translate well, the examples I’ve seen are still ones we can get today. At one point, a nobleman forbids Till to set foot on his land, so Eulenspiegel crosses his territory in a cart full of dirt, claiming that he never made contact with the noble’s land. In another tale, he’s working as apprentice to a baker (various tradesmen are always hiring Till with no proof of his experience) who sarcastically tells him to bake owls and monkeys. Eulenspiegel takes this literally, and then makes a good profit selling these baked figures. These are two of the cleaner stories, others tending toward scatalogical humor, like when he dares a priest to defecate in the middle of the church. Some of his tricks are played on the deserving, but no one is above Till’s trickery.
There has been some speculation that Eulenspiegel might have been a real person, or at least based on one. The current prevailing wisdom is that he was entirely a fictional creation, but it is estimated that if he had been real, he would have lived from around 1300 to 1350. It has been reported that his gravestone was seen in the town of Mölln, but it isn’t there now, although the connection to the trickster is still played up.
The first time I can recall reading about Eulenspiegel was actually in connection with Oz. In his book The Magic Mirror of Oz, March Laumer introduces Till Orangespiegel, a descendant of the famous Eulenspiegel who’s living in Oz with his sister Pill. As his name suggests, he’s obsessed with the color orange, and uses a magic mirror to try to create an orange country. Instead, he ends up flipping all of Oz, in a rather fanciful explanation for why earlier authors often mixed up east and west. He’s not a popular character, but he does have a romance with Cayke the Cookie Cook, and Glinda has a soft spot for him.