The mines at Falun

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The mines at Falun, a short story by ETA Hoffmann from the series The Serapion Brothers from 1819, deals with the life of the young Elis Fröbom, who gives up his occupation as a seafarer to become a miner. The narrative is part of an extensive literary tradition related to the Falun Mine and the tragedies associated with that mine at the time. At the same time, it is exemplary of the fascination of German Romanticism with the underground world, in which geology is combined with fantasy stories and dreams, and thus stands next to Novalis ' novel Heinrich von Ofterdingen and the fairy tale Der Runenberg vonLudwig Tieck .


After returning from an East India voyage to Göthaborg in Sweden, the young sailor Elis Fröbom remains depressed and alone instead of celebrating the traditional homecoming festival with his comrades. His deep sadness comes from the fact that his mother, his only relative, passed away in his absence. He feels guilty for not standing by her in her last hours and no longer sees any point in seafaring and in his life.

His dull brooding is interrupted by an old miner who joins Elis and engages him in conversation. He suggests that the young man go to Falun to work as a miner, which is his natural disposition. His lively tale of the beauty of the interior of the mountain, reminiscent of the description of a magical world, impresses and captivates Elis even beyond the disappearance of the old man.

The following night, Elis has a dream: The seafaring is symbolically transformed into staying underground. There Elis sees the wonders of the mountain and the mountain queen, an attractive and at the same time terrifying woman. The attempt of an unrecognizable female figure to bring Elis out of the depths fails and he loses himself in the sight of the queen. Shaken by pleasure and horror at the same time, he wakes up.

The dream haunts him for the next few days and finally Elis sets off for Falun more unconsciously than consciously. Again and again the old miner appears ghostly and shows him the right way.

When Elis arrives in Falun at the mine’s grand opening , he is seized with horror. The pinge seems like a hell of a hole to him and he leaves the place fleeing. He decides to spend the night in the village and then to go back. However, when he observes a traditional celebration of the miners, he feels pleasantly attracted by their mentality and during the course of the celebration comes to the house of Pehrson Dahlsjö. His beautiful daughter Ulla pulls shy Elis right into the action and at first glance he falls deeply in love with the young girl. He takes her for the female figure from his dream and thinks he can now interpret it: It is his fate to become a miner here in order to be able to live by Ulla's side. He finally expressed his wish to Pehrson to join the workers. He is warmly welcomed by Pehrson and the other miners.

Over time, Elis lost his fear of the pit, made several successful trips and was accepted into the Dahlsjö family. However, he cannot articulate his apparent affection for Ulla, although both Pehrson and Ulla send out positive reinforcing signals.

One day, Elis has an uncanny encounter in the pit: the old miner appears to him and prophesies that Elis will never marry Ulla; in addition, he got involved in mining with the wrong motivation. He must devote himself entirely to the rock, not to life above ground. Elis courageously chases the apparition away and strengthens his position. He learns from the old miners that the eerie miner bears the name Torbern and was once buried in the pit. Since his death he has been around as a ghost and attracts new workers to the mine when the team is not big enough. On his return to the Dahlsjö house, Elis is expected by a ruse from Pehrson: He staged a wedding between Ulla and a wealthy businessman in order to provoke Elis to admit his feelings. The opposite happens, however, and Elis runs in despair back to the pit. As if madly, he climbs into the shaft, where suddenly a heavenly kingdom of crystals reveals itself to him. The mountain queen appears to him again; torn between delight and horror, he almost passes out in her arms. Pehrson and other miners appear to save Elis and the hoax is exposed. The wedding of Elis and Ulla is decided. This, however, is internally split and from then on feels torn between the interior of the mountain and life above days. Ulla feels that Elis is depressed, but cannot motivate him to speak.

On the day of his wedding, Elis appears to Ulla in the groom's robe. He says goodbye to her with the words that he must climb into the mountain and retrieve the almandine , a gemstone that is supposed to consolidate the marital happiness of the two and bind them forever to the mountain queen. Ulla can't stop him and Elis disappears. A little later, she received the terrible news that the mine above Elis had collapsed.

Fifty years later, the corpse of a young man preserved in vitriol water , who does not seem to have aged by a day and shows no signs of decay, is recovered from the mine . Ulla, who has returned to the pit every year since the disaster, appears, now an old woman, and identifies the body as her eli. Embracing her dead young bridegroom, she dies, Elis' body turns to dust. Both are buried in the church where they wanted to get married.

Special motifs

Most noticeable is the constant contrast between day and night, which is also reflected in the lake (light) and mine motifs (dark). Elis exchanges his bright life for one as a miner who works underground . Now this work as a miner is not only to be seen realistically, for the romantic, mining meant researching the soul in nature. Another element is the obvious psychological disposition of the protagonist: Why does the miner keep appearing when Elis is unsure? It is typical for Hoffmann to play with it (cf. The Sandman ), the reader can never be quite sure what corresponds to reality.

In romanticism, madness was not regarded as a phase of mental and emotional disturbance or a decline in personality, but as a state in which extraordinary powers could be set free, connections to other worlds made and prophetic gifts unfolded.

In the story, an important symbol of romanticism is taken up again, the blue flower (St. John's day, cf. the legend of the miracle flower on St. John's night ).


Further literature

Literary works on this motif:

Web links