E.T.A. Hoffmann’s fairy tale The Strange Child tells the story of a sister, a brother, and their amorphous/genderless (“strange”) playmate whose life is in jeopardy thanks to Master Inkspot, the siblings’ tutor. On the surface, Inkspot seems a bit creepy, but not particularly dangerous. He is an odd man full of mean little tricks, silly and petty. But in reality, Inspot is quite sinister. His real name is Pesper, and he is “king of the gnomes.” Pesper pursues the siblings’ beloved playmate in order to access the strange child’s mother, who happens to be queen of the fairies and with whom Pesper is engaged in a deadly fight for power.
“The Strange Child” treats the theme of childhood imagination and its often painful conflicts with the adult world. Pesper represents—in extreme, grotesque form—the bourgeois rejection of whimsy, imagination, and non-material forms of expression and engagement.
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