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Timeless August 8, 2009

Posted by dolorosa12 in books, reviews.
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This morning, I tucked myself away in a corner of the University Library’s West Room, and read Michael Ende’s glorious, gem of a fable, Momo (spoilers in the link and in my review). You might think it odd that I had not read this book as a child, but my youthful reading list, A Little Princess aside, was remarkably Australian, now that I think about it. The edition I read was translated by J. Maxwell Brownjohn.

Ende is the author of The Neverending Story, which is certainly next on my reading list!

The eponymous heroine of Momo is a wise little girl who, in the tradition of fairytale heroines everywhere, knows how to see the heart of things. She lives in a ruined amphitheatre on the outskirts of a city never named, but which is probably Rome. Momo has a remarkable talent for listening and hearing the stories that everyone, even the most mundane, boring people, have inside them. She has a startling imagination and always makes the games of other children more entrancing. In short, she gulps life down with relish.

That’s a threat to the grey, sinister members of the ‘Timesaving Bank’, who are out to convince people to live life at a rushed, manic pace. In their opinion, the small joys of life – chatting to customers, singing with friends, lingering over a meal, and even dreaming – are time-wasting distractions. They convince most of the members of Momo’s neighbourhood to sign over their ‘free’ time. When Momo objects to this, they target her friends in an attempt to frighten her.

But Momo has an ally in Professor Secundus Minutus Hora, a benevolent, disinterested god (in the ‘clockmaker’ model; why is it that gods and imagery of time seem so perfectly wedded?), who helps Momo see time for what it is – life in all its wonder. With this knowledge, Momo is able to save her friends from a miserable existence of fast food, regimented activities and toys that sap creativity and imagination (in one scene, Ende parodies Barbie dolls with broad brushstrokes – Momo comes upon a doll with which she cannot play, that only asks for more and more consumer products).

It’s hard to tell if Ende’s story, which was written in 1973, is anti-communist (Karl Marx is all but named as the ‘architect’ of the world in which Momo and her friends live), anti-capitalist (the aforementioned diatribe against toys which encourage consumerism supports this reading) or simply anti-twentieth-century values. In the end, Ende’s ideological position is irrelevant. He’s for the storytellers, the stories, and the small moments needed to listen to them, and that is all that matters.

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Comments»

1. Jordan - August 12, 2009

It sounds to me like the story is simply anti-materialist..

Communism and capitalism both advocate that happiness (or at least, “utility”) comes, more or less, through material wealth. They merely disagree about how that wealth gets generated and distributed throughout society.

Modern day marxists who decry the current generation of “economic rationalists” seem unaware of the irony – if anyone in history can be described using that term, it would be Marx, one of the first rationalistic philosophers to base his entire system of sociopoltical beliefs on what he perceived as the fundamentally economic forces that drive civilisation.

The story itself sounds pretty cool – I love stories with interesting child protaganists.

To be honest I probably “stop and smell the roses” a little bit too much in life, but most people in the modern world seem to have the opposite problem. There’s a very interesting psychological theory about how we think about and make use of our time that Alex Feigin has introduced me to; we’re trying, somewhat, to put it into practice in our lives.


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