Friday, July 15, 2011

The Sorcerer's Apprentice

Okay, let’s go through this carefully: First, there was a story about this sorcerer who had an apprentice. Then Goethe wrote it up as a poem. Then Paul Dukas wrote a symphonic piece based on the story and the poem. Then Walt Disney and Leopold Stokowski made a short film starring Mickey Mouse. Then the film was made part of a feature called Fantasia. Then it was used again 59 years later in Fantasia/2000. Then a live action film was made which was based very loosely on the story but which is still excellent. Everyone good? 

By the way, in case some you haven't been keeping track, tomorrow marks the one-year anniversary of this blog. For a while, I thought that would be "good bye," but I've since decided to keep it going. I want to thank my regular readers for taking such an interest over the past year, and here's hoping I have more of you to thank at this time next year. Okay, here we go:

This story is about a boy named Jay who lived in a village with his mother and father. Jay was at the age when young boys of the time were supposed to choose a trade. Then they would become apprenticed to a tradesman and apprentice, in the hopes of one day becoming a tradesman themselves. But the choices open to Jay in his village were none too appealing. Blacksmith, wheelwright, fisherman, green grocer, butcher, baker, candlestick maker. They all struck Jay as boring and pointless, even the ones that rhymed. He wanted an exciting job. He wanted a vocation that would make his life an adventure. He wanted to be somebody important.

One day a traveler came to town in a rickety old cart drawn by a single, elderly horse. The townspeople looked at the strange man, transfixed. He was dark, mysterious, he wore a blue cloak that almost completely covered his face. Many people saw him, but each one gave a different description. Some said he was a withered old man with a long silver beard. Others said he was young and strong with powerful arms and a square set jaw. Still others said he was both at once, but they were all looking at the same man. As it just so happened, Jay was walking in the streets on his way to the grocer to pick up a sack of barley when the traveler called out to him. “Pardon me, boy,” came the dark, deep voice of the stranger. “What is the name of this village?”

“This village has no name, sir,” said Jay. “It’s too small. No one’s ever given it a name.”

“I see. Can you direct me to an inn where I can pass the night?”

“Actually, we don’t have one of those. Like I said, we’re a small town. You can keep going on, if you like. The next town is about three hours down the road.”

“Three hours by a strong horse, perhaps. But Diana here is not as fast as she once was,” he said indicating his horse. “I doubt I’ll get there before nightfall.”

“Perhaps you could stay with us. I’m sure my parents wouldn’t object. Nobody should be in those woods at night.”

The traveler accepted the boy’s offer. His parents were a little cross at him inviting the stranger to spend the night without checking with them first, but their eagerness to help a body in need outweighed their anger at the boy. The horse and cart were tied up outside, the traveler, who gave his name as Sidney, was led inside. Here he removed his cloak and at last the family got a good look at him. He was, indeed, an old man with wrinkles in his skin, boney hands and a long gray beard. Jay led him to a chair and by the time he sat down he was visibly about twenty years younger! He kept getting gradually younger until he looked about twenty-five, at which point he started getting slowly older.

“I see it is pointless trying to hide it,” said Sidney. “I am a powerful sorcerer. My age is beyond measure and my life defies description. I have lived in the past, the present and the future. The truth is, I exist outside of time, thus my rather unusual appearance…or, I suppose, appearances.”

This frightened Jay’s mother and father and they even toyed briefly with the idea of throwing the stranger out (ultimately deciding not to get on his bad side). Jay, on the other hand, was fascinated and spent the rest of the evening bending the sorcerer’s ear about magic and enchantments. At times, Jay thought he was being rude, but couldn’t stop himself, so enthralled was he by Sidney’s world. In any case, the sorcerer didn’t mind as he was actually growing to like Jay.

The following morning, when Sidney prepared to leave, he said, “You have all been very kind to me, and I wish to help you in return. I gather that your son has not yet chosen a vocation. Let me take him with me. He can be my apprentice. In time, I will teach him the ways of magic and he will be a great sorcerer like me.” As before, magic was something frightening to Jay’s parents, but Jay himself was so eager that they found they couldn’t refuse. It was a tearful goodbye, but Sidney gave his assurance that the boy would be in the best of hands. On the long cart ride home, Sidney said to Jay, “Now, remember, Jay: You are my apprentice. It isn’t going to be easy. You will have to do as I say, obey my commands. I am your master now, and you must treat me as such. Do you understand?” Jay said he did, but he was beginning to have second thoughts.

Sidney’s home was an old stone manor in the country, but it was sort of run down and out of repair. That changed, however, when Jay came on as the sorcerer’s apprentice. He was put to work at once, cleaning, repairing, mending, tending Diana (the horse, remember?), relabeling the ingredients for Sidney’s potions. After only a few months of this, Jay was fed up. He hadn’t learned a single thing about magic. Every time Sidney went to his magician’s study to perform a spell or mix a potion, Jay would try to look in and see for himself, but Sidney ushered him out of the room, assigning him a task on the other side of the manor. Once or twice, however, Jay was able to peek through a crack in the door at the wonderful things Sidney did in his study.

One fateful day, Sidney went into town to buy supplies and Jay was given the job of gathering water from the well to fill the sorcerer’s cauldron. The cauldron was big enough for about forty gallons and the walk from the well to the cauldron took about five minutes when you weren’t weighed down with two buckets full of water, so Jay was clearly going to be busy for quite some time. Still, he liked this task because it allowed him to spend some time alone in the magician’s study. As he tipped the second bucket of water into the cauldron, he glanced around the room. Strange concoctions, exotic animals in cages, shiny, sparkling objects which Jay could not identify and…a hat.

It was a tall, pointed hat, the same color blue as the sky at twilight, adorned all over with silver images of stars, moons, constellations. Sidney always wore it when he was performing his magic. Jay, in fact, had a sinking suspicion that the hat was the source of the sorcerer’s magic. Ordinarily, he kept it in his private chamber, but today he had accidentally left it behind. Knowing that his master was far away and wouldn’t be back until much later, Jay decided to give it a try. He set down the now empty pails and went to where the hat stood on a small table. He picked it up and placed it on his head. As soon as he did so, he felt the power flow through him. He thought he would try a simple spell. He looked around the room and saw a broom leaning against a wall. Summoning up all his strength, he concentrated on the broom and waved his hands at it. Incredibly, impossibly, the broom began to move. At length, it stood upright. Jay kept moving his hands and the broom actually seemed to walk over to him. Then he cast a spell to make the broom sprout arms, which reached out for the empty buckets and picked them up.

“Okay,” said Jay. “You know what to do. Master wants his cauldron filled so…get to it!”

The broom bowed reverently and took the buckets outside to the well. A few minutes later, it returned with the buckets now full of water, which it dumped into the cauldron before returning for more water. Jay was overjoyed. He was a little angry with Sidney for making him do all this hard work when he could’ve done it magically much easier, but he was too happy to hold a grudge. Besides, Sidney probably had no idea that Jay had such a natural talent for magic. Realizing that he now had the whole afternoon to himself with no work to do, he went up to his room to do something he almost never got the chance to do: Nap!

Jay had a wonderful dream. He was standing on top of a mountain, using the magic of the hat to command the very stars in the heaven to do his bidding. He felt this awesome sense of power and knew he was the greatest sorcerer the world had ever known. It was almost a shame to wake up in his shabby little room a while later. He didn’t know how long he had been asleep, so he went down to the study to check on the enchanted broom. When he got there, however, there was water all over the floor. The cauldron was overflowing, and there was the broom, pouring in yet another bucketful.

“No!” cried Jay. “Stop! That’s enough! You’re done! Knock it off!” But he couldn’t make the broom stop. It was walking back to the well for more water! Finally, in desperation, Jay took an axe from the closet and hacked the broom to pieces. It lay in splinters on the ground and Jay heaved a sigh of relief. Deciding that a broken broom would be easier to clean up, he resolved to mop up the water in the study first. This proved to be a mistake because he was so busy sopping up the extra water on the floor, that he didn’t see what happened to the pieces of broom: each and every splinter, every straw, every tiniest piece grew into a full-sized broom, each with arms and empty buckets to fill! This army of brooms marched outside, took turns filling up their buckets, and marched back inside where the horrified Jay was still trying to drain off the extra water.

Jay tried everything he could think of. He waved his arms and screamed. He yelled out snatches of incantations he had overheard from the sorcerer. He tried locking the door of the study, but they broke it down. Nothing would stop the enchanted brooms from pouring buckets of water into the still overflowing cauldron. And, to make matters worse, the brooms were now beginning to realize that Jay was trying to stop them from doing their job, and a few of them began reacting violently to his attempts to hold them off. In fact, it’s entirely likely that the brooms would’ve killed Jay and flooded the entire house if it hadn’t been for…


Jay had been cowering in a corner when he heard the voice of his master. He opened his eyes and saw that the floor was dry. The cauldron was full, but not overflowing. Two empty buckets of water and a single, ordinary broom, lay on the floor. And standing right in front of Jay was Sidyen, staring down at his apprentice with pure fire in his stare.

“Take that off your head at once.” Jay had forgotten that he still had the hat on. He took it off and handed it to Sidney, who yanked it out of the boy’s grip. “Now,” continued the Sorcerer, “do you understand why I keep you away from this magic?” Jay nodded. “Why I want you to learn the importance of hard work without magic?” Jay nodded. “Why I was waiting until you were older to show you my trade, because magic is easy to perform but hard to control?” Jay nodded fervently. “Have you learned your lesson?” Jay nodded. “Then go to the kitchen and prepare our supper.” Jay was grateful for any excuse to escape the glare of the sorcerer, and he ran full speed to the kitchen and started cutting up vegetables.

Many years later, when he felt the boy was ready, Sidney did train Jay to be a sorcerer and he proved to be a good pupil. He was patient, obedient and attentive. He had learned the hard way the dangers of letting magic get out of control. And in years to come, Jay would be revered as the greatest sorcerer of all time…neither he nor Sidney ever spoke of the incident with the broom ever again. And the people of his old village were so proud of him, that the finally named their nameless town in his honor. Today, the Village of Jay can still be found and they still tell stories of the Sorcerer's Apprentice.


If You Liked My Story, You Might Enjoy:
  • Fanasia (1940) Originally “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” was to be a short released by itself, but Walt and Stokowski had so much fun working on it, that they built the feature around it. Still, this is the best part of the movie. Can you believe most of the Disney staff wanted Dopey the Dwarf to play the lead instead of Mickey?
  • The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (2010) Again, only very loosely based on the fable, but a really excellent film complete with a sequence that pays tribute to the animated version. Stars Nicolas Cage, Alfred Molina and Jay Baruchel, after whom my character is named.

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