Fantasy-Faction World Tour of Wonderment: The Netherlands
Welcome back to the Fantasy-Faction World Tour of Wonderment, where I aim to shine the spotlight on individual nations and their contributions to the fantasy world. So up to now we have had Italy, the land of pizza and Pinocchio, and Scotland, the small but mighty home of luminescent fizzy drinks and boys that fly.
Today we’re heading to The Netherlands.
The Netherlands, which I might occasionally refer to as Holland for the sake of my lazy fingers has one of the richest histories in all the world.
N.b Although many people think Holland is another name for The Netherlands, it is actually the name of two of the provinces that make up the country.
The Dutch have given us the microscope, the telescope, the stock market and the compact disc. They were the first Europeans to discover Australia, New Zealand and Fiji; and they were also the first people to observe and identify both spermatozoa – Insert Red Light District joke here – and bacteria.
In many ways Holland is a fantasy in its own right. Roughly a third of the entire country is below sea level and due to a fantastic network of barriers and dams, the Nederland people drained the water from certain areas and literally created new land to live on. I was recently in a town called Emmeloord in the north of The Netherlands, and while there I was told that before 1943 the entire town was nothing but water. It really is rather spectacular when you realise that you’re walking on roads that are younger than your grandparents.
What isn’t generally spectacular though, is the cuisine. Like in England, most Dutch food is big and hearty but fades like an old t-shirt when compared to the culinary big boys like Italy and China. Thanks to Pulp Fiction, we all already know that the people of Holland bloody love a bit of mayonnaise on their chips (fries, frietjes). But if you ever visit the country then be sure to try stroopwafels and bitterballen. Stroopwafels are thin waffles with a syrup inside, and outside of Holland they can be bought from your local Starbucks for the cool price of your first born child. Bitterballen are a kind of deep fried meaty thing which are hard to describe and even harder to stop eating.
Fun Fact: The word coleslaw actually comes from the Dutch, koolsla, which means cabbage salad.
The Netherlands is famous for many things from fantastic tolerance laws, to football (Go Oranjes!) to bikes and even tulips – The Netherlands is the world’s biggest exporter of flowers don’t-cha-know.
Of all the clean things it is famous for, in some circles Holland is most famous for producing great cheese. They say that the reason Dutch Edam cheese is so tasty is because it’s made backwards…Gettit? Edam…Made backwards…
Luckily for you, I have a whole bunch of cheese jokes so if you make it through to the end of the article I’ll give you another. No charge.
What the Dutch are not so famous for outside of their own country though, is fantasy. Fantasy as a genre is there and has been for a long time. In fact it’s huge, but unfortunately very little gets translated in to English so much of the world misses what’s produced. So I would recommend you getting one of these soon. Otherwise you’re missing out.
Okay, let us start off this fantasy round up with one of the greatest characters in modern fantasy. That’s right ladies and gents, may I present to you, the tiny world of David the gnome.
The Secret Book of Gnomes
The Secret Book of Gnomes was a series of books containing stories about gnomes (obviously) and guides to teach people how gnomes lived their lives, what they ate and the difficulties they might come up against. They told us that different gnomes are distinguished by their habitats and that gnomes live to be exactly 400 years old. They are strict vegetarians and have a close relationship with the world around them.
The books were written as if David, the protagonist gnome, was writing them himself, but in fact they were written by Wil Huygen from Amersfoort, NL and illustrated by Rien Poortvliet.
The Secret Book of Gnomes was turned in to a cartoon called The World of David the Gnome. As I kid I loved this show. Much like Captain Planet, it was firmly geared at spreading the message of conservation, recycling and generally respecting the environment. However, much like many kids, I was less concerned with the messages and more interested in the fantasy world and the angry trolls.
Before David the Gnome, I had always thought of trolls as being big, green lumbering things that dragged huge wooden clubs and dwelled beneath bridges, occasionally bothering billygoats. It turns out that trolls are actually these creepy, hairy fellows who are masters of magic and could rule the world if they weren’t always thwarted due to their stupidity.
The World of David the Gnome was translated in to twelve different languages, and shown around the world. Bizarrely, the show was never translated in to Dutch.
While we’re on the idea of animated fantasy I just want to point out two Dutch illustrators of whose work I promise you, you will know.
Harmsen Van Der Beek
First, we have Harmsen Van Der Beek. The name might not ring a bell but it was this guy who created and drew the Noddy characters for Enid Blyton’s books when they were first published. He created the look of all of your favourites from Noddy to Big Ears to Mr Plod. Even today, over sixty years since they were first published, the Noddy books are still amongst the most popular kids book in the world.
The next guy is one of the most popular illustrators in the world, perhaps you’ve heard of him…
M. C. Escher
M. C. Escher drawings adorn walls in pretty much any waiting room or library you have ever been in. With odd angles and strange geometries, his drawings have inspired thousands of authors far more than any posters of cats ‘hanging in there’. His works also have a heavy influence on pop culture with everything from The Matrix to Flight of the Conchords lyrics giving the nod to his drawings.
Despite Stewie Griffin calling it ‘Crazy Stairs,’ the picture below is called Relativity and is perhaps Escher’s most famous piece of work. Without this great picture, Sarah would have saved her brother Toby from the Goblin King far quicker at the end of the movie Labyrinth.
The Netherlands On Film
The Dutch have a huge influence on both the big and small screen in the realm of fantasy. Famke Jansen a.k.a Jean Grey from the X-men films and sexy femme fatale Xenia Onnatopp (snigger) from Goldeneye is in fact from Amstelveen, just South of Amsterdam. – N.b. Thank you to Hans and Jack in the comments.
If you remember the Addams Family films form the 90s then Lurch in those films was Carel Struycken the giant from Den Haag (The Hague). Still not impressed? Well, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was co-written by Dutchman Menno Meyjes.
Let us not forget the ever awesome Rutger Hauer, who has been in everything including the 90s Buffy The Vampire Slayer film, Sin City and Batman Begins. In fact, he’s been in so many things that it might be worth you getting a paternity test…just saying.
Possibly the greatest Dutch influence on the fantasy and sci-fi genre on film though has to come from the great Paul Verhoeven. This man has directed some of the big screen greats including Robocop, Starship Troopers and even Total Recall. Horny fanboys and tissue sales around the world owe a lot to this Dutchman because without him we may have never witnessed the chest of a lady with three breasts.
Okay this is where the meaty bits are but you’re going to have to crack out that Dutch For Dummies that I advised you to get because the most important thing to know about Dutch fantasy in literature is that there is a huge amount of it but very little is translated in to English.
The first place to look for Dutch fantasy is at the awards. There are three annual awards that are dedicated to the fantasy genre. Most famous of which is probably the Paul Harland Prize (previously called the King Kong Award), which began in 1976 and is awarded exclusively for any original Dutch fantasy stories up to 10,000 words. The Unleashed award caters to shorter prose of between 2,000-6,000 words and finally there is the relatively new Fantastels award for original Dutch fantasy up to 12,000 words in length.
Many people have been kind enough over the last couple of weeks to give up their time and suggest Dutch fantasy authors that you need to read. There were so many suggestions but consensus seemed to fall on eleven names with four repeatedly stressed so I shall focus on these four.
When you search for works of Dutch fantasy, the name that comes up the most is of the late, great Mr Paul Harland. He wrote many novels including one in English – The Hand That Takes. He often collaborated with other popular authors and even produced Systems of Romance with Paul Evenblij, which was a collection of short stories and was released to huge critical acclaim amongst the English speaking market. Harland won the King Kong Award for Dutch sci-fi, fantasy and horror, a feat that has since been matched but never beaten. He died prematurely in 2003 at the age of 43. After his death, the King Kong Award was renamed the Paul Harland Prize in his honour.
Tais Teng was decribed to me by Dutch publisher and former SF-Terra Chief Editor, Theo Barkel as “…one of the best Dutch writers… His imagination is so good [with] a great humour”. Teng is a prolific author, his website says he has had close to two hundred short stories published some of which are in English. Throughout his career he has collaborated with some of the best authors in the business including Paul Harland and has even won the Paul Harland Prize four times, a number that has only been matched by Harland himself.
His works have been translated in to many languages and his latest book The Emerald Boy is proving to be so popular that it has just been released to the American market. Teng is also a sculptor and an artist.
You should check out his website where you can read some of his English short stories and also view his fantastic art work. Definitely worth a visit.
Paul Evanby is considered by most to be ‘the’ modern Dutch fantasy author to read. He first won the Paul Harland Prize in 1988 and was the youngest author ever to do so; he then won it again in 2001. In 1995, he collaborated with Paul Harland and produced the English-language collection of short stories entitled Systems of Romance, which was critically lauded for its original ideas and intelligent prose. One of Evanby’s short stories “I” was released in a British anthology called The Elastic Book of Numbers, which won the 2006 British Fantasy Award for Best Anthology. Since then, Evanby has had two novels published, De Scrypturist and De Vloedvormer (The Flood Shaper) both of which fall under the series title The Living Black. The books were described as ‘steampunk without steam engine,’ over at www.Ezzulia.nl and have both received rave reviews in The Netherlands. These titles are currently only available in Dutch.
I would definitely recommend reading Evanby’s short stories “I” and “A Thousand Trains Out Of Here,” both of which are in English and available on his website.
Paul Van Loon
Mr Van Loon is one of the most prolific authors in The Netherlands today. This year he released his 101st book in a career that spans twenty-five years. Among his many stories and novels, he has two major series: Dolf Weerwolfje which is available in England as Alfie The Werewolf and the series De Griezelbus (The Horror Bus) which was turned in to a Dutch language film in 2005. He was a part of De Griezelgenootschap (The Creepy Society) along with Tais Teng and became president of the society in the 90s. He has won the Dutch award for children’s literature ten times and would definitely be an author to check out if you have children or, like me, love kids stories.
W. J. Maryson
Maryson, who also wrote under his real name Wim Stolk, was described to me as ‘the most successful fantasy writer in Holland’. He was the organiser and a frequent judge of the King Kong awards which later became the Paul Harland Prize. In 2004, he won the Elf Fantasy Award for The Lord of the Depths. He then won a Paul Harland himself in 2007, for his short story “Nietzsche Station” and later won second place at the 2010 Unleashed awards. In 2010, he released his first book to be translated in to English, The Tower of Romandor, and received mass critical praise for it. He was not just an author though, as Maryson was also a successful musician and released two albums before his death in March this year at the age of 60.
Below are a list of some of the other great Dutch authors you should check out if possible.
Django Mathijsen – Has won the Unleashed award three times and came second place for the Paul Harland award in 2009.
Thomas Olde Heuvelt – Won the Paul Harland Prize in 2009 and was called “One of Europe’s foremost talents of Fantastic Literature,” by the BBC. Not too shabby.
Jaap Boekestein – Won the Paul Harland Prize in 2003. Editor of Holland SF and Wander Waan.
Alex de Jong (aka Brad Winning) – Won the 2006 Unleashed award and has a strong presence in the online world of Dutch fantasy.
Peter Schaap – Not just an award winning author, but also a musician with hit songs in The Netherlands in the 70s.
Wim Gijsen – One of the most successful Dutch writers of modern fantasy. Most famous for his Deirdre trilogy and his Iskander de dromendief novels.
So there we are ladies and gents. The fantasy genre in The Netherlands is thriving and with our help it will only continue to grow. So go grab your copy of Dutch for Dummies and get learning, as there’s a big fantasy world out there to be discovered.
Stay tuned over the coming week for a very special follow up to this article.
Oh wait! I almost forgot. I promised you another Dutch cheese joke. Okay… ahem.
What did the Dutch cheese say when he looked in the mirror?
You’re looking Gouda…
Visit the other countries in our world tour here: