St. Nicholas

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St. Nicholas in Trouble

or Sankt Nikolaus in Not by Felix Timmermans

Felix Timmerman Postcard, 1929
Sinterklaas rijdt op de daken
St. Nicholas rides on the rooftops

Dutch or Flemish postcard, signed by Felix Timmermans, 1929
St Nicholas Center Collection
Trinchen Mutser
Trinchen Mutser
Sankt Nikolaus
Sankt Nikolaus

Sankt Nikolaus & Ruprecht climb back up the moonbeam
Felix Timmermans' own woodcuts have illustrated many editions over the years; Insel-Bücheri ed.
St Nicholas Center Collection

 

SANKT NIKOLAUS IN NOT began its long run in 1924, in the collection of stories, Het keersken in de lanteern (The Candle in the Lantern). In 1926 it was published as a picture book with original illustrations by Else Wenz-Viëtor. These illustrations are still in-print as a small German paperback.

This story tells of the poor little girl, Cecilia, who was so excited she could not sleep this St. Nicholas Eve. She believed, even though the family was so poor they had no soap for washing, that the wonderful chocolate ship Congo from the window of the sweet shop, would be her gift from St. Nicholas.

Unhappy Trinchen Mutser, who owned the sweet shop, wished she had never bought the amazing chocolate ship—everyone had come in to "ooh" and "ah" over it, but none would pay the high price. Not even the doctor's wife.

St. Nicholas and his servant Rupert (Knecht Ruprecht) came down out of the sky on a moonbeam. Making their appointed rounds, they leave delicious smelling sweets and surprises for all the children. Finished at last; everything given away.

Alas, nothing was left for Cecilia, whom St. Nicholas called, "the best child in the whole world!"

And so the story of the only four in the town who are not sleeping—a poet, the night watchman, the shopkeeper, and little Cecilia—tells how St. Nicholas and Rupert are able to solve this terrible dilemna. St. Nicholas and Rupert have no more money, for Rupert has used everything from the church poor boxes to supply children's treats. Still, eventually, Trinchen Mutser gives up the treasured ship showing that St. Nicholas, in one way or another, causes hearts to soften, or, at the very least, to recognize another's good will.

As for Cecilia, she has a grand adventure with St. Nicholas, but never does understand how the beautiful chocolate ship, Congo, comes to sit in all its perfect splendor among the ashes of her hearth.

Ship: the Congo
Congo, from 1932 edition
St Nicholas Center Collection

The three woodcuts on the upper right are by Felix Timmermans himself; they have illustrated many editions of his Sankt Nikolaus.

The first English version, Saint Nicholas in Trouble, probably came out in 1932, though the Harper & Brothers book is undated. It was translated from German by Amy Flashner and had the original Else Wenz-Viëtor illustrations. There were five full-page, full-color pictures, along with other illustrations.

St. Nicholas in Trouble
St. Nicholas in Trouble
First English edition, ca 1932
Harper & Brothers, New York & London
illustrated by Else Wenz-Viëtor
St Nicholas Center Collection
A Gift from Saint Nicholas
A Gift from Saint Nicholas
freely adapted by Carole Kismaric
illustrated by Charles Mikolaycak
Holiday House 1988
St Nicholas Center Collection
Sankt Nikolaus in Not
Sankt Nikolaus in Not
illustrated by Stéphane Poulin
Speer Verlag 1997
St Nicholas Center Collection
St. Nicholas in Trouble
Timmermans Sankt Nikolaus in Not
Insel Taschenbuch, 1987
In-print with Else Wenz-Viëtor illustrations
St Nicholas Center Collection

Over the years this story has continued to invite fresh interpretaions—sometimes with sumptuous illustrations as the English and German editions above demonstrate.

In 1998 the British Society of Wood Engravers produced a specialty edition with the English title, Saint Nicholas in Distress. This lovely book features John Lawrence's distinctive blue engravings printed on mould-made paper.

Saint Nicholas in Distress
Saint Nicholas in Distress, 1998
English version by Sheila Hönigsberg
vinyl engravings by John Lawrence
St Nicholas Center Collection
Sankt Nikolaus in Not
Sankt Nikolaus in Not
Insel-Bücherei Nr. 420, undated
Many similar editions with
F. Timmermans own woodcuts
St Nicholas Center Collection
Trinchen Mutsers Schokoladenschiff Kongo
Trinchen Mutsers
Schokoladenschiff Kongo

Play adaptation, 1960
Courtesy of Hans Bergshoeff
Sankt Nikolaus in Not CD
Sankt Nikolaus in Not CD, 2002
Read by Peter Schauerte
St Nicholas Center Collection

Edition Tintenfass brought out two new 2017 editions in two different Belgian regional native languages: Walloon and Picard. Walloon is the historic language of southern Belgium; it was the traditional language in most of the areas that are now French-speaking. Picard was spoken in what is now Picardy in France and extended into what is the western part of Wallonia.

Sankt Nikolaus in Not
Sankt Nikolaus in Not
with original Felix Timmermans woodcuts
Insel Verlag 1982
St Nicholas Center Collection
Saint Nicholas in Distress
Sint Nicolas Rèyûs
Picard version by Rose-Marie François
with Else Wenz-Viëtor illustrations
Edition Tintenfaß, 2017
St Nicholas Center Collection
Sankt Nikolaus in Not
Sint Nicolas dins les Rûjes
Walloon version by Jean-Luc Fauconnier
with Else Wenz-Viëtor illustrations
Edition Tintenfaß, 2017
St Nicholas Center Collection
FELIX TIMMERMANS (1886–1947) was the 13th child in a family of 14. He was born and lived in the small Flanders city of Lier, a bit south of Antwerp. Lier has produced a number of artists, but Felix "Fe" Timmermans is by far the best-known.He received numerous literary awards and became a legend in his own time. His 1916 novel Pallieter, told of the joyous fellow Pallieter, who represented the good and happy Flemish life. The popular and prolific writer's work included biographies of St. Francis of Assisi and painter Pieter Bruegel the Elder.

ELSE WENZ-VIËTOR (1882-1973) illustrated the first picture book edition and the book is still available with these illustrations. As one of the most productive and well-known illustrators in the 1920s and 1930s, she illustrated more than one hundred picture books. Many are now collectors' items.