Jim Knopf: No more “N-word” on Lummerland

Jim Knopf: No more “N-word” on Lummerland
Michael Ende’s Jim Knopf, as portrayed by the Augsburger Puppenkiste.
Image: OÖN

For example, the N-word has been deleted from the new editions, as the publisher announced. The term “N-word” is now used to describe a racist term for black people that was previously used in Germany.

In addition, stereotypical descriptions have been reduced and foreign terms have been paraphrased: for example, instead of “Indian boy” “boy” is written, instead of “Eskimo child” “Inuit child”. Jim Knopf’s black skin color will no longer be discussed if it is not relevant to the plot.

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Author Ende (1929 – 1995) used the equation of black and dirty skin as one of the stylistic devices to particularly emphasize the close connection between Jim Knopf and the train driver Lukas: skin color and dirt are no longer related to each other in the new editions were deleted from some book pages.

No more thick lips

In the revised new editions, Jim Knopf’s drawing was also adapted in consultation with the heir of the illustrator FJ Tripp. “It is the thick pink lips and the black skin, which flows into the black hair without any boundaries, that can be irritating when viewed today and against the background of black people’s experiences of racism,” says the publisher.

The editions with the original black and white illustrations can therefore be delivered unchanged. However, they will contain an afterword in the future.

Positive but also critical reactions

“There are positive and critical reactions to it,” said publisher spokeswoman Svea Unbehaun on Friday. According to the publisher, the aim of the changes is to ensure that children who read the new editions of “Jim Knopf and Lukas the Engine Driver” and “Jim Knopf and the Wild 13” do not adopt these linguistic elements into their everyday vocabulary.

“The characters, their character, the wonderful plot, the great adventure, Michael Ende’s narrative style, everything that readers have valued about these books for generations has remained unchanged,” said the spokeswoman.

“We are sure that we are acting in the spirit of Michael Ende, who was known to be cosmopolitan, respectful and always for children,” said the publisher about the decision.

The head of the Knowledge in Transition department at the Leibniz Institute for Educational Media, Riem Spielhaus, announced that the new edition of the children’s book, which is clearly aimed at combating racism and exclusion, now contains no offensive words and shows that the publisher is moving with the times.

“Many children and parents who read the book or watch the films identify with Jim Knopf,” Spielhaus continued. “For them, the enjoyment of reading could be significantly impaired by the now changed passage and also by the illustrations, which are reminiscent of blackfacing.”

Discussions about obvious or subliminal racism in children’s books continue to boil up. Three years ago, a daycare center director from Hamburg’s criticism of “Jim Knopf and Lukas the Engine Driver” caused a stir. She complained that the story was still read uncritically in many daycare centers. It reproduces many clichés about the supposedly typical nature and appearance of black people. The passage in which Jim was called the N-word was particularly criticized.

At that time, the publisher decided to keep the word, which is now considered racist for black people, for the time being.

Criticism of Winnetou

Jim Knopf is not the only example. Astrid Lindgren used the N-word for Pipi Longstocking’s father; in a more recent version he was called the “South Sea King”. In 2022, the Ravensburger publishing house withdrew the book “The Young Chief Winnetou” from the film of the same name. The criticism: The story about Winnetou shows racist stereotypes.

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