The Castle (novel)

The Castle (novel)
The Castle  
1st English edition
Author(s) Franz Kafka
Original title Das Schloß
Translator see individual articles
Language German
Genre(s) Philosophical, Dystopian novel
Publisher Kurt Wolff Verlag, Munich
Publication date 1926

The Castle (German: Das Schloß) is a novel by Franz Kafka. In it a protagonist, known only as K., struggles to gain access to the mysterious authorities of a castle who govern the village for unknown reasons. Kafka died before finishing the work, but suggested it would end with the Land Surveyor dying in the village; the castle notifying him on his death bed that his "legal claim to live in the village was not valid, yet, taking certain auxiliary circumstances into account, he was permitted to live and work there". Dark and at times surreal, The Castle is about alienation, bureaucracy, the seemingly endless frustrations of man's attempts to stand against the system, and the futile and hopeless pursuit of an unobtainable goal.


History of the novel

Kafka began writing The Castle on the evening of January 27, 1922, the day he arrived at the mountain resort of Spindlermühle (now in the Czech Republic). A picture taken of him upon his arrival shows him by a horse-drawn sleigh in the snow in a setting reminiscent of The Castle.[1] Hence, the significance that the first few chapters of the handwritten manuscript were written in first person and at some point later changed by Kafka to a third person narrator, 'K.'[2]

Max Brod

Kafka died prior to finishing The Castle and it is questionable whether Kafka intended on finishing it if he had survived his tuberculosis. On separate occasions he told his friend Max Brod of two different conditions: K., the book's protagonist, would continue to reside and die in the village; the castle notifying him on his death bed that his "legal claim to live in the village was not valid, yet, taking certain auxiliary circumstances into account, he was permitted to live and work there"[2], but then on September 11, 1922 in a letter to Max Brod, he said he was giving up on the book and would never return to it.[3] As it is, the book ends mid-sentence.

Although Brod was instructed by Kafka to destroy all his works on his death, he did not and set about publishing Kafka's writings. The Castle was originally published in German in 1926 by the publisher Kurt Wolff Verlag of Munich. This edition sold far less than the 1500 copies that were printed.[4] It was republished in 1935 by Schocken Verlag in Berlin, and in 1946 by Schocken Books of New York.[5]

Brod had to heavily edit the work to ready it for publication. His goal was to gain acceptance of the work and the author, not to maintain the structure of Kafka's writing. This would play heavily in the future of the translations and continues to be the center of discussion on the text.[6] Brod donated the manuscript to Oxford University.[7]

Brod placed a strong religious significance to the symbolism of the castle.[1][8] This is one possible interpretation of the work based on numerous Judeo-Christian references as noted by many including Arnold Heidsieck.[9]

Malcolm Pasley

Das Schloß  
Author(s) Franz Kafka, Malcolm Pasley
Country German
Language German
Genre(s) Category:Philosophical novels, Dystopian
Publisher Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag
Publication date 1982
Media type Print (paperback)
Pages 416
ISBN 3-596-12444-1

The publisher, Salmen Schocken, soon realized the translations were "bad" and in 1940 desired a "completely different approach".[6] In 1961 Malcolm Pasley got access to all of Kafka's works, except The Trial, and deposited them in Oxford's Bodleian library. Pasley and a team of scholars (Gerhard Neumann, Jost Schillemeit, and Jürgen Born) started publishing the works in 1982 through S. Fischer Verlag. Das Schloß was published that year as a two volume set — the novel in the first volume, and the fragments, deletions and editor's notes in a second volume. This team restored the original German text to its full, and incomplete state, including the unique Kafka punctuation considered critical to the style.[10]

Stroemfeld/Roter Stern

Interpretations of Kafka's intent for the manuscript are ongoing. Stroemfeld/Roter Stern Verlag is working for the rights to publish another critical edition with manuscript and transcription side-by-side. But they have met with resistance from the Kafka heirs and Pasley.[11] This edition is not yet available.

Major editions

  • 1930 Translators: Willa and Edwin Muir. Based on the First German edition, by Max Brod. Published By Secker & Warburg in England and Alfred A. Knopf in the United States.
  • 1941 Translators: Willa and Edwin Muir. Edition include an Homage by Thomas Mann.
  • 1954 Translators: Willa and Edwin Muir additional sections translated by Eithne Wilkins and Ernst Kaiser. "Definitive edition". Based on the Schocken 1951 Definitive edition.[12]
  • 1994 Translators: Muir, et al. Preface by Irving Howe.
  • 1997 Translator: J. A. Underwood, Introduction: Idris Parry. Based on Pasley Critical German Text.
  • 1998 Translator: Mark Harman Based on Pasley Critical German Text.

The title

The title, Das Schloß, may be translated as "the castle" or "the lock". It is also similar to Der Schluß (close or end).[1] The castle is locked and closed to K and the townspeople; neither can gain access. The name of Klamm is similar to klempern in German, which means "to clamp, bolt or rivet" and may hold a double meaning; for Klamm is the lock that locks away the secrets of the Castle and the salvation of K.


The narrator, K., arrives in a village governed by a mysterious bureaucracy that resides in a nearby castle. When seeking shelter at the town inn, he gives himself out to be a land surveyor summoned by the castle authorities. He is quickly notified that his castle contact is an official named Klamm, who, in the introductory note, informs K. he will report to the Council Chairman.

The Council Chairman informs K. that, through a mix up in communication between the castle and the village, he was erroneously requested but, trying to accommodate K., the Council Chairman offers him a position in the service of the school teacher as a caretaker. Meanwhile, K., unfamiliar with the customs, bureaucracy and processes of the village, continues to attempt to reach the official Klamm, which is considered a strong taboo to the villagers.

The villagers hold the officials and the castle in the highest regard, justifying, quite elaborately at times, even though they do attempt to appear to know what the officials do, the actions of the officials are never explained; they simply defend it as being absurd any other way. The number of assumptions and justifications about the functions of the officials and their dealings are enumerated through lengthy monologues of the villagers. Everyone appears to have an explanation for the official's actions that appear to be founded on assumptions and gossip. The descriptions given by the towns people often contradict themselves by having very different features and routines within a single person's description, but they do not try to hide the ambiguity; instead, they praise it as any other action or feature of an official should be praised. One of the more obvious contradictions between the "official word" and the village conception is the dissertation by the secretary Erlanger on Frieda's required return to service as a barmaid. K. is the only villager that knows that the request is being forced by the castle (even though Frieda may be the genesis[13][14]), with no consideration of the inhabitants of the village.

The castle is the ultimate bureaucracy with copious paperwork that the bureaucracy maintains is "flawless". This flawlessness is, of course, a lie; it is a flaw in the paperwork that has brought K. to the village. There are other failures of the system which are occasionally referred to. K. witnesses a flagrant misprocessing after his nighttime interrogation by Erlanger as a servant destroys paperwork when he cannot determine who the recipient should be.

The castle's occupants appear to be all adult men and there is little reference to the castle other than to its bureaucratic functions. The two notable instances are the reference to a fire brigade and that Otto Brunswick's wife declares herself to be from the castle. The latter declaration builds the importance of Hans (Otto's son) in K.'s eyes, as a way to gain access to the castle officials.

The functions of the officials are never mentioned. The officials that are discussed have one or more secretaries that do their work in their village. Although the officials come to the village, they do not interact with the villagers unless they need female companionship, implied to be sexual in nature.


Note: The Muir translations refer to the Herrenhof Inn where the Harman translations translate this to the Gentleman's Inn. Below all references to the inn where the officials stay in the village is the Herrenhof Inn since this was the first, and potentially more widely read, translation.

Character Description
K., the Land-Surveyor The protagonist of the story, recognized as a land surveyor, employed as the school janitor, and a stranger to the townspeople. He spends most of the novel trying to overcome the bureaucracy of the village and to contact the castle official Klamm.
Frieda A former barmaid at the Herrenhof, who is K.'s fiancée for most of the novel. She often finds herself torn between her duty to K. and her fears regarding his over-zealousness. She eventually leaves K. and ends up in the arms of his former assistant, Jeremiah (who has since become a waiter at the Herrenhof).
Hans, landlord
(Bridge Inn)
Nephew of the original owner of the inn. According to his wife, Gardena, he is lazy and overly nice to K.
Gardena, landlady
(Bridge Inn)
The self proclaimed firebrand of the Bridge Inn she is a former short-term mistress to Klamm and very distrustful of K.'s motives. She remains infatuated with Klamm.
Barnabas, a messenger A messenger of the castle assigned to K. He is new to the service. K. is instructed to use him to communicate with the official Klamm. He is very immature and sensitive.
Arthur and Jeremiah, K's assistants
(Artur and Jeremias in Harman edition)
Shortly after his arrival in the village, K. is given two assistants to help him with his various needs. They are a continual source of frustration for him, however, and he eventually drives them from his service through his brutal treatment. They have been assigned to K., to make him happy, by the official Galater who was deputizing for Klamm at the time.
(Village Council Chairman in Harman edition)
Assigned by Klamm to give K. his assignment and hence is his superior. He explains to K. why he is not needed as a land surveyor. He offers K. the job of school janitor to the dismay of the Teacher.
Mizzi, the mayor's wife The wife and assistant of the Mayor, Gardena refers to her as the one who does the work.
Klamm An elusive castle official who is K.'s Castle Authority. Like the other Castle officials in the book, his actual area of expertise is never mentioned. K. spends a large portion of the novel trying to secure a meeting with Klamm. K., it seems, fixes many of his hopes for a successful resolution to his problems upon this meeting with Klamm. He has at least two secretaries—Erlanger (First Secretary) and Momus.

In Czech (and Kafka was able to speak and read/write Czech) "klam" means "illusion."

Momus, Klamm's secretary Handles all written work for and receives all petitions to Klamm. He is also secretary for Vallabne, who is not mentioned again in the novel.
Erlanger, Klamm's secretary The First Secretary of Klamm who is sent to "interrogate" K, but only gives him a short message.
Olga, Barnabas' sister The older sister of Amalia and Barnabas. She helps K. on his quest, partly by telling him the story of why her family is considered outcasts and by teaching him some of the village customs.
Amalia, Barnabas' sister Younger sister of Barnabas and Olga. She was disgraced in the village after rudely turning down a summons from the castle official Sortini for sexual favors.
Barnabas' Father The father of Olga, Amalia and Barnabas. Past village cobbler and notable fireman. After Amalia's disgraceful interactions with Sortini's messenger, his business is ruined and he is stripped of his fire credentials
Barnabas' Mother The mother of Olga, Amalia and Barnabas.
Otto Brunswick, son-in-law of Lasemann
(brother-in-law of Lasemann in Harman edition)
Hans Brunswick's father. Opportunistically takes over Barnabas' father's customers as the Barnabas family falls into disrepute from Amalia's rude treatment of Sortini's Messenger. According to the Mayor, Brunswick was the only person in the village that desired that a land surveyor be hired. No reason for this is given.
Frau Brunswick Hans Brunswick's Mother. She refers to herself as "from the castle" and is the only reference to a female at the castle.
Hans, a sympathetic Student A student at the school where K is a janitor. Offers to help K and K uses him to attempt to find ways to get to the castle through his mother.
Herrenhof Landlord Landlord of the Herrenhof Inn.
Herrenhof Landlady Well dressed landlady at the Herrenhof Inn. Seems to be the matriarch of the Inn (as is Gardena at the Bridge Inn). Is distrustful of K.
Galater He is the castle official that assigned the assistants to K. He was also "rescued" by Barnabas' father in a minor fire at the Herrenhof Inn.
(Bürgel in Harman edition)
A Secretary of a castle official, Friedrich. Friedrich is not mentioned again in the book, but in deleted text is referred to as an official who is falling out of favor.[15] Brügel is a long winded secretary who muses about Castle interrogations with K, when the latter errantly enters his room at the Herrenhof Inn.
Sordini Castle secretary who exhaustively manages any transactions at the castle for his department and is suspicious of any potential error.
Sortini Castle official associated with the village fire brigade who solicits Amalia with a sexually explicit and rude request to come to his room at the Herrenhof.
Teacher When K. becomes the janitor at the school, the teacher becomes K.'s de facto superior. He does not approve of K. working at the school, but does not appear to have the authority to terminate K's appointment.
Miss Gisa, the school mistress The assistant school teacher who is courted by Schwarzer and also dislikes K.
Schwarzer An under-castellan's son who appears to have given up living in the castle to court Miss Gisa and become her student teacher.
Pepi A former chamber maid who is promoted to Frieda's barmaid position when the latter leaves her position at the Herrenhoff to live with K. She was a chambermaid with Emilie and Hennriette
Lasemann, a tanner, father-in-law of Otto Brunswick
(brother-in-law of Otto Brunswick in Harman edition)
The village tanner that offers a few hours shelter to K. during on his first full day in the village.
Gerstacker, a Coachman Initially suspicious of K. but gives him a free sleigh back to the Bridge Inn after refusing to provide a ride to the castle. At the end of the book attempts to befriend K. since he believes K. has clout with Erlanger.
Seemann, the Fire Company chief The fire chief that strips Barnabas' father of his fireman diploma after Barnabas' family falls into shame from Amalia's rude treatment of Sortini's Messenger.

Major themes


It is well documented that Brod's original construction was based on religious themes and this was furthered by the Muirs in their translations. But it has not ended with the Critical Editions. Numerous interpretations have been made with a variety of theological angles.

One interpretation of K.'s struggle to contact the castle is that it represents a man's search for salvation.[16] According to Mark Harman, translator of a recent edition of The Castle, this was the interpretation favored by the original translators Willa and Edwin Muir, who produced the first English volume in 1925. Harman feels he has removed the bias in the translations toward this view, but many still feel this is the point of the book.

Fueling the biblical interpretations of the novel are the various names and situations. For example, the official Galater (the German word for Galatians), one of the initial regions to develop a strong Christian following from the work of Apostle Paul and his assistant Barnabas. The name of the messenger, Barnabas, for the same reason. Even the Critical Editions naming of the beginning chapter, "Arrival", among other things liken K. to an Old Testament messiah.[9]

Abuse of power

While in talking to Olga in (Chapter XVII, "Amalia's Secret") K. himself ridicules the officials, in general, based on Sortini's "abuse of power" in requesting Amalia to come to the Gentleman's Inn.[17] K. caught, once again, in not understanding the customs of the village is shocked at the behavior of Sortini. Olga expresses the "heroic" actions of Amalia, but appears too understanding of the community's acceptance of the status quo when it comes to the solicitations by the officials.


The obvious thread throughout The Castle is bureaucracy. The extreme degree is nearly comical and the village residents' justifications of it are amazing. Hence it is no surprise that many feel that the work is a direct result of the political situation of the era in which it was written, which was shot through with anti-Semitism, remnants of the Habsburg bureaucracy, etc.[18][19]

But even in these analyses, the veiled references to more sensitive issues are pointed out. For instance, the treatment of the Barnabas family, with their requirement to first prove guilt before they could request a pardon from it and the way their fellow villagers desert them have been pointed out as a direct reference to the anti-Semitic climate at the time.[20]

Allusions to other works

Critics often talk of The Castle and The Trial in concert, highlighting the struggle of the protagonist against a bureaucratic system and standing before the law's door unable to enter as in the parable of the priest in The Trial.[21]

In spite of motifs common with other works of Kafka, The Castle is quite different from The Trial. While K., the main hero of The Castle, faces similar uncertainty and difficulty in grasping the reality that suddenly surrounds him, Josef K., the protagonist of The Trial, seems to be more experienced and emotionally stronger. On the other hand, while Josef K.'s surroundings stay familiar even when strange events befall him, K. finds himself in a new world whose laws and rules are unfamiliar to him.

Publication history

Harman translation

In 1926 Max Brod persuaded Kurt Wolff Verlag to publish the first German edition of The Castle. Due to its unfinished nature and his desire to get Kafka's work published, Max Brod took some editorial freedom.

In 1961 Malcolm Pasley was able to gain control of the manuscript, along with most of the other Kafka writings (save The Trial) and had it placed in the Oxford's Bodleian library. There, Pasley headed a team of scholars and recompiled Kafka's works into the Critical Edition. The Castle Critical Edition, in German, consists of two volumes—the novel in one volume and the fragments, deletions and editor's notes in a second volume. They were published by S. Fischer Verlag in 1982, hence occasionally referred to as the "Fischer Editions".

Mark Harman used the first volume of this set to create the 1998 edition of The Castle, often refer to as based on the "Restored Text" or the "English Critical Edition".

The lack of the fragments and missing text would have little meaning to most readers if the Muir translation did not let one know that there was more to read. The casual reader may not find the additional text of value, which Harman mentions that he has not included the text. According to the Publisher's Note:

"We decided to omit the variants and passages deleted by Kafka that are included in Pasley's second volume, even though variants can indeed shed light on the genesis of literary texts. The chief objective of this new edition, which is intended for the general public, is to present the text in a form that is as close as possible to the state in which the author left the manuscript."[22]

Harman has received general acceptance of his translation as being technically accurate and true to the original German. He has, though, received criticism for, at times not creating the prosaic form of Kafka.[1] Some of this is due, as with Muir's translations, on accusations that Pasley compilations are also inaccurate, although better than Brod's.[11]

As noted in the Table of Contents above, Harman includes an eleven page discussion on his philosophy behind the translation. This section provides significant information about the method he used and his thought process. There are numerous examples of passages from Pasley, Muir's translation and his translation to provide the reader with a better feel for the work. As referenced above, some feel that his (and the publisher's) praise for his work and his "patronizing" of the Muirs goes a little too far.[1]

Muir translation

In 1930 Willa and Edwin Muir translated the First German edition of The Castle as it was compiled by Max Brod. It was published by Secker & Warburg in England and Alfred A. Knopf in the United States. 1941 edition was the edition that fed the Kafka post-war craze. The 1941 edition included a homage by Thomas Mann.

In 1954 the "Definitive" edition was published and included additional sections Brod had added to the Schocken Definitive German edition. The new sections were translated by Eithne Wilkins and Ernst Kaiser. Some edits were made in the Muir text namely the changes were "Town Council" to "Village Council", "Superintendent" to "Mayor", "Clients" to "Applicants".[12]

The 1994 edition, the current publication, contains a preface by Irving Howe.

The Muir translations make use of wording that is often considered "spiritual" in nature. In one notable example, the Muirs translate the description of the castle as "soaring unfalteringly" where Harman uses "tapered decisively".[23] Furthermore, the word "illusory" is used from the opening paragraph forward. Some critics note this as further evidence of the bias in the translation leaning toward a mystical interpretation.[1]

Underwood translation

A translation by J. A. Underwood was published in 1997 and 2000 (ISBN 0-14-018504-6) by Penguin in the UK.


The book was adapted by German director Rudolf Noelte into a film released in 1968. It was also filmed by Austrian director Michael Haneke in 1997 under the original German title Das Schloß, starring Ulrich Mühe as K.[24] There is a 1994 Russian movie adaptation, The Castle, directed by Aleksei Balabanov.[25] Another less-well-known adaptation was also made in Russia in 1994, called The Land Surveyor (Землемер). It was a 46-minute-long animation created at Diogen Studio and directed by Dmitriy Naumov and Valentin Telegin. [1]. A 120-minute-long French radio adaptation, written by Stephane Michaka and directed by Cedric Aussir, was aired by France Culture in 2010. In February 2011, Central Works theater company in Berkeley, CA will present "A Man's Home...An Ode to Kafka's Castle" a world premiere play inspired by the novel.

Allusions to The Castle in other works

A story similar to that of The Castle is told in the British television series The Prisoner. In the late 1970s, an unlicensed computer game spin-off of The Prisoner took things one step further by incorporating elements of The Castle into the gameplay.

The novel Oficina Número 1 (Office Number 1) by Venezuelan writer Miguel Otero Silva has one character reading The Castle, and although never referred to by name, describes several parts of it.

The Castle is also referred to in Lawrence Thornton's Imagining Argentina. A professor is arrested under suspicion of subversive activities. He tells the authorities he has been meeting Dostoyevsky, Koestler and Camus at a place called "the Castle". The main character's cat is also named Kafka.

Although not expressly stated as such, the Steven Soderbergh film Kafka from 1991, starring Jeremy Irons, incorporates the basic thematic elements of The Castle as well as allusions to Kafka's own life as a writer and his collected works. The title character, "Kafka", an insurance company clerk by day and a writer by night, lives and works in the shadow of the mysterious Castle, which rules over the life and death of the local citizenry through a seemingly incomprehensibly complex conspiracy of bureaucracy and cover-ups.

Iain Banks's novel Walking on Glass has characters who find themselves in a situation similar to K.'s: trapped in a castle, subject to arbitrary and bizarre rules which they must obey in order to find a way of leaving, and surrounded by "servants" who comply entirely with the rules by which the castle is run. The allusion is made specific in one of the final chapters, where reading The Castle (along with The Trial and Titus Groan) is hinted at as a key to the characters' escape from their own castle.

K., the protagonist of J. M. Coetzee's The Life and Times of Michael K, attempts to live simply outside the governing system of war torn South Africa.[citation needed]

African-American author Richard Wright references The Castle in his autobiography Black Boy.

Japanese game designer Suda51, creator of No More Heroes and lots of other famous videogames, has been inspired by The Castle in the development of Kurayami, which then evolved into Shadows of the Damned.

A world in the children's Nintendo DS game Drawn to Life: The Next Chapter, the Galactic Jungle, presents the player with a stubborn bureaucracy not unlike the one portrayed in the novel.

Gene Wolfe's novel There Are Doors contains numerous references to The Castle throughout, including a high-placed official known as Klamm, several characters referred to as "Herr K.," and an actual copy of Das Schloss found nailed to a table within a dream.

Argentinian writer Ernesto Sabato is said to be influenced by Kafka's existentialism. The main character in his novelle, "The Tunnel", is named Castel, presumably after Kafka's story title.

See also

Book collection.jpg Novels portal
  • Best German Novels of the Twentieth Century


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Franz Kafka & the trip to Spindemuhle", Eric Ormsby, The New Criterion, November 1998, (
  2. ^ a b The Castle, Alfred A. Knopf, 1968, New York, New York, Publisher's note page vi
  3. ^ The Castle, Mark Harman, 1998, Schocken Books, New York, New York, Translator's Preface, page xv
  4. ^ The Castle, Mark Harman, 1998, Schocken Books, New York, New York, Publisher's Note, page vii
  5. ^ The Castle, Alfred A. Knopf, 1968, New York, New York, Publisher's note page iv
  6. ^ a b The Castle, Mark Harman, 1998, Schocken Books, New York, New York, Publisher's Note, page xi
  7. ^ Israeli museum wants Kafka manuscript from Germany
  8. ^ The Castle, Mark Harman, 1998, Schocken Books, New York, New York, Publisher's Note, page xiv-xvii
  9. ^ a b Community, Delusion and Anti-Semitism in Kafka's The Castle, Arnold Heidsieck, pages 1-15 (
  10. ^ Stepping into Kafka's head, Jeremy Adler, Times Literary Supplement, Oct. 13, 1995(
  11. ^ a b "Scholars squabble in Kafkaesque drama", Von David Harrison, The Observer, May 17, 1998, S. 23 (
  12. ^ a b The Castle, Alfred A. Knopf, 1968, New York, New York, Publisher's note page vii
  13. ^ The Castle, Alfred A. Knopf, 1968, New York, New York, Fragments page 428
  14. ^ The Castle, Alfred A. Knopf, 1968, New York, New York, page 395
  15. ^ The Castle, Alfred A. Knopf, 1968, New York, New York, Passages Deleted by the Author, page 422
  16. ^ The Castle, Mark Harman, 1998, Schocken Books, New York, New York, Translator's Preface, page xviii
  17. ^ The Castle, Mark Harman, 1998, Schocken Books, New York, New York, page 193
  18. ^ Doctoral paper, Hartmut M. Rastalsky, 1997,
  19. ^ Community, Delusion and Anti-Semitism in Kafka's The Castle, Arnold Heidsieck, (
  20. ^ Community, Delusion and Anti-Semitism in Kafka's The Castle, Arnold Heidsieck, pages 11ff (
  21. ^ Doctoral paper, Hartmut M. Rastalsky, 1997 (
  22. ^ The Castle, Schocken Books, 1998, New York, New York, Publisher's note page xii
  23. ^ The Castle, Mark Harman, 1998, Schocken Books, New York, New York, Translator's Preface, page xvii
  24. ^ "Schloß, Das (1997)", IMDb accessed 21 August 2008
  25. ^ "Zamok (1994)", IMDb accessed 21 August 2008

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