DOI: 10.1515/zaa-2023-2025 ISSN: 0044-2305

Wotan’s Biopunk: The Grim(m) German God and His English Bloodsport in Sarban’s The Sound of His Horn

Geoffrey Winthrop-Young
  • Literature and Literary Theory
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Language and Linguistics


The essay analyzes Sarban’s 1952 novel The Sound of His Horn, one of the first alternate histories to depict a victorious Third Reich. The depiction of the latter is a strange mixture. On the one hand, the novel is a product of its day by presenting a regressive, resolutely anti-modern Nazi Germany headed back into a barbarian past. On the other hand, it anticipates later depictions (both in the alternate history genre as well as in historiography proper) by highlighting the constitutive role of technology and the regime’s inner divisions. The latter results in narrowing the gap between the (British) observer and his (German) environment. I argue that this narrowing can be traced by analyzing both the chief villain Hackelnberg, a figure borrowed from German folklore that Jacob Grimm associated with the Germanic god Wotan, and the key motif of hunting. Second, the narrowing is structurally embedded in the novel by virtue of the fact that the counterfactual Nazi domain is confined to a nested narrative. It may be a mere projection, in which case Hackelnberg’s deadly hunts and English bloodsports are not that far apart.