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In Michael Ende's novel The Neverending Story, the character Yikka, a talking mule, keeps saying that her intuition comes from being "half an ass (donkey)." "When one is only half an ass, and not a whole one, one knows things." I don't have a German translation of the book to get the original phrase, but... is there something in German language or culture that explains this line? She uses it as an explanation of how she was able to sense the identity of a stranger, and how she sometimes knows what her human rider is thinking. ???

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In German it is

Wenn man bloß ein halber Esel ist wie ich und kein ganzer, dann fühlt man so was.

This is a somewhat mysterious statement and there is nothing in German language or culture that explains it. I think one can only make conjectures about its meaning.

  1. Naive explanation.

The word "Esel" (donkey) is often used as synonym for a fool. Perhaps this is the reason why the translator used the word "ass" instead of "donkey". This could mean that Yikka wants to say that she is not foolish enough to ignore the truth.

  1. Psychological explanation. See Gronemann, Helmut: Phantásien – Das Reich des Unbewussten. „Die unendliche Geschichte“ von Michael Ende aus der Sicht der Tiefenpsychologie. Zürich: Schweizer Spiegel Verlag 1985. Also see here p. 79.

Nach Ansicht Helmut Gronemanns versinnbildlicht der Esel das Unbewusste, das Pferd dagegen verkörpert das Bewusstsein. Das Gespür des Maultieres besteht demnach in der Fähigkeit, beide psychischen Komponenten zu vereinigen. Das höhere Wissen des Tieres versinnbildlicht so die Geschlossenheit, die Bastian erst erreichen muss.

Translation via DeepL:

According to Helmut Gronemann, the donkey symbolizes the unconscious, while the horse embodies the conscious. The sense of the mule thus consists in the ability to unite both psychic components. The higher knowledge of the animal thus symbolizes the unity that Bastian must first achieve.

By the way, here is the German text.

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    I go with the naive explanation because it shows that the mule is cunning.
    – Janka
    Nov 5, 2022 at 9:30
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To be honest, this question is subject to interpretation... But I'll give it a try. Since Yakka is a mule, she is technically half an ass and not a full one. I think Ende plays with different attributes, the word "Esel" (ass) and the animal have in German language and culture:

  • The word "Esel" is often used to describe a human being as very stupid. Therefore, the "whole ass" would not be able to feel the things Yakka feels

  • On the other hand, donkeys are often considered wiser then humans in Germany (and maybe in other countries) when it comes to feel danger, finding the right way and so on. The fact that donkeys sometimes refuse to follow orders from given by humans is often explained by saying that they are able to see/feel something humans cannot see/feel

So I think, Ende wants to say that Yakka has the wisdom of a donky without being "a whole ass".

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