A Freischütz ("freeshooter"), in German folklore, is a marksman who, by a contract with the devil, has obtained a certain number of bullets destined to hit without fail whatever object he wishes. As the legend is usually told, six of the magic bullets (German: Freikugeln, literally "free bullets"), are thus subservient to the marksman's will, but the seventh is at the absolute disposal of the devil himself.
Stories about the Freischütz were especially common in Germany during the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries. But the tale became widely circulated in 1811 when Johann August Apel included it as the first tale in the first volume of the Gespensterbuch or Book of Ghosts. Thomas de Quincey translated Apel's tale into English in 1823 as The Fatal Marksman.
Apel's tale formed the subject of Weber's opera Der Freischütz (1821), the libretto of which was written by Johann Friedrich Kind, who had suggested Apel's story as an excellent theme for the composer.
E.T.A. Hoffmann's The Affianced Spectre (1847) is another variant. In this story, after the 7th bullet shoots Wilhelm's mistress, Catherine, instead of the game at which Wilhelm aimed, the devil triumphs at Wilhelm's misery. Wilhelm marries another woman at the end of the year, despite having sworn an oath at Catherine's grave to remain single for rest of his life. Out of grief, Wilhelm takes a solitary excursion into the forest. As he rides, he hears the wild huntsman, his pack, and wolves chasing after him. A thunderbolt throws Wilhelm from the horse. A mysterious voice commands Wilhelm to follow and leads to a cavern, where Wilhelm sees many skeletons, one of which is that of Catherine; the skeleton waltzes with Wilhelm. Other skeletons join the dance until daybreak. The following morning, Wilhelm and his horse are found dead and gnawed by the wolves.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
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- Elizabeth Knowles The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable - 2006 "German folklore includes a number of stories in which magic bullets of supernatural accuracy play a prominent role. The best-known is the legend of a marksman or 'freeshooter' who makes a pact with the powers of evil to obtain bullets which ..."
- Patrick Bridgwater De Quincey's Gothic Masquerade -- 2004 Page 55 The Fatal Marksman is not a Gothic tale as such, but a reworking of the folk legend that underlies Weber's opera, which ... Magic bullets, magic guns, and the idea that the Devil cannot be shot are well-known folklore motifs, but there is more to ...
- Prof. Christian. "Hoffman and Fantastic Stories." The Daguerrotype 1847: 211-16. Google Ebooks. Web. 19 Nov. 2011. <http://books.google.com/books?id=_lpAAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA1&dq=The+daguerreotype,+volume+1&source=gbs_selected_pages&cad=3#v=onepage&q=skeleton&f=false>
- Fran Kocbek 1863-1930, Jakob Kelemina 1882-1957 Copeland, F. S. (1934). "Lampret, the Warlock Marksman". The Slavonic and East European Review.
- Šmitek, Zmago (1998). "Kresnik: An Attempt at a Mythological Reconstruction" (PDF). Studia Mythologica Slavica I: 108.