A "Scheinriese" (illusory giant), most notably Mr. Tur-Tur from Michael Ende's Jim Button and Luke the Engine Driver, is a being which when seen from a distance appears to be a giant, inadvertently frightening everyone who beholds them, yet decreases in size as one approaches them.

This term has entered the German language with negative connotations and is used when an issue is dramatised (e.g. a German soccer team is an illusionary giant and only appears strong on paper).

I'm wondering whether there are any other instances of such a being or idea occurred, whether Ende's idea had a predecessor or was inspired by something.

  • The Wizard of Oz?
    – user14111
    Commented Mar 5, 2018 at 17:44
  • There's a whole class of shayari that go Dūr se dekha... ("Seen from afar..."), the usual pattern being that something seem from afar was impressive for some reason, but not so when you approach it.
    – muru
    Commented Mar 6, 2018 at 15:10

1 Answer 1


Google Ngram found a few earlier appearances:

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  • 1869 : "Der lachende Mann" by Victor Hugo (translated into German by Georg Büchmann)
    Quote from p.152:
    Wirklich waren beide Kämpfer gut ausgewählt, [...]. Phelem-ghe-madone, dieser Scheinriese, hatte alle Nachtheile seiner Vorzüge; er bewegte sich schwerfällig; seine Arme waren massig; aber sein Körper war dafür eine bloße Masse.

  • 1888 : "Der Neue Hypokrates oder Wie der Reichsrathsabgeordnete Dr. Otto Polak seinen Wählern das innerste wahre Wesen des Liberalismus erschließt" by Joseph Schöniger
    Quote from p. 68:
    Wahrlich eine leichte und angenehme Arbeit, so ein heldenmüthiges Einstehen für das Deutschthum. Mir kommt es so vor, wie wenn sich ein Scheinriese mit papierenen Zentnergewichten producirt und sich hiebei für den unsäglichen Schweiß, den er vergießt, fleißig mit Bier und Wein entschädigt.

  • 1915 : "1914: Vom Ausbruch des Krieges bis zur Einnahme von Antwerpen" by Eduard Engel
    Quote from p.XI
    Und endlich bot sich ihnen der verführende Helfer, der Scheinriese Rußland dar, um ihre Vergeltung und seine Raubgelüste zu befriedigen.

  • 1933 : "Das Deutsche Volksspiel, Band 1"
    [...] Scheinriese wird durch einen tapferen Hirtenknaben besiegt

  • 1942 : "Yüan Schi-kai - Tragödie eines Usurpators" by Ernst Wurm
    Quote from p.307
    Er stand vor dem Thron, gedrungen und massig wie eine Quader, ein Scheinriese, von Scheinenergie erfüllt. Den Drachenmantel hatte er in wilden, seidig gebauschten Falten um Arme und Schultern hochgezogen und sah aus wie ein wutentbrannter Uhu oder wie ein Tiger in äußerster Gereiztheit [...]

It is hard to say whether Ende was aware of these earlier instances. I guess that in a political context the concept "Scheinriese" was known to some people.

Anyway, the word became popular only after Ende had used it in his novel. This may be the reason why Wikipedia attributes it to Ende although this is factually incorrect.

Quote from Wikipedia (translated with DeepL.com):

The Scheinriese is a literary character from the 1960 children's book Jim Button and Luke the Engine Driver. The author Michael Ende describes him as a peaceful, empathetic, helpful, lonely (but actually sociable) gentleman called Tur Tur, who can't help it if others are afraid of him because of his apparent size.
Since the end of the 1960s, the term "Scheinriese" has also been used as a catchphrase in journalism - especially in a political context - to characterize people, groups of people, states and other things. In this context, the metaphor usually has ironic or pejorative connotations and refers to an object that falsely or unjustifiably displays or claims the appearance of greatness, strength or power. In this type of use, the metaphor stands in contrast to the nice, pitiable illusory giant Tur Tur in the children's book.

  • 1
    This answer could be improved if you discussed the earlier citations you found. How close do these come to the modern sense of the word? In the Victor Hugo citation, the word translates the French quasi-géant (almost-giant), used to describe a heavyweight bare-knuckle boxer; there's no sense of illusion here, the character really is large. Commented Mar 30 at 13:31

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