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"The Legend" by Robert Harrell

November 25, 2015

Click on image to download reading, complete lesson plans, and editable content in English to adapt for other languages of instruction

When Robert Harrell used the English version of this text in his session at ACTFL 2015 this last weekend, “Inspiring Students to Engage with Texts”, I could not get to my computer fast enough to put together a lesson plan that would explore it through literature circles. While still very comprehensible for language learners, the short legend is profound and thematically rich. I love literature circles because they provide students with many repetitions of a text (and the target structures it contains), and they allow students to explore rich texts in a format other than the standard "Teacher asks a question about the themes" "students respond and discussion ensues".
After contacting Robert for permission to translate and share the reading with lesson plans, I learned that “The Legend” is the opening of his historical novel North Sea Pirate. Originally written in German but also available in French, Spanish, and English, North Sea Pirate that teaches language students about the infamous pirate Klaus Störtebeker.
Currently, the best way to purchase the novel is by contacting Robert directly (his email is included in the file download) and requesting an order form. The Spanish version of “The Legend” that I have included with this literature circles plan is my own translation, and I thank Nelly Hughes and Kattia Higdon for revising it for me.


While I have not yet read the novel myself, I am so excited about it after reading this opener that I am going to do A GIVEAWAY for four copies of the novel: one in German, one in Spanish, one in English, and one in French. CLICK HERE TO ENTER THE GIVEAWAY! Winners will be announced on Monday, November 30, 2015.


Here is the English version of "The Legend" that Robert used in his presentation. This text is copyrighted, and I am sharing it here with Robert's express and written consent:

“Please don’t kill my men. I’m the leader, kill me, but don’t kill the others. I’m the captain; the others do what I say. Let them live and just kill me.”

The councilmen say nothing. All the men in the Hamburg City Council look at Klaus Stoertebeker. He looks at the City Council. Then the mayor says, “They are all pirates. They will all die with you.”

“Then kill me first, please. After I’m dead, I’ll walk past my men. Please don’t kill the men that I walk past.”

All of the councilmen laugh. The mayor says, “If you have no head, you can’t stand up and walk…but all right, if you can do that, we won’t kill the men you walk past.”

“Thank you”

They are on Grasbook Island in the Hamburg harbor, where the Hamburg executioner will kill the pirates. The councilmen, the other pirates, and the people watch. Stoertebeker kneels down and places his head on the block. The executioner lifts his ax and strikes Stoertebeker’s head from his shoulders.

Stoertebeker doesn’t fall to the ground. He stands up and walks to his men. He walks past them. He goes past the first man, past the second man, past the third man…

Everyone looks at the pirate No one can believe it. A man without a head stands up and walks…past the fifth man, past the sixth man, past the seventh man…

Many people are crossing themselves. No one says anything. No one does anything. A man without a head walks…past the ninth man, past the tenth man…past the eleventh man….

The executioner receives eight silver coins per head for his work and would like to receive a lot of money. He sticks his foot out, and the pirate Klaus Stoertebeker stumbles over the foot and falls to the ground. 

The people ask, “Do the eleven pirates get to go free?” “Will the executioner let these eleven pirates live?” “Are they free?” “What will happen?”

The executioner looks at the City Council. The councilmen look at the executioner. They aren’t laughing anymore. Everyone is thinking about the man without a head who walked past eleven men.

The executioner asks, “What now, my lord?”

The mayor looks at the City Council. Then he looks at the executioner and says, “Kill them all, executioner. They are pirates. Kill them all.”

“The Legend” is taken from “North Sea Pirate” © 2015 Robert Harrell. All rights reserved.


Click here to download the complete lesson plans with reading in Spanish and editable English resources so that you can adapt it for use in your language of instruction.

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