In the late 1950s Michael Ende started to take an active interest in Munich’s carnival tradition. His father had long since been involved in upholding the carnival celebrations, and together with a small group of friends including dancer Heino Hallhuber and art collector Franz Moll, they helped organize the legendary carnivals held in Schwabing’s Max-Emanuel brewery. Michael Ende wrote various plays for the festivities, including a ‘Greek tragedy’ entitled "Der Finger des Schicksals (The Finger of Fate)". Another of his carnival plays was set in the Orient and was given the title "Die Slavin und der Henkerssohn (The Slave and the Executioner’s Son)".
Six years later the annual carnival celebrations came to an end. The event had gained in popularity and the sudden interest of the Munich in-crowd had altered the nature of the audience, making it hard to obtain tickets for family and friends.
It was around this time that Michael Ende ran into an acquaintance from his grammar school days. The gods must have been smiling on the encounter, for his former classmate had since become an illustrator and asked Ende to write three or four pages for a picture book. In 1958 Ende set to work and allowed his imagination to roam freely.