Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Hesse, Hermann

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(1877-1962) German-born writer, a Swiss citizen from 1923, winner of the 1946 Nobel Prize for Literature. He began his career with Romantische Lieder ["Romantic Poems"] (coll 1898), a book that combined a certain fastidious austerity with a palpable taste for Decadence. Most of his early works of fantasy interest are literary Fairytales, the first, "Lulu", appearing as an inset story in Hinterlassene Schriften und Gedichte von Hermann Lauscher ["The Posthumous Writings and Poems of Hermann Lauscher"] (1900); along with other tales, "Lulu" is in Pictor's Metamorphoses and Other Fantasies (coll trans Rika Lesser 1982 US). The Fairy Tales of Hermann Hesse (coll trans Jack Zipes 1995 US), a fuller volume, assembles tales from 1904 through 1919, including five from Märchen (coll 1919; trans as Strange News from Another Star and Other Tales 1972 US), and excludes only five late tales (1922-1933). Many of these stories are Supernatural Fiction, though some are of direct fantasy interest. In "Faldum" (1916), for instance, an Odin-like God gives everyone in the eponymous city Wishes, some of which turn out disastrous, some beneficial: one artist becomes a mountain which transforms the city over the aeons he remains in this form; only when Faldum has become a myth is the artist allowed a final transcendence into death.

A similar longing for transcendence, couched as a search for wholeness, also infuses Siddhartha (1922; trans Hilda Rosner 1954 UK). For the eponymous worker of Miracles, in the slightly earlier Demian (1919; trans 1965 UK), any search for wholeness is truncated by World War I, which kills him. By the time of Der Steppenwolf (1927; trans Basil Creighton as Steppenwolf 1929 UK), HH had come to dramatize the search for self-awareness through a tale whose protagonist, the nocturnal loner who calls the dark Double within him "Steppenwolf", is profoundly riven. The Threshold dividing him from this inner self (or vice versa) is a kind of metaphor of the sort of threshold normally found in a fantasy text, as Steppenwolf can be understood doubly: as a series of self-redeeming phantasies, and as narrative of the protagonist's journey through Expressionist otherworlds with the same goal in view, a whole self. So the fictional Book he uses as a vade mecum, the "Treatise on the Steppenwolf", is either a fiction, or a book, or perhaps both. In the end, in a Magic theatre whose Mirrors give forth innumerable versions of his condition, the protagonist finally begins to heal.

As a Utopia, Das Glasperlenspiel (1943; trans M Savill as Magister Ludi 1949 US; preferred trans Richard and Clara Winston as The Glass Bead Game 1969 US) is best addressed as sf. [JC]

Hermann Hesse


This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.