Saturday, April 9, 2011

Favorite Author: Hermann Hesse

July 2, 1877 - August 9, 1962

Along with Tolkien, Hesse was one of my favorite authors during my college years.  (In fact, both of them still are.) 

I read several of Hesse's books in quick succession, immediately becoming obsessed with them.  Moreover, they struck me as peculiarly strange.  As a lifelong fan of the fantastic and unusual, I felt quite pleased, while recognizing, at the same time, that Hesse's brand of fantasy was not quite of the fairy tale variety.  Instead, his works deal with such existential issues as the spiritual/psychological search for meaning, deriving their characters and plots from archetypal myths.  The reason for this is Hesse's close affiliation with the great Swiss psychiatrist, Carl Gustav Jung, whose seminal work on the unconscious mind and its affinity for myths gave birth to his famous theories of the archetypes, as well as the collective unconscious, which have proved to be highly accurate depictions of the workings of the human psyche.

Born in Germany, Hesse later moved to Switzerland, becoming a Swiss citizen in 1923.  He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1946.

As a young man, he read Goethe, Schiller, and other German Romantics such as Holderlin and Novalis. He also read several texts on Greek mythology.  He thus began his writing career as a poet, although he would later write several novels.  He was also influenced by Hindu and Buddhist philosophy to some extent, as is apparent from one of his most popular novels, Siddhartha, which was very influential during the 1960's counter-culture movement in the United States.

Hesse also produced several paintings and drawings, but is known primarily as a writer.

Here are some notable quotes from this great author:

“You are only afraid if you are not in harmony with yourself. People are afraid because they have never owned up to themselves.”

“In each individual the spirit is made flesh, in each one the whole of creation suffers, in each one a Savior is crucified.”

“It is not our purpose to become each other; it is to recognize each other, to learn to see the other and honor him for what he is.”

These are my favorite Hesse books.

This novel, first published in 1930, beautifully depicts the
tension and conflict between the flesh and the spirit.
It tells the story of two medieval men,
named in the title, one of whom is a contemplative,
content with the spiritual life,
while the other is a restless artist,
 whose quest is of another type: that of art and the emotions.

 Also known as The Glass Bead Game,
this utterly fascinating novel
chronicles the life of Joseph Knecht, a young musician
who is chosen to reside in Castalia,
a fictional European province reserved strictly
for the life of the mind.
The Castalian Order is a quasi-monastic group of men who devote themselves to playing The Glass Bead Game,
mastery of which requires
years of study in music, mathematics, and cultural history.
My only quibble with this plot is that women are not included
in this intellectual utopia!
The novel was first published in 1943.

This is the story of Siddhartha, the son of a Brahmin,
whose search for enlightenment
takes place during the time of Gautama Buddha
(most likely between the fourth and seventh centuries, BC).
In order to write this profound novel, Hesse
immersed himself in the study of Hindu and Buddhist philosophy.
The book was first published in 1922.


  1. I love Siddhartha! It's a simply fantastic book-- very profound. Haven't read any of Hesse's other books, but will definitely check them out. :)

  2. Hey, there, Kat! Oh, I'm sure you'll LOVE them! However, I don't recommend "Steppenwolf", because it involves drugs, a murder, and is just very, very weird... I don't know what Hesse was thinking when he wrote the ending. There are parts of the book I do like, but the whole drug thing I really don't care for! And that murder...UGH.

    Thanks for being such a loyal follower! You ROCK, girl!! : )

  3. I read Siddhartha for a course several years ago, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. I haven't read any of his other works, but I am sure that would enjoy them as well. Thanks so much for spotlighing Herman Hesse...great post!


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