Hermann Hesse (Denver Lindley translator)
Fiction 99 pages
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1972
Although seven of these eight stories were originally published in a volume titled, “Fairy Tales”, you’ll find no fairies in them. Magic, to be sure—but no fairies.
The first story in the collection, “Augustus”, is similar to Oscar Wilde’s story, “The Selfish Giant”. The heroes of both stories set themselves apart from their fellow men, and ultimately find redemption. However Wilde’s fairy tale is one that children can appreciate, while Hesse’s is clearly suitable for more mature readers. In Wilde’s story, redemption comes for a living giant, but for Augustus, it comes at the moment of death. In many of these stories, achieving harmony with one’s fellows and one’s self can only be achieved through forgetfulness (“Strange News from Another Star”) or through death (several of the stories).
Overall, the theme of the collection is man’s struggle to achieve a harmonious relationship with others of his kind, with the universe surrounding him, and with the self within him. By self, I mean that archetypical structure to which psychiatrist, C. G. Jung, referred. Hesse published this story collection, as well as his novel, “Demian” in 1919 This was the same year in which Jung first wrote about archetypes. It’s probably no coincidence that before Hesse’s two works were published in 1919, he had recently finished his Jungian psychotherapy. Whether through intention or coincidence, Hesse’s writing often illustrates Jungian principals.
These stories are well told and their allegories readily understood. Of all the stories, I only one failed to please me—I saw no point in, “A Dream Sequence.”
The best story in the collection, “Iris”, is the story of a boy for whom flowers are doors into true reality. “Each phenomenon on earth is an allegory, and each allegory is an open gate through which the soul, if it is ready, can pass into the interior of the world where you and I and day and night are all one.”
As Anselm, the boy, matures, flowers and nature lose their magic for him. He falls in love, but his love leaves him with a quest. For the remainder of his life, he follows that quest. Finally, the gate opens for him, “It was Iris into whose heart he entered, and it was the sword lily in his mother’s garden into whose blue chalice he softly strode, and as he silently drew close to the golden twilight all memory and all knowledge were suddenly at his command …”
If you've never read Hesse, and like short fiction, this collection is a good place to start.