33 of 34 people found the following review helpful
on 26 July 2004
Steppenwolf is a novel on what it means to be alive, albeit the character of life in this book often finds itself the recipient of harsh criticism and hatred.
Hesse claimed that this work was written to portray some of the feelings of alienation and isolation that the author was feeling around the time of his fiftieth year. Despite being broken into three parts Steppenwolf essentially deals with one theme - that of the main protagonist Harry, and the struggle between his animal instincts and society.
Although Harry is somewhat alien to most of us in his utter and almost innate sadness, he does share with us a great deal. He in essence shares the struggle we all have - the one between instinct and decorum, between sensation and society. Harry is trapped because he is living as a wolf and as a man. The wolf part his base desires and the man the part of him that seeks solace in the music of Beethoven. However in reality both parts of Harry are human in nature. We all live as sensuous beings and at the same time as members of a working society, in which there are rules of conduct that will curtail the beast in us.
Steppenwolf was taken up by sixties counter-culturists as a brick to break down the walls of society around them, finding in its pages a bleak portrait of the world in which we live. The beast within lashed out, ripped the pictures from the walls and called in a new decorator! Necessary as this may have been at the time, this was not the message Hesse intended. Indeed his message was far more universal and timeless. He told us that we should enjoy the fullness of life, soak ourselves in its reveries, mine the pleasures of the intellect, but also learn how to dance and make love, to duck and dive in and out of its many forms of existence. And to do this we must not dispel the man or the beast, but we must let them lie together in an embrace, tumbling through the tides of life
20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on 29 July 2004
This is a great novel. The first third of Steppenwolf's narrative was a little heavy going, but once you get past this bit it turns into the most wonderful dream-like narrative.
The atmosphere of this book is just perfect, and the mysterious encounters of Steppenwolf and the changing shapes of his own personality are magically portrayed. As Steppenwolf explores his sense of self, the reader gets more and more drawn into his increasingly bizarre and captivating world. Steppenwolf takes the reader with him on his journey, and this is what Hesse does so well.
Although Hesse was concerned that the book might not have wide appeal, in my opinion there is something here for everyone. This is a philosophical novel and as such it doesn't have a traditional storyline. Nevertheless it is extremely engaging and really makes you think.
The only thing missing from this edition (Penguin classics) was an Editor's introduction. I wish there had been one to help explain some of the philosophical issues the novel explores, the wider historical context (as I believe this is an important part of the novel), and some background to Hesse's work. This could only have enhanced my enjoyment of this excellent novel.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Like, I guess, many others, this book makes me think first of the band (whose 1967 hit single I've pinched for the title of this review), but it's worth paying attention to in its own right. I first came across a reference to it many years ago in The Outsider, Colin Wilson's compelling exploration of alienation and existentialism. It inspired me to read a couple of Hesse's other works (most notably Siddhartha), but hadn't got round to this one till I picked up a copy in a second-hand shop last month.
It's a story about a middle-aged man who feels so cut off from the world of everyday people that he imagines himself divided in two: a civilized man who loves order, cleanliness, poetry and music, and a savage wolf-like being who loves darkness, lawlessness and wildness. The implications of this division, the associated internal conflict, and his spiritual crisis are worked out as he moves (or is moved) through scenes that are increasingly vivid and bizarre. Along the way, the story touches on aspects of music, war, sex and drugs (which made this a popular read for the sixties counter-culture). There are also intriguing references to future technologies and communication (this book was published in 1927), for example [p123]:
"The discovery would be made - and perhaps very soon - that there were floating round us not only the pictures and events of the transient present in the same way that music from Paris or Berlin was now heard in Frankfurt or Zurich, but that all that happened in the past could be registered and brought back likewise. [...] And all this, I said, just as today was the case with the beginning of radio, would be of no more service to man than as an escape from himself and his true aims, and a means of surrounding himself with an ever closer mesh of distractions and useless activities."
Ignoring the pessimism of this prediction about distractions, its sense of wonder at the possibilities enabled by technology struck a chord with me, partly because of its echoes in the previous book I'd read: William Gibson's Distrust that Particular Flavor - in particular, his piece "Dead Man Sings", which expresses his amazement at how we can access so much of past culture.
I enjoyed reading this phantasmagorical tale. Although my attention wandered in parts (for example, during the theoretical discourse on divided personalities), I was always compelled to see what was going to happen next, and to reflect on its psychoanalytic message. The dream-like quality of the story might not be to everyone's taste, but I found it a rewarding reading experience.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
The Steppenwolf, the wolf from the steppe, is the misanthropic Harry Haller, and this is written as his diary, or confessions. Haller has reached middle age, and neither a conventional lifestyle nor pure intellectual pursuits can sustain him anymore. But just as he is about to kill himself, earthly pleasures beckon as our protagonist meets the dancer Hermine and her shadowy partner in pleasure Pablo. Haller is sucked into a phantasmagorical chase, a final gamble for reconciliation of the man and beast within him, of the multi-faceted self that is cast back at him as from a broken mirror.
Part psychology and part allegory, Steppenwolf is the story of Haller's redemption by Hermine and at the same time a denial of simple formulas. It rejects no path and despises no one for the choices they make. In this sense it is thoroughly modern, as it is in its Epicureanism. And if, in its allegorical style, it is thoroughly out of fashion (realism, veracity, research are in, philosophising is out), such is Herman Hesse's writing that at no point does the book seem belaboured. Hesse commented that of all his novels, this is the one that has been the most misunderstood. Of course, in our relativistic age, all interpretations are equally valid. But the author also warned that: `in most cases the author is not the right authority to decide on where the reader ceases to understand and the misunderstanding begins.' Steppenwolf is a work to reflect on. It is also funny, though only in the way that Kafka can be funny: sarcastic, dark, and at the same time poignant. Indeed, it shares something of the timelessness of Kafka, the mix of seriousness and levity, of realism and parable. Steppenwolf was a prescient work. It is both challenging and easy to read: just what our times need.
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on 14 April 1999
Steppenwolf, the story of a tortured outsider, has been misinterpreted by many. The problems are a relection of Hesse's own psychological crisis at the time of writing. The glorious imagery and play with notions of space, time along with the destablisation of the notion of reality make this book unique. Through a blinding, chaotic fusion of Buddhist, Jungian and Nietzschian elements a profound essay on the nature of the self is realised. A life changing, ultimately life-affirming book.
on 10 August 2014
Steppenwolf is, above all, an odd book. There's more than a thread of Nietzsche running through it, and it straddles the strange line between full blown philosophy writ large in a story, and a story which relies heavily on philosophical musings. In any case, it is well wroth a read. I found perhaps the first 50 pages or so a little bit of a slog, but I feel that was less because it was dull or boring, and more because I didn't really know what the book was tying to be. After this, it cleared up a bit, and a more 'narrative' story appeared, which made the reading easier and more straightforward. I would recommend that you pick this up, if only because there's not that much quite like it.
on 19 January 2015
Did I miss something here? Does redemption come in the form of prostitutes, drugs and killing people? I know by the time that Haller kills, it's all gone a bit Alice in wonderland but I really feel like I missed the point somewhere. I thought that there would be something spectacular twist in the end to pull it all together. The big thing seemed to be "you're not a steppenwolf you've got thousands of different personalities". Like I said, did I miss something?
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 8 June 2007
It's certainly no coincidence that Timothy Leary thought highly about this book and actually used it as manual for some of his public performances, where he tried to transmit the psychedelic experience to a wider audience.
And it's more than probable that Hesse himself experimented with mescaline, in a small group of likeminded people amongst them the famous painter Paul Klee. So the last third of the book, the intriguing scenes in Pablo's Magical Theatre is undoubtedly based on the author's authentic experiences with altered states of consciousness.
Another main feature in the book is the importance of eastern philosophy. Demonstrating that the faustian concept of 'two souls living in my breast' is far too simplistic. That in fact the human being doesn't have a fixed personality, and what we consider our 'personality' really is just an illusion. And that the only way out of our dilemmas is to transcend the level of everyday reality and join what Hesse calls "the immortals", the mystics, artists (like Goethe and Mozart), saints in their sphere of the timeless and 'cool' Beyond.
I find this a very moving book, in it's essence absolutely relevant for people of today. In a culture where materialism is all prevalent and where people who seems to embody an extra dimension, as the beautiful Hermine puts it, is completely marginalized by the dominant medias. Although we perhaps can find comfort in the fact that there are more thriving spiritual milieus to day than at Hesse's time.
All in all a deeply fascinating and intriguing novel. I loved it when I first read it as a 19-year old, and I loved it even more when I re-read it a month ago (for god know which time). A true classic and in my eyes by far Hesse's greatest work of art.
9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on 22 November 2000
A must read for anyone tortured with themselves, who think they are alone in their views of existence. Mr. Hesse offers incredible perspective into the mind's own enemy; it's want for conformity juxtaposed to it's need to antagonize. Hesse doesn't stop there, as he gives solutions to what most people question but ultimately surrender, read this and surrender no more. A must have classic !
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 22 November 2007
This was the first of Hesse's books that I ever read, and at a very young age. Perhaps because I still had the imagination of a child the poetry of his writing completely took me over - without his special way of expressing ideas and emotions and just putting words together it would have been just a fairly strange story. I was hooked, and even though some of his other writings did not 'hit' me quite as much (how could they, after this masterpiece!), I eventually found my way through most of his writing, with gems such as Narziss and Goldmund and The Glass Bead game also making their own special mark on my 'mindset', changing me for ever. Having said that, Steppenwolf was the first and for me therefore best piece of poetic writing I have ever had the pleasure of enjoying. I have read and owned it several times, only to lose it to another 'convert' once they had 'borrowed' and read it.... I'm keeping hold of my current copy for ever!!!