I became enamored with Hesse’s work in Crested Butte, Colorado, where I managed a dozen houses that paid for my schooling at Western State Colorado University. Those were the days of “Counterculture.” The bookshelves of most of my student renters inevitably included Hesse classics like Siddartha, Demian, The Glass Bead Game, and the iconic Whole Earth Catalog—displayed in smoke-filled living rooms.
By the early1970s, Hesse had become a cult figure, and in 1968, the California rock group, Steppenwolf, named after one of Hesse’s other classic books, released “Born to be Wild,” which was featured in the film Easy Rider. The author was always obsessed with believing that the open road offered freedom. He often put on his hat and strolled into the night without a clear idea of where he wanted to go. Not surprisingly, this book influenced Jack Kerouac’s, On the Road and The Dharma Bums.
After forty years of working with international organizations, I turned to travel writing to share some of my stories and what I learned. When I discovered that Hesse had written about an eternal drifter, a true drop-out, I had to read it.
Hesse had intended to follow in his father’s footsteps as a Protestant pastor and missionary but rebelled against traditional academic education. Or as he puts it in one passage,” A father can pass on his nose and eyes and even his intelligence to his child, but not his soul. In every human being, the soul is new.”
Eventually, he’d work as a bookseller and, in protest of German militarism, moved to Switzerland, where he lived in self-imposed exile until he died in 1962. Yet another reason so many Boomers gravitated to his work during the anti-Vietnam war days.
With profound understanding and sympathy, but also with some irony, Hesse portrays Knulp‘s life journey, love affairs, and questioning of life. Here’s part of that story,
In reality, though he did little that was expressly prohibited, he carried on the illegal and disdained existence of a tramp. Of course, he would hardly have been so unmolested in his lovely fiction if the police had not been well disposed towards him. They respected the cheerful, entertaining young fellow for his superior intelligence and occasional earnestness and, as far as possible, left him alone.
And yet, in his later years, he showed regret,
How clear and simple life was! He had thrown himself away, he had lost interest in everything, and life falling in with his feelings, had demanded nothing of him.
He had lived as an outsider, an idler and onlooker, well-liked in his young manhood, alone in his illness and advancing years. Seized with weariness, he sat down on the wall, and the river murmured darkly in his thoughts.
The novel reaches a final powerful climax when God reveals to Knulp his true purpose in life,
’Look,’ said God, ‘I wanted you the way you are and no different. You were a wanderer in my name and wherever you went, you brought the sedentary people a little nostalgia for freedom. In my name, you did silly things and people made fun at you. I myself was mocked in you and was loved in you. You are my child and my brother and a part of me. There is nothing you have enjoyed and suffered that I have not enjoyed and suffered with you.’
’Yes,’ said Knulp, nodding heavily. ‘Yes, that’s true, and deep down, I’ve always known it.’
One of the great masters of contemporary literature, Hesse received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1946.
Hermann Hesse (1877-1962) was born in Germany and later became a citizen of Switzerland. As a Western man profoundly affected by the mysticism of Eastern thought, he wrote many novels, stories, and essays that bear a vital spiritual force that has captured the imagination and loyalty of many generations of readers. In 1946, he won the Nobel Prize for Literature for The Glass Bead Game.
Hermann Hesse, ranked among the great masters of contemporary literature, was born in Wurttemberg in 1877. After his first novel, Peter Camenzind, was published in 1904, he devoted himself to writing. In 1919, he moved to Switzerland to protest against German militarism, where he lived in self-imposed exile.
Hesse was strongly influenced by his interest in music, the psychoanalytic theories of Jung, and Eastern thought. He wrote: “My political faith is that of a democrat, my world outlook that of an individualist.”
Hesse’s best-known works include Knulp, Demian, Steppenwolf, Siddhartha, Klinsor’s Last Summer, and The Glass Bead Game, each of which explores an individual’s search for authenticity, self-knowledge, and spirituality.
- Publisher : CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (July 8, 2012)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 100 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1478200200
- ISBN-13 : 978-1478200208
- Item Weight : 1 ounces
- Dimensions : 6 x 0.21 x 9 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #683,113 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- #2,034 in Biographical Fiction (Books)
- #15,251 in Classic Literature & Fiction
Mark D. Walker was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Guatemala and spent over forty years helping disadvantaged people in the developing world. He’s a contributing writer for The Authors Show, Wanderlust Journal, Revue Magazine, and the Literary Traveler. His column, “The Million Mile Walker Review: What We’re Reading and Why,” is part of the Arizona Authors Association newsletter. One of his essays received a Bronze from the Solas Literary Awards for Best Travel Writing. His first book is Different Latitudes: My Life of the Peace Corps and Beyond. His latest book, My Saddest Pleasures: 50 Years on the Road, is now available on Cyberwit.net. His wife and three children were born in Guatemala. You can find over 65 book reviews and 25 of his articles at www.MillionMileWalker.com.