Sunday, June 28, 2015

Saved by a fairy tale

Was about to leave my favorite secondhand book shop, at peace with the fact that I won't be making any purchase, when my eyes happened to catch this slim volume inserted among those stacks of pocket books.  Turned out to be a 1974 Farrar, Straus and Giroux reprinting of Hermann Hesse's Strange News from Another Star, an early collection of eight short stories which initially appeared in 1919 as Mรคrchen or Fairy Tales.  Not very sure at first if I wanted to buy it.  I knew I already have one such collection of Hesse's short works at home, bought from another book sale at the university a few years back.  Made a quick scan of Strange News' contents - the titles did not ring any bells.  Decided to buy it (along with this graphic book adaptation of Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles - another lucky find, which could be the subject of a separate post here).

Eagerly devoured Hesse's first fairy tale, Augustus, with a rich, but lukewarm cup of my favorite cappuccino.  Basically a story that tried to answer the question: what if somebody receives this extraordinary gift of being loved and adored by every other human being on the planet?  How would his life turn out?  Not really that appealing, according to Hesse, with his main character becoming more callous and indifferent through the years, getting practically everything that he desired as favors willingly given by his hordes of fans and admirers.  Existence as one unceasing experience of luxury and pleasure, albeit almost meaningless.  Things began to unravel for our Augustus when he failed to win the affection of a young married woman whom he met in one of his travels.  Incompetent at handling rejection and frustration, he finally spiraled down into this unfathomable depression.

Until he met again his mysterious godfather who gave him one wish (as he had once bestowed it to Augustus' mother).  Augustus' wish proved to be an important turning point in his comfortable but drab existence.  Amidst the personal suffering that followed, he learned to bring forth and nurture an important facet of his humanity, one that led to his redemption.  Hesse's novels - Steppenwolf and Siddhartha - once similarly saved a young man from this life's dark episodes, bringing some understanding and experience of the numinous into those confusing times.  His fairy tale has done the same trick now - pulling this old spirit out from the mire of self-indulgent fear, doubt, hatred, and depression into which it had sunk these past few days.

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