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"Steppenwolf"­ by Herman Hesse

I first knew Steppenwolf only as the name of a rock band from the 60s (I've always loved 'Magic Carpet Ride').  But then I heard it in relation to a book by a German author, something about a guy who thinks he's half wolf... Sounds hokey to me, I thought.

Several years later, someone gave me a copy of "Sidhartha", and I remembered the German author whom I had thought knocked off the name of a rock band.  After reading Sidhartha and loving it, I thought about how all this time I had a misconception of the book "Steppenwolf".

It seems I in my state of ignorance am not the only one who has misunderstood the book.  Hesse wrote, "Of all my books 'Steppenwolf' is the one that was more often and more violently misunderstood than any other".  Hmmm... that alone sounds like a good topic for a discussion to me!

Here's a review and more about what the book is actually about to see if you're interested.

Harry Haller, the protagonist of Hermann Hesse's Steppenwolf, calls himself a "wolf of the steppes," the steppes being the alien domain to which such divided personalities are exiled by self and society.

Haller has voluntarily cut himself off from those transitory things from which ordinary men derive their pleasure. These ordinary men are incapable of fathoming eternity, for they have not been endowed with the "Golden Thread."

Thus, Haller's plunging into sex, drugs, and jazz music is a plunge into the everyday bourgeois world in order to expand himself. As Haller experiences sensual pleasures, he expands his self-realisation and also expands his "selves." Hermine, Haller's feminine counterpart, serves as Haller's guide through the sensual world (much like Virgil leads Dante through Hell). But these sensual experiences are just a part of Haller's self-realisation process.

Hermine does more than teach Haller to dance, she serves as one of his other selves, one of many that Haller must develop and delve into so that he may reach a state of equilibrium and possibly even immortality, like Mozart. The theme of the thread of gold is an important one because it reminds Haller of "the eternal, and of Mozart, and the stars . . ." With this knowledge, Haller could "breathe once more and face existence" after encountering the sensual world of the ordinary man.

In effect, Steppenwolf is a novel about a man's agony caused by society's complacency in spiritual and artistic endeavours, and Mozart is Haller's "thread of gold" which represents the perfect and eternal elements of form.

The Steppenwolf, a bona fide genius, though long under continual torment of personality, is endowed with the gift to perceive reality and life in a way which an average person would not understand; however, because of his torment, the Steppenwolf often ends up hating himself. On the other hand, the Steppenwolf feels superior to others because other people are sheep-like and bourgeoisie.

The Steppenwolf, in a way, should not curse his state, but revel in it, not only because of his ability to gain immortality, but because the Steppenwolf is also endowed with great creative gifts and talents; and because of his or her perception of life, a Steppenwolf senses the sickness and dissonance of 20th Century's sterility of true art and spirituality, which enables him to be the next Mozart of his time.

Some argue that Hermann Hesse's work is about the "divided nature" of a man who is partially "wolf."


New to the Hungry Hundred Book Club?  Here's what you need to know:

1. Read the book

2. Come to the meeting, always on the last Sunday of every month

3. Be prepared to order food/drink at the venue (where ever that may be) to show our appreciation for letting us use their space

4. Discuss!  It's a casual conversation, so don't be afraid to ask questions and let us know what you think.

If this book inspires a creative element in you, please write a piece for the Creative Component of our book club.  It can be about anything that has something to do with the book or the discussion.  It might get you a free book!  Check our facebook page or send me a message for more information.

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  • Rachel

    This was one of those books that, while I enjoyed it while I was reading it, I liked it even better after the discussion. Thanks everyone for coming out!

    May 27, 2013

    • JK

      thanks all, enjoyed the discussion very much!

      May 30, 2013

  • Mark

    Enjoyed the discussion, especially the variety of interpretations. As for the venue, while the food might not have been the greatest, the place did have a nice ambiance, and it was nice to venture into Ang Mo Kio since I don’t do that often. Good book too… infinitely better than the Scarlet Letter.

    May 27, 2013

  • florence

    Sorry. I got distracted. Didn't finish the book. Again. :(

    May 26, 2013

  • Uma

    Argh, I have a last minute work trip (flying off tonight), so I'll have to give the book club a miss, once again. Sorry all, and hopefully, I can be there in June.

    May 25, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    Sorry, ultimately didn't get around to reading it :(

    May 23, 2013

  • Rachel

    Hi everyone, The Green Room is in Bishan Park 2, part of the Canopy Restaurants by Aramsa Spa. It's a lovely garden setting, one of my favourite spots in Singapore. However I was just informed that google maps leads you to Bishan Industrial Park on Avenue 5, quite far from Ave 1. I think I changed it on the map on this page, but just in case, if you look up directions, look up "canopy@aramsa" instead. Cheers!

    May 21, 2013

  • Josephine D.

    Looking forward to my first book club meet! But......please give me some grace this first time......I may not contribute much as I'm sure I won't have time to get my hands on a copy of the book and read it fully. Thanks All.

    May 15, 2013

  • Mark

    A fantastic animated scene from the film version of Steppenwolf:

    I think that pretty much captures what the novel is essentially about.

    1 · May 13, 2013

  • Mark

    Got the 2012 David Horrocks translation from kino (it was the last one there). If anyone wants to borrow it let me know. Has footnotes explaining the German cultural references, and an afterword by Horrocks putting it in the context of Hesse’s life at the time and contrasting it to his other works. The translated text itself has a nice flow to it and a variety of tones. Haven't read the Basil Creighton translation, though, so I can't compare the two...

    April 23, 2013

    • A former member
      A former member

      Hi Mark, if you have finished reading the book, could I borrow it? Let me know.

      May 9, 2013

    • A former member
      A former member

      Actually I just saw that a Kindle edition is available...will pick that up :)...Thanks anyway.

      May 9, 2013

  • Keiko M.

    Sorry I won't be in Singapore. See you in the next month!

    May 6, 2013

  • Sanjay

    Thanks for the replies everyone. Kinokuniya has 3 copies left - and all three are the Basil Creighton translation.

    April 22, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    Kindle ;) Was just wondering, which translation are you guys reading? I'm German, so first thought I would read it in the Original, but that might make discussion difficult.

    April 9, 2013

    • Mark

      All the copies at the national library are of the 1929 Basil Creighton translation revised by Walter Sorell… that would be the one that English-language readers have been reading over the decades, but a couple of readers’ reviews on Amazon claim it’s a rather faulty translation compared to the original German. The 2010 translation by Thomas Wayne and the 2012 translation by David Horrocks are supposedly more accurate and faithful to the original style, and I think the latter is stocked by kinokuniya so I’m going to try to get that one:­

      I don’t think your reading it in German would make discussion difficult. If you decide to read it in German, I’d be interested to know what impressions the original German version made on you, to find out which bits got lost in translation.

      1 · April 10, 2013

  • Rachel

    Book Point at Bras Basah Complex has 1 copy, just saw it today!

    April 9, 2013

  • Sanjay

    Hi, does anyone know where I can get a copy of this book?
    Books Actually said no stock (4-6 weeks), National Lib doesn't have it, Popular has never heard of it ...

    April 7, 2013

    • Mark

      National Library has many copies still available, distributed among the various branches. Do a catalogue search for it..

      April 8, 2013

  • Tommy N.

    Saw a copy at Kinokuniya 2 weeks back.

    April 8, 2013

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