“It’s love, not reason that’s stronger than death.”
Hans Castorp is an engineer. He has just finished his eight semesters at the technical schools. He has to join the firm of Tunder and Wilms as a Volunteer apprentice. Dr. Heidekind advises him to go for a few weeks to high mountains. Castorp embarkson a journey from Hamburg to Davos-Platz to visit his ailing cousin at International Sanatorium Berghof. The three week trip to the sanatorium turns into a seven year stay and thus ensues one of the greatest stories ever told. The story of our Hero, Hans Castorp.
Thomas Mann’s masterpiece ‘The Magic Mountain’ isn’t an easy novel to start with. The narrative is laden with dense and intricate details, testing and exhausting the reader in every chapter and at the same time taking him to exhilarating heights of joyful reading. It is a treatise on reason, freedom and human progress. A meditation on the art of writing. The narrative slids through time. The concept of time prevails in every page of the book; time as the medium of narration and as the medium of life, as rightly explicated during the various discourses of the characters and by the narrator himself. The entire story has been weaved meticulously. The power of word shines on every page of this dense novel. I strongly feel that the author has expressed himself fully in this work. He has expressed Man in its entirety; every question assailing his soul has been put forth and deliberated upon.
Adam Foulds in his introduction to the novel writes, ‘It is a story of the moral and intellectual growth of a young man’s character. It seems that all of human life is there, enclosed in one space and time, slowly dying.’ What does a reader expect in a book and what else is not here? Story! All of it! Everything is here. The sum total of everything: emancipation, beauty, about what goes on in the quiet depths of Man, about the humanistic nature of every endeavor, about music and literature, form and art, philosophies: moral and political; humanistic and religious, about biology: skin, the beauty of blood and lymph, life and death, about word: the triumph of human genius. The anatomy of body in grave. On smoke: Maria Mancini. The artistic impulse. About love and duty. Honor and dignity. Longing and feeling. Settembrini’s discourses. The memory of Clavdia and her beautiful collar bones. Naptha’s philosophy of transcendence. Joachim’s severity towards life. Pepperkorn’s kingly personality. The importance of intellect and analysis. Hofrat Behrens and his kingdom of Bergohf. Krokowski’s Monday lectures. Castorp’s musings about time and the objective nature of death.
“We have to honour and uphold the body when it’s a question of emancipation, of beauty, of freedom of thought, of joy, of desire. We must despise it in so far as it sets itself up as the principle of gravity and inertia, when it obstructs the movement toward light; we must despise it in so far as it represents the principle of disease and death, in so far as its specific essence is the essence of perversity, of decay, sensuality and shame.”
Thomas Mann discusses his work in the chapter titled “The Making of Magic Mountain” where he writes about the genesis of his book and his experiences with it while writing. The seed of this story took shape in Mann’s heart in the year 1912. His wife suffering from a lung ailment was advised to spend six months in a sanatorium at Davos, Switzerland. Mann spent three weeks at Davos visting his wife while she was a patient and there came the idea of ‘The Magic Mountain’. For readers who haven’t read this story, the author offers a glimpse of our hero in this chapter; “Hans Castorp is a searcher after the Holy Grail; the knowledge and the wisdom, the highest reward, for which not only the foolish hero but the book itself is seeking. If he does not find the Grail, yet he divines it, in his deathly dream, before he is snatched downwards from his heights into the European catastrophe. It is the idea of human being, the conception of a future humanity that has passed through and survived the profoundest knowledge of disease and death. The Grail is a mystery, but humanity is a mystery too. For man himself is a mystery, and all humanity rests upon reverence before the mystery that is man.” The above passage gives the readers a sense of Mann’s great endeavor, the endeavor he pursued for twelve long years.
Magic Mountain perseveres and shines. The 713 page story of Hans Castorp is a work of the literary genius. The unsettling prose of the novel is multi-dimensional; encompassing every aspect of life. Mann’s world is dream-like; touching every portion of reality. Everything has been said.