I wrote earlier about the truth in the old cliché that you should never judge a book by it’s cover. And while that remains true, sometimes reading a book because of its awesome cover can still be the right choice. Though I had read Siddhartha and enjoyed it, the book wasn’t particularly transformational for me and gave me no reason to have any unique fascination with Hermann Hesse. So when I decided to read a collection of Hesse’s more fantastical short stories, The Fairy Tales of Hermann Hesse, I did so almost entirely because of the book’s great cover art.
I’m a big fan of woodcut illustrations and David Frampton’s cover and in-book artwork are truly amazing. While Frampton’s art is what led me to Fairly Tales it was only a part of the excellent reading experience that the book offers.
It’s kind of strange to think of fairy tales in anything but a Grimm’s light, but Hesse has penned an incredible selections of what can only be dubbed fairy tales – there is no other appropriate term. Hesse even falls back on his German heritage a bit as some of his tales have a distinctly Grimm’s feel. Other stories, though, manage to be entirely modern without ever losing their fairy tale heart. Kings, talking birds, and magic-wielding old men all make appearances in Hesse’s tales, leading each story through twists and turns that are occasionally predictable and always richly rewarding.
Hesse’s prose is poetic and beautiful, his worlds fully realized, his themes epic and poignant. The atrocities that took place throughout his life are certainly present in his work but they do not dominate it. Tolkien once said that he preferred applicability to allegory and I think that Hesse is on what his fellow fairy tale devotee would have considered the right side of that divide.
Much of the beauty of fairy tales is in how they are able to communicate ideas that are all at once simple, complex, and profound. By keeping one foot in reality while the other is allowed to wander into the worlds of fantasy, fairy tales are able to tell us about not just what it is that we truly want, but also what it is that is keeping us from fulfilling those desires. And with his Fairy Tales, Hesse has used the genre as well as anyone, his Grimm forebears included.