Magic Mountain, by Thomas Mann was a difficult book to find. I have noticed that tends to be the case for books that have been translated into English. This book was originally published in German. Suprisingly, even though this book is set in a TB Sanatarium and very little action occurs, I actually really liked this book. This book is more about the psychological growth of the main character Hans Castorp. He means some interesting characters during his 7 year stay in the Sanatarium and two of them intentially take him under their wing as a "pedagogic" pupil. This style of novel is apparently referred to as a bildungsroman which focuses on a the changes that occur for a young person who is seeking answers and truth on their real and spiritual journey that they take. Why haven't I discovered this genre before?? I love novels that focus on real life issues and the quest for truth.
First off I want to mention that I love all the great little phrases this novel uses throughout the book. Mann refers to life outside of the Sanatarium as the "flatlands" and everyone within the Sanatarium talks about "life up here". One of Hans Castorps mentors refers to him as "lifes problem child". When Castorp goes off to think about life and philosophize he refers to is as "playing king". I love them and may perhaps take to using the phrase "playing king" in my everyday life!
Several themes emerge out of the rantings of his two teachers. One, Settembrini the Italian humanist, focuses on the individual, reasoning and logic and the other, Naphta the Jewish communist, focuses on faith, communism and anarchy. After listening to both sides Hans Castorp decides that he doesn't like either.
One of the themes he spend the most time thinking about is death. This is only natural for an orphaned boy who is living in a sanatarium where people die every day. Castorps first belief is that there is something holy and honorable about death. In his early experiences with his parents, and grandpa's death he felt drawn closer to the holy and sacred things of life when he was surrounded by death. He almost puts death on a pedastal for which his mentors chastize him and point out, "if it isolates death in a dualistic fashion... it becomes a force of its own opposed to life, an antagaonistic principle the great seduction- and its kingdom lust"
The book equates parts of love and death as being closely linked as they are both uniquely tied to the body and our life in our body (as opposed to spirit).
"Both of them, love and death are carnal, and that is the source of their terror and great magic"
The second theme and the most consistent throughout the book is love. Hans Castorp meets a beautiful Russian lady named Clavdia Chauchat who has been at the Sanatarium for along time. He obsesses over her and doesn't know why until he falls asleep one day and dreams of a boy who he was obsessed with as a child and asked for a pencil. Clavdia looks similar to this boy and he realizes that he must have been attracted to him as a child. It is not until the eve of her first departure that he even exchanges a conversation with her, but that doesn't stop him from fantasizing about her at all times. She is hinted to be the reason that he waits there for 7 years and is possibly the cause of his dubious illness and fever that appears to have no physical cause.
As a girl prone to obsessive love, not based in reality myself, I was highly intrigued by these parts. Reading his justifications in print makes them seem crazy (which they are).However he does express himself with poetic beauty and he points out that, "Love is nothing if not foolish, something mad, and forbidden, and adventure in evil"
He idolizes Clavdia and puts her on a pedestal much like he does the idea of death:
"I have always loved you, for you are the 'intimate you' of my life, my dream, my destiny, my need my eternal desire"
The narrator comes up with a beautiful description of Castorps experience. He was, "head over heels in love, as people say, and yet not in the happy sense of the idiom but...terribly in love, dependent, subjugated, suffering and serving-was nevertheless a man who remained shrewd enough amid his exacting slavery to know what his devotion was worth".
I have always said this this kind of love is like idol worship and one of Castorps mentors points out the same thing to him. "you run the danger of idol worship. You are venerating a mask".
Here are some of my favorite quotes on love and passion from the book:
"passion means to live life for life's sake"
"passion means to forget oneself"
"it is...downright life denying to make a tidy distinction between sanctity and passion in matters of love"
(that quote is my favorite, because to me love is a holy, sanctified experience even though it is also passionate and wild)
"love is always, simply itself"
There is also some interesting things said about faith and God which I loved.
At Christmas one of the residents pointed out that at Jesus's birth " and idea had been born back then, which ahd continued to triumph down to the present, and that idea was the dignity of every human soul".
I love that idea, and that is one of the main reasons I follow Jesus.
And another neat quote:
"Man himself is divine in that he feels. he is the very feeling of God. God created him in order to feel through him"
The main theme is definitely love. The revelation given during the most important scene in the book where Castorp almost dies alone in snow storm, and dreams a fantastical dream is LOVE.
"I will keep faith with death in my heart, but I will remember that if faithfulness to death and to what is past rules our thoughts and deeds , that leads only to wickedness, dark lust, and hatred of human kind. For the sake of goodness and love, man shall grant death no dominion over his thoughts"
And the very last quote of the book when Hans Castorp returns to the "flatlands" in the midst of world war I says, "And out of this worldwide festival fo death, this ugly rutting,fever that inflames the rainy evening sky all around-will love someday rise up out of this too?"