Monday, September 04, 2006


In Childhood of the Magician, an autobiographical piece
written in 1923, Hermann Hesse wrote that as a child what he
wanted most to be was a magician. In what must be one of
the most remarkable, original, and creative tours de force
in literary history, J K Rowling has, in the greatest detail,
completely remapped the autobiographical and fictional
writings of Hesse into a vast alternate universe,
created from her own powerful narrative and poetic
imagination, where the young Hermann Hesse did become
a real magician. Of course, it is possible that Rowling
never read a word of Hesse, but I am convinced otherwise.
Below, I go through some of Hesse's writings, looking at evidence
which I believe incontrovertibly sustain the view that
she read them, and cherished them.


original title: "DAS GLASPERLENSPIEL"
Originally published in Switzerland in 1943 and won the
Nobel Prize for Literature in 1946. Frederick Ungar
Publishing (1949) Translated by Mervyn Savill

As I was rereading (after about 40 years) Hesse's Das
Glasperlenspiel a vague, but insistent, idea was forming in
the back of my mind. I kept thinking about Harry Potter,
but nothing clicked into a pattern. When I next picked up
his novel Steppenwolf, the pattern clicked and looking
back at The Glass Bead Game, it seems obvious what caused
those vague premonitions.

One of the most important themes in all of Hesse's works
concerns the character of the man of wisdom, the sage. For
Hesse the perfect sage is humble, patient, wise, powerful,
kind, infallibly polite, and very forgiving, as well as a
good listener. That is an exact description of Dumbledore
who, although he may physically resemble Gandalf, could not
have a more different character. This description also fits
the Magister Ludi, Joseph Knecht, (but it reminds one even
more of Knecht's own teacher, the Music Master, and, as we
shall see later, it is above all the model of Hesse's
maternal grandfather). Knecht and Dumbledore are almost
alter egos. The parallels are striking: J K, or Joseph
Knecht, the Master of the Glass Bead Game, is the head of a
powerful order in the educational province (Hogwarts) of
Castalia (the castle), and like Dumbledore, he dies a sudden
and violent death. The mysterious, not quite superhuman,
Glass Bead Game itself recalls the subjects of Arithromancy
and Ancient Runes, about which we know so little of, but
they seem to be an oblique homage to the fantastic Bead
Game. I would also mention the rather fanciful names of the
many characters in The Glass Bead Game, like Plinius
Ziegenhals or Joculator Basiliensis which recall names like
Albus Dumbledore.

Hesse remained fascinated by magic, literally, throughout
his life, even though he realized he lived in a world of
muggles. But in The Glass Bead Game, Hesse's last major
writing, there is very little of magic. The book itself
purports to be the biography of Joseph Knecht, but the final
section of the book is comprised of writings, poems and
stories, BY Joseph Knecht. Here, in the poems and in one of
the stories, The Rainmaker, Hesse slips some magic into
the novel. The Rainmaker is about a prehistoric weather
shaman, and I only mention it because in the context of my
thesis, it offers a possible, rather poetical, look at the
origin of the magic folk. Hesse's writings should certainly
be critically re-examined from the point of view of their
(and his) 'magicality'.

Possibly the coincidence of the initials J K between
Rowling's own name, and the name of Joseph Knecht played an
important psychological role in her creating her alternate universe.
I do not know why she seems to have done this, but Hesse's
writing IS very powerful and very magical, and whatever the
reason, I am very, very glad she did. I have to say, seeing
this relationship has certainly increased my understanding
and enjoyment of her work. But let's get more specific.

DEMIAN (1919)

Obviously Harry Potter has his own version of the
Mark Of Cain on his forehead.

Farrar, Strauss and Giroux (1970) translated by Richard and Clara Winston

This early novella is a predecessor to Steppenwolf.

Klein (klein means small in German) embezzles a large
sum and abandons his stolid middle class life, job,
wife and children. He goes 'South' to Italy and
discovers what it means to be his own man. The girl
he meets, a dancer called Teresina, is a prototype
for Hermine. He is haunted by the story of Wagner, a
man who had killed his family and then himself.

Klein dreams of Wagner (whose name he associates with
Richard Wagner, and the opera Lohengrin, i.e.
'great things'.) The dream includes an early version
of the magic theater also called Wagner. "The theater
called "Wagner"--was that not himself, was it not an
invitation to enter into his own interior being, into
the foreign land of his true self? For Wagner was
himself--Wagner was the murderer and the hunted man
within him, but Wagner was also the composer, the
artist, the genius, the seducer ..."

Klein and Wagner introduces the motif of the psychic
connection of the protagonist with a much darker
self. This relationship is also present in
Steppenwolf, but in Steppenwolf Hesse's thinking has
become more complex so that the moral quality is less
powerful, but the psychic connection itself is much
more powerful. We, of course, find a similar
psychic connection between Harry and Voldemort.


Rinehart Press (1963) translated by Mileck and Frenz

When I started to read Steppenwolf I came to a passage
where everything clicked together. This, and Journey to
the East, are the fictional works which most resembles the
universe of Harry Potter. Harry Haller, the Steppenwolf, is
being prepared to enter the Magic Theater by Pablo, who
controls the Theater. But first Harry, who is incredibly
humorless, must learn to laugh. The scene made me think of
the Riddikulus/Patronus scenes in The Prisoner of Azkaban.
Here is the essence of that passage.

Pablo has just put a pocket mirror in front of Harry
Haller's face:

""You will now erase this superfluous reflection, my dear
friend. That is all that is necessary. To do so, it will
suffice that you greet it, if your mood permits, with a
hearty laugh. You are here in a school of humor. You are
to learn to laugh. Now, true humor begins when a man ceases
to take himself seriously."

I fixed my eyes on the little mirror, where the man Harry
and the wolf were going through their convulsions. For a
moment there was a convulsion deep within me too, a faint
but painful one ... . Then the slight oppression gave way
to an new feeling like that a man feels when a tooth has
been extracted with cocaine, a sense of relief and of
letting out a deep breath, and of wonder, at the same time,
that it has not hurt in the least. And this feeling was
accompanied by a buoyant exhilaration and a desire to laugh
so irresistible that I was compelled to give way to it.

The mournful image in the glass gave a final convulsion and
vanished. ...

"Well laughed, Harry," cried Pablo.""

Unlike Professor Lupin, Pablo has nothing of the wolf/man
about him, but Harry Haller does: he is the Steppenwolf. He
IS a wolf/man. Pablo is a musician (an avatar of Mozart), a
sage, and a provider of rather magical drugs, or shall we
say potions. (It is interesting to note that Hesse's writings,
in turn, have deep roots in German literature, in writers like
Holderlin, Novalis, and Nietzsche. The laughter in the
Riddikulus scene is, in it's deeper origins, quite Nietzschean.)

Then there are the very similar names: Harry Haller and
Harry Potter. And Harry Haller's female friend and
confidant is none other than Hermine. While Pablo and Ron
Weasley have little in common, Harry Haller, Hermine, and
Pablo are intimately interrelated and form the core trio of
the novel (a fourth person, Maria, is just a surrogate for
Pablo, and Pablo/Maria do, in that measure, parallel

Harry Haller has a lot in common with Harry Potter. Haller
has a double nature: ordinary man (muggle) vs the magical
being of the Steppenwolf. Like Potter, Haller is very angry
and bitter, and like Potter, Haller seldom learns a lesson.
His bitter, angry, humorless inner demon always comes
roaring back after what should be learning experiences. Of
course, Harry Haller is a somewhat menopausal man in his
50's, while Harry Potter is a preteen/teen and somewhat
pubescent. But because Hermann Hesse (Harry Haller is
Hermann Hesse), and therefore Harry Haller, are getting a
second chance in the young Harry Potter, the age difference
is partly what makes the whole thing work.

The Potter books and Steppenwolf also begin in an unusual,
very distinctive, and structurally similar manner. In the
beginning of Steppenwolf, Harry Haller rents rooms from a
woman whose super clean, super respectable boarding house
is a veritable fortress of middle class rectitude and virtue.
Harry takes an attic room and moves in with two trunks and
lots of books. This introductory section of the novel is
quite separate from the rest of the book, and is narrated by
the nephew of the woman who runs the boarding house. The
rest of Steppenwolf is narrated by Harry Haller. It closely
parallels the Dursley household scenes that begin the Harry
Potter books before they move on to the real story, except
that Harry Haller gets along quite well with his landlady.

The climax of Steppenwolf is when Harry Haller finally is
able to enter the Magic Theater, which at first he cannot
even find. To find the Magic Theater is a little like
finding platform 9 3/4, or the entrance to Diagon Alley.
The entrance is in an ancient wall in an old alley, and
being "not for everyone", it easily disappears without a
trace into the wall. The Magic Theater itself, with its
strange corridors, shifting realities and rooms, unusual
attractions, and multiplicity of doors strongly recall the
Ministry of Magic (and to a lesser extent, Hogwarts). And
the signs on the doors, make one think of all those magical
advertisements in the Harry Potter books. Things like:






All Harry Haller had to do was go through one more of those doors
into alternate time lines to find himself a real magician in a world
full of magic.

I do not remember that Harry Potter ever did learn the
Riddikulus spell. He ends up learning the vastly more
powerful Patronus spell. Perhaps Rowling's most beautiful
and poetical image is this Patronus spell. A bright,
silvery magical essence that protects and defends. It is
the one thing Harry does well (besides flying). Hesse
equates music with both magic and silver. In The Glass Bead
Game he writes, "And music, this primal, pure and age-old
mighty being, this spell". In his fairy tale Augustus,
he says "music would flow from his dark room, softly and
silvery like moonlight". And in The Poet, a fairy tale,
he says "magical music floated like a silver cloud through
the valley." In Harry Potter the Patronus spell is the
visual equivalent of music (especially Mozart (and Mozart's
music does have an especially liquid silveriness to it. One
can easily hear it in a Mozart piano sonata, especially as
played by Mitsuko Uchida: pure liquid silver
tintinnabulation)). I am betting that the Patronus spell
will be what Harry uses to defeat Voldemort (I think he will
destroy Voldemort). Voldemort, by the way, is a
personification of what Hesse hated most: war
(two world wars, two incarnations of Voldemort).
Hesse, who lived through both world wars, was
deeply and bitterly opposed to war, a German national,
he lived most of his life in neutral Switzerland).

Hesse's universe, in Steppenwolf, is very similar to
Rowling's. Harry Haller is ever yearning to attain the
realm of the great creator spirits, men (greatness ('great
things' as the sorting hat says) seems to be the exclusive
domain of men in both Hesse and Rowling) like Mozart,
Goethe, Buddha. These are Hesse's "immortals". Like the
magic folk in Harry Potter's world, you simply have it or
you don't. Everyone else is just a muggle. Yet neither the
immortals nor the magicians are very different from the rest
of the world except for their gift. Emotionally and
intellectually they are pretty much like everyone else, just
as bigoted, narrow minded, and foolish, just as full of
passion and ego. This is a great problem for Hesse. Hesse
bitterly loathes and scorns the everyday world of
commonplace reality, and the people who make it such an
awful place. Muggle is a great word that sums up that world
perfectly. But at the same time so much that is pure
greatness seems to have been created by people who, except
for their unique genius in art or music or philosophy, are
otherwise complete muggles.

Before moving on, I would mention that the internal evidence
of Steppenwolf, which, of course, Rowling is in no way
following slavishly, indicates that Hermione may be in for
some serious problems in the concluding volume of Harry
Potter. One of the signs of the Magic Theater says: HERMINE
IS IN HELL. In fact, she dies.

New Directions (1951), translated by Hilda Rosner

In Siddhartha I only found one distinctive thing, but it
is quite on point. Siddhartha uses mind control (the
Imperius Curse) on the leader of the ascetics who is
reluctant to allow Siddhartha to leave his small band:

"...concentrating his mind, he captured the old man's gaze
in his own, spellbound him, rendering him mute and
will-less. He subjected him to his own will and commanded
him silently to perform whatever was demanded of him. ...
The shramana fell under the control of Siddhartha's thoughts
and he was forced to do whatever they commanded."

Siddhartha does have many echoes and suggestions of things
in the universe of Harry Potter, but they are not as
definite or easily equated as in the other writings. For
example, the way Siddhartha uses meditation to "become" an


in THE FAIRY TALES OF HERMANN HESSE, translated by Jack Zipes.
Bantam Books (1995) also in STORIES OF FIVE DECADES,
translated by Ralph Mannheim, with introduction by Theodore
Ziolkowski. Farrar, Strauss and Giroux (1972)

In this short story a man, somewhat stupidly, swallows a
magical pill and goes to the zoo, where the effect of the
pill is to make him understand the languages of the animals.
Rowling captures, in her own way, the same humor and pathos
in Harry Potter's trip to the zoo as Hesse brings to his


Farrar Strauss (1968) translated by Hilda Rosner

The Journey to the East aside from the magical nature of
the journey itself (the somewhat magical wayfarers of the
League move through time as well as space, and through
worlds of poetry and legend), has many specific elements
which are recalled in bits and pieces in the Potter books.
Here the narrator is another Hesse stand-in, who this time
is simply called H H. The League's headquarters and
archives again recall the Ministry of Magic as does the
trial of H H at the headquarters. The wayfarers while usually
travelling in small groups, sometimes came together in a
vast tent city, that "formed a camp of hundreds, even
thousands" much like at the Quidditch World Cup. And once,
at a special party in a castle, many of the magical
ingredients of Harry Potter's world are present partying.
Giants and magicians abound. H H meets Jup, the magician,
and Collofine, the sorcerer, and visits the "cool, crystal
world of the mermaids".


from Hermann Hesse's AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL WRITINGS edited by
Theodore Ziolkowski and translated by Denver Lindley.
Farrar, Strauss and Giroux (1972)

These short writings are extraordinarily rich with details
that will rematerialize throughout the universe of Harry
Potter, even more powerfully than in Hesse's fictional
writings. I am, by the way, limiting my discussion to those
works I have recently finished reading, both fictional and
autobiographical. I am still reading or rereading my way
through Hesse's writings, but what I have read is sufficient
to make the point, if it is not convincing, nothing else
will be. I am sure a more strenuous reading of both Hesse
and Rowling would provide enough material for a much, much
longer treatment of the subject (For example, in A Field Devil,
from The Stories of Five Decades, one learns something about
the surly ill-nature of centaurs, as well as about the status of other
magical creatures in the human dominated world. Above all, I can only
barely suggest Hesse's anger and disillusion, his youthful problems
at home and at school, and his complex thinking about life, dreams,
literature, and magic. And as to Rowling, I know very
little about her, except she must be an amazing person (but
I bet she wishes she had made Harry's schooling last only
five years).


Childhood of a Magician and Life Story Briefly Told are
short pieces that are described by Hesse as being "legendary
and semi-humorous" accounts of his life, but they are both
complex, personal, very poetic, and revealing reading. The
writing is so rich and compact, that most of the examples I
use apply with much more force than I can convey here.

After saying that he wanted very much to be a magician,
Hesse specifies that above all he wanted to be able to make
himself invisible, a wish Rowling grants of course. His
house recalls Hogwarts: huge, and full of partially empty
rooms, cellars, long corridors, innumerable attics, and
"dark emptiness". At the same time the house is full of
magical treasures from all over the world and a library of
fabulous books which makes one think of all the shops and
sights of Diagon Alley compressed into a single dwelling.
Even the wooden shed in the garden, with its rabbits
and pet raven, I believe, are transmuted into the haunted
shack and the world of pets at Hogwarts (the relationship
here is perhaps tenuous, but bythis point I would not
be surprised to learn Rowling had a list of things
to work into her novels: wooden shed, pets, etc).
Hesse tells of one old, "inexhaustible" book, full of
pictures and stories that were sometimes there and sometimes
not, that when you read it, was sometimes "friendly" and
sometimes "forbidding". This book generally suggests all of
Harry Potter's world, but if it were on the 'list' it would
come out as "Care of Magical Creatures". Even Fawkes is
there in the person of their "old and wise" parrot.

His maternal grandfather, who spoke many languages and had
travelled extensively in Asia, had rooms full of glass
cabinets, which were in turn full of magical beings and
objects. This grandfather was "the ancient, venerable, and
powerful one with the white beard ... was a magician too,
a wise man, a sage." There is much more, beautifully written,
about this man, but it all adds up to Dumbledore. He is
Dumbledore's true origin, not Gandalf, not Merlin, not even
Joseph Knecht.

Dobby is clearly the mysterious "little man", "a
tiny, gray, shadowy being, a spirit or goblin". When this
being shows up, which he only does on occasions of his own
choice, he completely takes over, and alternately saves
young Hesse or nearly gets him killed. Hesse is able to
powerfully blend reality and fantasy, but I get the feeling
he really experienced the presence of the "little man". On
the other hand, it is perhaps a Freudian joke. My guess is that
Dobby will play an important role in any eventual defeat of

As the years passed, and Hesse grew older and more
disillusioned, and became ever more outraged with grownups,
the world of grownups, the banality of nonmagical reality in
general, and with school and teachers in particular. He
began to forget the magic at an age just about when Harry
Potter plunges into the world of magic.


Hesse's grandfather died when Hesse was sixteen, but Hesse
recounts his most memorable incident regarding his
grandfather. Hesse had been having serious behavioral
problems at school and had run away. Later "after release
from the sickroom" (the infirmary on the 'list') he was sent
home. His parents sent him to his grandfather, the one
person he did not want to defy. With a heart full of
trepidation he went into his grandfather's apartments and was
greeted with a smile, wisdom, patience, and kind,
understanding words. Which of course is what happens every
time Harry encounters Dumbledore in the infirmary or in
Dumbledore's office after Harry has violated every rule in
the book. The basic pattern of this key event in Hesse's
life is repeated again and again in the Potter books. And,
if memory serves, when it is Dumbledore's office,
it is only Harry who is allowed into the sanctum, not Ron
or Hermione.

The motif of the stay in the school infirmary becomes
an important incident in Narcissus and Goldmund where
the kindly grandfather becomes Father Anselm and his
"magic potion".


Hesse explains that besides being "legendary and
semi-humorous" this piece includes a "conjectural
biography", i.e. his possible future, that indeed Rowling
has made come true, in part at least. It is from the ending
of this sketch that we enter, literally, into the world of
Hogwarts, from one literary world into another, the way the
denizens of the paintings in Hogwarts move between pictures,
and indeed, the sooty portkey will prove to be a painting.

Hesse's problems at school were a very important part of his
youth. He recounts being beaten and tortured to get him to
confess to something he did not do by teachers who were no
doubt the model for Dolores Umbridge. And while he did have
worthwhile teachers, he had many bad ones, who forced him to
learn to lie, as Harry Potter does constantly.

In spite of many difficulties Hesse determined to be a poet
and made a successful literary career which was the first
"great transformation" of his life. Along the way Hesse
also discovered a great deal of disillusions concerning, as always,
the ways of the (modern) world, but he also had to admit
that he found a great disorder within himself. I am
guessing again, but before Harry Potter defeats Voldemort,
if he does, he too will have to come to terms with his inner
disorder. Snapes has already warned him in the end of the
Half-Blood Prince.

The second "great transformation" is very significant: Hesse
took up painting. Although Hesse really did take up
painting, and thought seriously about abandoning writing to
make a professional career as a painter, he now begins his
"conjectural biography", so that what he recounts from here
on is his own imagined, but deeply felt, future. He begins
to study Chinese magic spells, and as time passes he becomes
more and more absorbed in music too. He even thinks of
composing an opera, as superior to literature because it
includes music, gestures, and acting whereas literature, for
him, is no longer magic. Our speech was now moribund and
words could no longer generate magic meanings. Rowling, of
course, literally restores magic to utterance and words:
individual words in a spell can perform almost any miracle.
He abandons the opera project, because Mozart's Magic
Flute, already said all that he could imagine to say, so he
focuses entirely on "practical magic". But to do magic one
must, of course, use a magic wand. This, I believe, is
quite literally the paint brush. Imagining that he, at age
70, would be arrested and tried, for magical seduction of a
young girl, he paints in jail. The paint brush becomes his
means of magic through color synesthetically mixed with
sound. "I ... seemed to myself magician enough when I
created with my thin brush a tiny tree, a small bright
cloud." But most significantly he paints a small steam
train that is disappearing into a tunnel. During his trial,
which has all the hellish nightmare qualities of the magical
trials in Harry Potter, he decides he has had enough, "that
without magic this world was unbearable". Standing in front
of his painting of the train he summons up one of his
Chinese magic spells, shrinks himself down and boards the
tiny painted train as it disappears into the "little black
tunnel." After a few moments the train's smoke continues to
pour from the mouth of the tunnel, and then when the smoke
clears, the picture (and Hesse) have vanished.

And there it is: Hermann Hesse has transformed into
a small boy by the name of Harry Potter, and is now
aboard the Hogwarts Express. Next stop the magic castle,
Hagrid, Snapes, Dumbledore and Voldemort.


Anonymous Bob said...

Youdo have something there. You also have a few (3) errors. Well done. I am now considering re-reading HP

September 04, 2006 8:12 PM  
Anonymous jediah said...

i think you are missing alot in your comparison to Siddhartha. to begin laying the framework for contrasting the two authors' works, i believe you must first identify each character along with their influence to each writing. in hesse's writings there is most often a sage, or man of wisdom, that you can identify with dumbledore. then there is also a character that is constantly searching that you can identify with harry potter. in Siddhartha you can identify both in the same character as well as other characters that embody polar extremes of harry and dumbledore.

although it would be nice to see a comprehensive comparison for each character and theme in rowlings works, i believe it would be less speculative and more essential to the argument if you focused explicitly on harry and dumbledore.

November 22, 2009 12:20 PM  
Blogger Eric said...

Sorry I have not looked at this in a LONG time. But Jediah my point is not to compare Harry Potter or any of its characters, point by point, with Hesse work. Might be interesting but my idea was simply that their is an astonishing, and I believe unrecognised, relationship between Hesse and Rowling.

Such a thorough (and almost invisible) transposition of the entire universe of Hesse's writing into something so utterly different as the world of Harry Potter is a remarkable tour de force.

I just wanted to point it out.

May 19, 2010 1:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Eric

Many good ideas here

October 25, 2013 10:57 AM  

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