Pictor’s Metamorphoses

by Herman Hesse (1981)


A breezy collection of light fantasy stories from a typically heavy-handed spiritual explorer, most of these tales feel undercooked (most likely intentionally) compared to Hesse’s other works. I agree with Hesse (and many others) on the cultural significance of fairy/folk tales, but it’s hard to craft short versions of them that don’t feel trivial.

The highlights are the quietly powerful Jesus-ish allegory “Hannes,” “The Painter,” “Bird” and “Two Children’s Stories.” I also strongly identified with the 1st of his “Nocturnal Games,” as it’s an anxiety dream I’ve had many times myself. What most of the best stories in the collection have in common is that they’re strongly autobiographical. “Two Children’s Stories” in particular offers fascinating insights into Hesse’s personal life and thought process. “Bird” is probably the most complete story, including references to various other stories and works such as “Klingsor’s Last Summer,” “Pictor’s Metamorphoses” and Journey to the East. This in addition to biting social satire.

Another thing I liked about the collection was that it documents Hesse’s development as an author since the stories are laid out in chronological order, some of them from even before adulthood. His evolution is interesting to avowed fans such as myself.

Overall I would recommend this collection only to Hesse enthusiasts. A better, more polished collection of stories, some of them fantastical too, would be Strange News from Another Star, which is where I would start if you’re interested in Hesse’s short works.

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