Thomas Mann pp 74-84 | Cite as

The Call to Unreason: Mario and the Magician

  • Martin Travers
Part of the Macmillan Modern Novelists book series (MONO)


In an interview given by Mann in 1925, the journalist Bernard Guillemin advanced the opinion that Hans Castorp, the hero of Mann’s mammoth novel, The Magic Mountain, published the year before, ‘remains a seeker, never reaching fruition’. Mann, in reply, agreed, adding: ‘He is a precursor, who is sacrificed. It was not granted to him to become part of the new concept of humanity. He disappears in the war, but not before he experiences a premonition [of the future]’.129 The reference here to a premonition is an allusion to one of the central chapters of the novel, where Castorp, in serious danger of losing his life in a snow-storm, resolves to fight not only the harsh conditions in which he finds himself, but also the death-wish growing within him. Once out of this dangerous situation, he commits himself, in an act of brave idealism, to the cause of the living and the principle of humanity.130 It is an impressive resolution, but one that does not, unfortunately, outlast the story. Within a very hour of his return, the steadfast resolution has begun to fade from memory, and, by the end of the novel, our hero has returned to the flat-land, not to resume work in the land of the living, but to offer his services to the German war effort in what was to become one of the bloodiest military engagements in human history. Castorp, the novel suggests, can anticipate but must, in the final analysis, fall short of any real notion of humanism, because he is intellectually bound by his own time, inextricably part of the pre-war period which Mann satirizes for its lack of purpose and moral character. In a world without time and genuine resolution, to have allowed Castorp to have fully acquired a mature moral perspective would have been an anachronism.131


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© Martin Travers 1992

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  • Martin Travers

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