• Daniel Ethan Finneran

Thomas Mann - The Magic Mountain - Preface To Podcast

Updated: Sep 2, 2021

The Magic Mountain, a novel written by the great Thomas Mann in the year 1924, is beloved for many reasons—perhaps none more for its elusiveness and its style. Indeed, many a reader enjoys the ambiguity in which the work will shroud her, and the disquiet with which its final chapter will close. The symbolism, if you seek it, is profound and omnipresent. The realism, incapable of being ignored, is both eloquent and faithful to that which it depicts.

In this, a reading of the Nobel-prize-winning book’s first chapter, we accompany the young protagonist, Hans Castorp in his initial ascent to the peaks of the magic mountain—that wintry elevation at which he plans to spend, at most, a few pleasant weeks. Undoubtedly, given the many commitments to which he must return, he’ll not countenance a longer stay than this.

Though orphaned as a child, and subjected repeatedly to the pains of misfortune and personal loss, it can’t be said of Hans that he was born wholly without privilege. Deprived of his parents, he fell under the care of an aristocratic uncle, a wealthy man by whom his every whim was indulged. He lived a life of comfort and ease, a mode of being for which the bourgeoisie—that urbane segment of society of which he was a member—would stand to offer its most heartfelt applause.

Now, at the threshold of gaining his autonomy, and establishing himself in European life, we join our pampered, youthful adventurer as he leaves behind the “flatlands” of the continent below, in search of an altitude about which the air is more thinly draped. We join him, with curiosity and delight, as his train climbs its way to the misty Alpine heights, the great Magic Mountain, in which he’s soon to be engulfed.

“The days began to fly now, and yet each one of them was stretched by renewed expectations and swollen with silent, private experiences. Yes, time is a puzzling thing, there is something about it that is hard to explain”. It’s positively bewildering. Indeed, the difficulty in explaining it is only increased as one reaches the heights of the Magic Mountain, that strange Alpine crag in which the famed sanatorium is nestled, and the confederacy of the tubercular confined. There, so many miles above the unexalted flatlands of the continent below, and so far beyond the stunted reach of our human imagination, the “temporal” becomes inexplicable, and the time becomes something unreal. Its smallest unit of measurement, after all, is neither the minute, the hour, nor the day, but the month. Yes—atop the Magic Mountain, time is a puzzling thing.

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