Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Tales of E.T.A. Hoffmann...random thoughts

So, how embarrassing is it that I'd never read anything by E.T.A. Hoffmann before this? Well, let me tell you, it's not nearly as embarrassing as the fact that I don't remember ever even hearing of the man before. Oh yes, I'm serious.

But on a positive note, that has now been remedied. Something I am quite happy about. See, this whole homeschooling gig does have its advantages--as in taking me out of my comfort zone. Oh yeah, and teaching me about things I probably already should have known. ;)

 In this particular case, what I mean by "taking me out of my comfort zone" is making me read "old stuff." Why does this scare me so? Well, I've no freakin' idea really. Yes, I've read some "old stuff" that I've hated, that I've had a hard time understanding, that I found just plain boring. But then I've read my fair share of "new stuff" that fits those descriptions as well. And I've read plenty of "old stuff" that I've adored. So why I cling to this fear of all things written more than a hundred years ago (my technical definition of "old stuff"), I honestly couldn't say.

Yeah, yeah, yeah...but let's get on with Hoffmann here already. The Tales of E.T.A. Hoffmann (edited and translated by Leonard J. Kent and Elizabeth C. Knight) was a forced-upon-me RIP read, as I've already mentioned. But so utterly perfect for RIP it was! I was in turns reminded of Irving and Poe and Stoker. Murder and mayhem and madness and mystery. And perhaps best of all, there was ambiguity. Delicious ambiguity.

Contained in this book are seven tales, and I can't say there was a single one I did not enjoy. The first, "Ritter Gluck," is also the shortest at only ten pages. That ambiguity I mentioned...I think it first raises it head here...do we have a ghost story, or a tale of madness, or something else altogether?

The second tale is "The Golden Pot: A Modern Fairy Tale," the longest of them all at close to a hundred pages. But how to describe this one...uhhh... Okay, it's certainly fantastical. It is at times eerie. We meet witches and snakes with beautiful blue eyes. As in many of Hoffmann's tales, art and creativity play a large role. And again, there's that ambiguity...just "how" does it end?

"The Sandman" may just be my absolute favorite of the lot. And it probably most decisively embodies the RIP vibe...with tales of sinister apparitions to scare little ones, with dangerous alchemy, and with lots of creepy tidbits dealing with eyes...

Next up is "Councillor Krespel." What a sad little story this is. But I do have to admit that I really have no earthly idea what the very beginning of this story had to do with the rest of it...I almost felt as if he started writing one story but then couldn't figure out where to go with it so he decided to head in a different direction. (Note: This is very likely just me missing the obvious.)

"The Mines of Falun" is another fairly short tale...and another unsettling one. Another of my favorites. A tale of ghosts. A tale of madness. A tale of love.

And yet another of my favorite stories is "Mademoiselle de Scuderi." In my opinion, it is the most wonderfully atmospheric tale of them all. It is essentially a mystery, but a frightening, almost unearthly one. With lots of delicious bits of history thrown in. (But as much as I loved this one, I must admit that I was a tad disappointed in its ending...though not enough to change my feelings for the story overall.)

And finally, "The Doubles." Confession: I honestly didn't understand what was going on for a while in this one. But I think that was intentional on Hoffmann's part (at least that's what I'm telling myself :P). And eventually, I was able wrap my brain around it and begin to appreciate it, and enjoy it, much more fully.

So yep, all told, my first RIP book was definitely a winner. 


  1. To answer your first question: less embarrassing than the fact that I've never even heard of that author...

  2. Congrats on finishing your first book! :) You're definitely not alone, I've never heard of E.T.A. Hoffmann myself, though perhaps I'll remedy that in the future. These stories sound fascinating!

  3. I'm with Amanda, I have no idea who the author is! lol

  4. You see how unalone you are!!! No one has heard of Hoffman :p Me either until now!! But yeah, I definitely want to read these now!

    And I love that picture...I have dead coneflowers here too and they make me think of you all the time. Doesn't that make you feel loved Debi :p Dead flowers make me think of you, lol.

  5. well now.. i may not have ever read Hoffman but "the tales of Hoffman" I have heard of! sheesh..I guess when you live long enough that happens (darn it all! lol)

  6. you are not alone, I haven't read Hoffman either. And don't recall even hearing the name until recently. This collection sounds like something I need to check out though. My collection of short story collections that I want to read is growing exponentially! Which is a good thing, I guess. :)

  7. I've heard of the author but I've never read anything by him. That being said, I'm strongly against the idea that there's a list of authors people *should* read at all costs, it's ridiculous. And most of the 'old books' I've read have ended up being huge disappointments so really, there's absolutely no guilt to have here. I detest Dickens, for example, and don't see why I should persist for the sole reason that's he's considered a classic.

    In any case - sounds like a good start, Debi! I'll definitely add that to my list :)

  8. I haven't read any Hoffman, and I only heard of him a couple years ago. But I do have one of his books on my shelves, and now I can't wait to read it! I'm currently putting together my pile of books I want to keep out from being packed (I need enough for 2 weeks), and your post has made it earn a place!