79 of 81 people found the following review helpful
on September 4, 2002
Like most people, I read Hesse's better known novels like Damien and Steppenwolf first. I found a copy of this at a used book store, bought it, and let it sit on the bookself for a while before actually reading it. Was I surprised - this is one of Hesse's greatest novels.
Hesse takes two young men - one devoted to the hermetic religious life and another more into the decadent artistic life - and follows them through adulthood. There are some amazing scenes here - scenes of great artistic creation, a journey through a plague ravaged world, the reunion of the two friends - that rank among the best things Hesse ever wrote.
True the characters are more "types" than real three dimensional characters. It is obvious that Hesse wants to examine the spiritual/cerebral approach to existence versus the more artistic/physical approach to life, and to find them both wanting. This is less a slice of life novel than a modern parable. Taken on those terms, this novel is Hesse at the height of his powers and deserves to be better known and read than it currently is.
54 of 54 people found the following review helpful
on November 1, 2004
Having read all of Hesse works, I find them all fascinating and profound, but none more so than Narcissus and Goldmund. This masterpiece explores the balance between living for yourself and living for others. These two characters and how they relate and understand the other is just beyond words. I first read this book in High School and over the next 20 years have re-read it many times. It never grows old as it invokes our innermost desires and failures. Do miss out on this great read.
49 of 49 people found the following review helpful
on January 30, 2002
_Narcissus and Goldmund_ by Hermann Hesse is the story of two men: one an ascetic scholar, the other a passionate student of life. The book chronicles their fateful meeting, Goldmund's pursuit of truth and beauty, and a final reunion of the two friends late in life. It is quite simply the best book I've read thus far. In it, I find artfully and poignantly demonstrated the central conflict of my life, perhaps of all life: the struggle between the intellect and the emotions. The book is best read as a juxtaposition of both of these motivators in our lives. Narcissus represents pure intellect and reason, while Goldmund represents pure emotion and passion. Neither one could truly exist in the world, but Hesse creates them as archetypes of these two motivators in all humans. The struggles they encounter in understanding each other, and the struggles Goldmund encounters in making sense of the world, help us to better understand these two sides of our own character. The struggle teaches us of the beauty that aches, and friendship that knows no bounds. In this conflict one can ultimately find the beauty of truth, and the truth of beauty.
65 of 70 people found the following review helpful
on May 1, 2000
I first read Narcissus and Goldmund when I was about 20. The conflicts between mind/heart, reason/passion, intellect/emotion were the fulcrum around which my personal voyage of self-discovery turned - at that age.
Now, at 42, I have reread this book. I never appreciated the first time 'round that Hess was describing a completed life. I was too fixated on Goldmund's emancipation through travel. But in the end, after his return to the cloister to create true art, Goldmund hit the road again. He tried in vain to recapture youth only to be spurned by Agnes, the woman he considered to be the most beautiful - and the most like himself. This was a classic description of what we now call the "mid-life crisis".
Neither Narcissus nor Goldmund ended up truly happy, I believe. But that is not the point at all. There was a mutual recognition of the richness in their separate lives. And there was a love and a respect for those differences.
As we all grow up it is these deeper lessons that Hess seeks to impart to us. I'm glad I picked up this excellent book once again and am not surprised to see other reviewers who have done the same with similar results.
A book for living dangerously, and fully.
30 of 30 people found the following review helpful
on November 16, 2003
I was first introduced to Hermann Hesse through "Demian" which I enjoyed immensely - I felt as though he understood the mind of the artist. Then one day, I recalled a friend mentioning "Narcissus and Goldmund" in the past - not knowing what it was about, I bought it. Call it impulse or instinct - regardless of how I came across this novel...it made a tremendous impact on my life...how I perceived myself as well as those around me. It made me question what my artistic and physical approach to life was.
That was five years ago and to this day, there hasn't been a book that's touched me as deeply nor have I experienced an epiphany as huge as the one I was struck with when I finished the book. The theme that comes across all of Hesse's novels is the road to self-discovery and frankly, having read other popular books by Hesse, none seem to match the profoundness of "Narcissus and Goldmund" or as eloquently written. This book epitomizes the struggle between the mind and the heart. Hesse forces the reader to come to terms with this inevitable conflict and realize that neither is above the other. Actually, both need each other to survive. I will admit that Narcissus and Goldmund are presented as two types of characters - literally. BUT the dimensionality that comes to define the two types as two individuals, are their journeys which, leads to their eventual reunion. It's what wasn't said between Narcissus and Goldmund that allows the reader to analyze and interpret accordingly.
Some reviewers have stated that they found this book disappointing because Hesse didn't delve further in defining the essence of life or that it's didactically written. I strongly disagree with both notions - with this novel Hesse points out the subtleties we often miss and poignantly defines how our creative passion needs to be feed...how the love we develop for those we come across in our lives needs to be nurtured...as well as the necessity to be loved by another human being...but more importantly, the certitude in ourselves - to feed the very passion that drives us and ultimately defines us. In this novel, he punctuates things that most are aware of but don't fully recognize. And as simple as it sounds, I truly believe that that, is the philosophy he is trying to convey - nothing less, nothing more. He executes this theory throughout the book with a delicately intricate voice, but one with a deafening roar that will linger in your mind.
As much as I loved "Demian", I think "Narcissus and Goldmund" surpasses "Demian" mainly because it has the ability to relate to almost every individual, instead of the exclusiveness or isolation that can arise through one's road to self-discovery. This novel manages to juxtapose the intellectual thinker with the instinctual spirit in the simplest manner while evoking myriad thoughts, forcing you to question and engage yourself to your present surroundings.
18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on September 17, 2002
This is the third novel of Hesse's that I have had the joy of reading (Sidhartha and Demian are the other two). After finishing it, I wondered why as an educated man and student of literature I had not heard about it years ago. Of the three Hesse novels I have read, this is the best. Like the other two, it is a testament to searching for your own path in life and refusing to be lead by the status quo, but it is so much more.
The story revolves around, as the title implies, Narcissus, a young monk who urges Goldmund, a cloister student, to find out who he really is rather than be bullied by his father's wishes into a life of religious servitude. The novel focuses on Goldmund's journies through the German Empire of the 1300s and his discovery of art, nature, and love. It reveals powerful scenes of plague-ridden Europe as well as introspective conversations between the two men on the nature of reason and imagination. Hesse carefully questions love, life, religion, god, education, and complacency without making his conclusions mere propaganda. This is one of those books that, when all is over, makes the reader wish there were more.
I can't recommend it enough.
22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
_This is the story of two very different young would-be monks in the medieval cloister of Mariabronn. Narcissus was a lunar type- introverted, a thinker and a scholar. On the other hand, Goldmund was a classic solar type- extroverted, a lover and an artist.
_Yet, these two beings of seemingly opposite temperaments became the deepest of life-long friends. This is because different strengths- and different weaknesses- complement each other. In this way two unbalanced natures may in strange alchemy fulfill each other. They may be able to see their shadow in the other- and their pivotal conflict.
_It was in this way that Narcissus saw his friend Goldmund's central repressed crisis. It was this shattering revelation that drove Goldmund out into the world beyond the sheltered cloister. It drove him to a life on the edge as a life-long wanderer. He started in a search for his nearly forgotten mother and ended by finding the eternal feminine in all women. Yet the years of hardship and horror (including murder, the Great Plague, and prison) took their toll on him. When after over a decade of wandering, he finally encountered his friend Narcissus again it saved his life- both literally and spiritually.
_I could not imagine a more Jungian novel. Nor could I imagine a better expression of the meaning of profound friendship.
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on March 31, 2003
As with most Hesse novels, the storyline in Narcissus and Goldmund too, is an elegantly linear one, with few characters and no tangle of events. Much like tea leaves; it appears light on a perfunctory reading but reveals its deep underlying philosophy only when one attempts to read beyond the written words.
This is a tale of two medieval monks at the Mariabronn cloister - Brother Narcissus and his pupil Goldmund - both of whom are on a quest to seek peace and salvation. Though there is a convergence of their ultimate goal, the two strive to achieve it by setting out on two apparently diametrically opposite paths in life.
Blessed with a superbly analytical mind guided by intelligence, reason and logic alone, Narcissus is an ascetic of the highest order. He has shunned the world of senses to devote himself completely to the service of God. By contrast, Goldmund's being is dominated entirely by `feelings', unshackled by the bonds of intellect. He gives up the austere discipline and abstemious cloister life in pursuit of worldly pleasures as also its pains - the realm of the `Maya'. (Concept of Hinduism wherein Maya refers is the cosmic illusion that creates ignorance and veils the vision of the one Reality.) He becomes a wondering wayfarer, traveling through sun, snow and rain; swamp and peat; hunger and fatigue. This is symbolic of his journey through life itself. Celebrating life in all its facets, he plumbs the depths of lust, wades through snow fields, surviving on frozen, wilted berries, escaping from the jaws of death. He experiences a surfeit of life's every aspect until he feels they no longer bring him happiness.
A beautiful wooden statue of Madonna in the `bishop's city' is a turning point in his life. Its beauty touches him so deeply that it ignites his hitherto dormant creative spark and sets it on fire. Awakened, Goldmund decides to try his hand at sculpting. The experience turns out to be so sublime that he sacrifices his `freedom' at the altar of creative bliss. He settles down to a sedentary life for a few months, giving his heart, soul and fiber to making wonderfully beautiful wooden figures.
While Narcissus represents the masculine mind, Goldmund is the embodiment of all that is feminine- imagination, creation, passion and attachment. The two epitomize the eternal battle between the mind versus the senses, thinker versus the artist. Hesse addresses the perennial question - Which of the two is superior? Which of the two roads is the shorter route to salvation?
The book ends on a very touching note. ...
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on October 20, 1999
This book had more of an impact on me than any other I've ever read. It explores the two sides of the human experience, the sensual and the intellectual, in such facinating depth and with such insightfulness that a reader cannot help but be changed by reading it. Best book I've ever read, and I read like a fiend!
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on October 3, 2004
I first read Narcisus and Goldmund when I was 23 and was in psychology graduate school. I could not stop reading once I opened the book and read the book all night. I finished the book at 5 am and had to walk around the campus until the sun rose to sort out my impressions and thoughts. This book was very meaningful to me and influenced my future. Thirty years later I re-read the book before giving it to my nephew who is in college.
The novel is basically a beautiful well written long parable. The setting is 14th century Germany during the plague years of the Black Death. A young man, Goldmund, is taken to a monestary by his merchant father after the death of Goldmund's beautiful mother. Here he is treated with kindness by Brother Daniel even though he gets into conflicts with the other students. He meets a fellow student, Narcissus, who is a contemplative seeker of God, enlightenment,and spiritual contentment. Through this friendship Goldmund calms down and is eventually recognized by Father Anselm as having potential.
However, after having intercourse with a young married woman outside the monastary, Goldmund must go into the world to seek truth, beauty, adventure, sex, and eventually the discipline of the arts. He becomes an appretice with a master artist, Master Niklaus, and creates a sculpture of the Madonna that allows Goldmund to fully express the loss of his mother and capture the beauty and grace of the feminine.
As is the case with most good parables, the book can be understood in a wide range of interpretations. The classic Apollo/Dionysius duality from classical studies is definitely present. Narcissus takes the path of Apollo, toward light, God, reason, contemplation, reflection, insight, enlightenment. Goldmund takes the path of Dionysius toward the truth and call of the body, the lessons of earthly pleasure and pain, the sacrifice of the body in work and sexuality, the search for truth and the creation of beauty.
There is another interesting way to view this parable. I thought that the life of Goldmund demonstrated the role of the son, lover, and sacrificial victim in relationship to the mother, consort, layer-out White Goddess archtype. The role of the male is defined in relationship to the various relationships a male has with females in his life. Thus the contrast is not between Narcissus and Goldmund but between Goldmund and the eternal feminine. He dreams and grieves over his lost beutiful mother and wishes to regain her presence and love. He becomes a lover of many women in many different relationships. He creates the sigle work of sculpture that allows him to build in real matter the archtype he has followed. He finally returns to the monastary and dies with visions of returning to the feminine manifestation of God.
If I could control public school education, I would have every child between ages 12-14 read Mark Twain's "Huckelberry Finn", every young teen between 14-16 read Harper Lee's "To Kill A Mockingbird", every teen between 17-21 read J. D. Salinger's "Catcher in the Rye" and every young adult 22-26 to read Hesse's "Narcissus and Goldmund".
I say this because the duality between the characters of Narcissus and Goldmund is a duality that young people feel in the depths of their soul. they ask: Do I seek God? Do I seek beauty? Do I find myself in sexual experience? Do I find myself in contemplation? Do I create and what do I create?
Narcissus and Goldmund shows these paths, the rewards and costs of following each, and the final resolution of these paths.