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The George MacDonald Informational Web
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      His Works

     His Influences

     His Friends

        His Impact

       His Family

E.T.A. Hoffmann - Date Unknown, Click To Enlarge

E.T.A. Hoffmann
(My complete GMD bio/commentary is here).



E.T.A. Hoffmann, like Novalis, was one of the earliest of the German Romantic authors. His most notable works are The Golden Pot, The Devil's Elixirs, The Sand-Man, and The Singer's Contest, along with The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, a short story which Tchaikovsky immortalized by adapting it into his famous The Nutcracker ballet. His philosophy of the unconscious mind would have more in common with Carl Jung than George MacDonald, and indeed both Jung and Freud drew heavily from Hoffmann's ideas. However, he still left his brand on MacDonald in several ways, mostly concerning story devices. MacDonald thought that Friedrich de la Motte Fouque's Undine was the greatest of all fairytales. It involved the story of a water nymph who desperately wanted to be like normal women. Hoffmann would later collaborate with Motte Fouque writing an opera based on the tale. The story has in it knights and enchantments, the likes of which may have found their way into Phantastes. But it was The Golden Pot and The Devil's Elixirs that George MacDonald would borrow most liberally from. It was in The Devil's Elixirs Cover - Click to Enlarge the former that he found the notion of creating adult fairytales where the normal world and the world of fairy would interact with one another, along with the notion of a person co-existing in more than one world simultaneously. He would employ these concepts in Phantastes, Lilith, and At the Back of the North Wind among others.

The Devil's Elixirs tells the story of a monk who goes insane and commits many terrible deeds. He is aided in his villainy by a doppelganger he meets in a prison cell. Throughout the story, the monk often finds himself wondering if the double is a phantom of his own mind or if it is in actuality some other being which commits these crimes. It is plain however, that Hoffmann means to present the doppelganger as a figment from imagination rather than a spiritual being, and therein lies the major difference between Hoffmann and MacDonald, aside from the fact that most people would probably consider MacDonald a much more stylish and inventive writer. Hoffmann can also be said to make extensive use of mirrors to work a magical effect in his stories. Mirrors have always been a central feature of magical literature, and of course seers from the world over have used mirror gazing to see into other realities and times at least as far back as Plato's day. MacDonald also made use of mirrors in similar ways, but whether he got the idea from Hoffmann or not is highly debatable.E.T.A. Hoffman's Story - The Sand-Man - Click to Enlarge

One last thing Hoffmann may be noted for is one of, if not the earliest, incidents of a character using a demonic being to aid in his own mastery of musical abilities. This occurred in the story called The Singer's Contest. It may have been the catalyst for the many tales that have sprung up in our own times of a musician going "down to the crossroads" to sell his soul to the Devil in order to become a famous musician.


2007 The George MacDonald Informational Web