Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Larry and Danny Ranes: Serial Killers in the Same Family

The Monk

Steppenwolf, by Hesse
Steppenwolf, by Hesse

Published in 1927, Steppenwolf provided a literary way for Hesse to explore the gap between physical and mental reality. He described his main character's struggle with bridging that gap with emotion, sensual experience, and spiritual transcendence. Yet Steppenwolf was autobiographical as well, following on the heels of several crises that had occurred in Hesse's life.  His first and second marriages had both collapsed, after which he began to frequent the bars of Zurich.  He became a suicidal alcoholic and finally retreated to his home in Switzerland to become a monkish recluse.

The novel follows Harry Haller, a middle-aged intellectual in despair, views himself as a "wolf of the Steppes," estranged from a world that he cannot understand.  All seems futile to him, and depressing.  In this world he finds no source of joy, though the "human" part of him is still attracted to the comforts of socializing.  Feeling disoriented by this inner tension, he contemplates suicide.

Just before he manages it, he meets a hedonistic girl who charms him to the point where he agrees to obey her every command.  She tells him that he will one day agree to kill her.  He freely indulges in a sensual lifestyle and begins to enjoy his newfound freedom.  Even so, he acknowledges that he is losing touch with the spiritual.  During immersion into a "Magic Theater" that distorts everything, he finds the girl and kills her, as he believes she wants him to do.  He's then chastised inside this hallucinatory world for excessively serious behavior.

In essence, this novel explores the idea that an individual is comprised of a multitude of selves and, via a transmigration of souls, can pass into several forms.  All of life is a compromise of some type and there are several chances to keep trying to get it right.  Laughter is the key to opening the doors.

A rock band also called Steppenwolf formed during the late 1960s when existential ideas were in vogue with hit songs such as "Born to be Wild " and "Magic Carpet Ride."  That band's founder, John Kay, had been born in Germany and he named his band after Hesse's novel.  The music challenged cultural values and expressed the spiritual restlessness of the era.  Harry Haller, in fact, had an affinity with music, and he even meets his idol, Mozart, in the Magic Theater.  Music offers humankind the transcendent world of the spiritual.  The novel, as well as the group, intended to mirror people back to themselves so they can see and move into other possibilities.

Within his limited realm of incarceration, Ranes apparently found a new way to be himself.  Via Hess's idea, one could even be absolved of murder.


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