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When Hesse's novel was published in 1927, it was considered experimental for its time in several ways. One innovation was that he wrote in three different styles, each conforming to a different narrator. Each of them gives its own version of Harry Haller and his five-week fantasy adventure. (William Faulkner used similar techniques in such works as The Sound and the Fury, 1929, and As I Lay Dying, 1930.)
The Preface, by the nephew of Haller's landlady, is a sober account by a young middle-class businessman of the aunt's eccentric lodger. It is an objective description of Haller as seen from the outside, and the writing style is uninspired. It is the conscientious effort of an educated person who is not a writer.
Next, introduced by Harry himself, is the Treatise on the Steppenwolf. It is presented as a pamphlet handed to Harry by a street peddler. The author is unidentified, but he offers sly hints that he is one of Harry's Immortals, the ghosts of great men like the composer Mozart and the writer Goethe who hover in the ether above earth and whose laughter Harry hears now and then. Just as the Preface portrayed Harry's outer person, the Treatise describes his inner self. The style is that of a teacher: critical, rather patronizing, and with an occasional jab of humor at Harry's expense. The tone is often preachy, and sometimes the meaning seems deliberately obscure.
Harry has already introduced himself in the first person, recounting how he came to possess the Treatise. In Harry's own narrative you come at last to the evocative, flexible, and varied style of a writer. For example, he begins by describing the "lukewarm" day he has just spent and the sequence of long, slow-moving sentences matches the slow passing of hours with neither joy nor pain. After giving you the text of the Treatise, he continues with a blend of description, dialogue, and interior monologues-passages in which he recalls his past, reveals his loves and hates, and examines his state of mind.
His first crossing from the real to the unreal comes with the sight of a flickering electric sign on an ancient wall, and the barely discernible letters reflected in the wet pavement. The imagery of reflections and mirrors recurs again and again: in the Treatise, in a teasing reference to "our" magic mirrors, and in the Magic Theater. There Harry's mirrored self is symbolically shattered into his multiple selves. He and the wolf are mirrored both separately and together.
Finally, Hermine is a reflection of a girl murdered by a reflection of a knife. In passages of reality, such as the dinner in the professor's house and the first meeting with Hermine in the Black Eagle Bar, the style is brisk and the dialogue lively and natural. But even as the characters and events undergo dreamlike transformations, Harry tells it as though it is all really happening-in a narrative voice and with intense emotions but no surprise, however grotesque the events.
The translation by Basil Creighton, dating from 1929, was the first and is still the only one in English. Originally for an English audience, it contains such British usages as "gramophone" for phonograph and "post" for mail. A revised version by Joseph Mileck and Horst Frenz, Americanizing and updating the Creighton translation, appears in Holt, Rinehart and Winston hardcover editions from 1963 on, and in the Bantam paperback editions from 1969.