© HHP 3/28/01 GG

Strange News from Another Star

"Strange News from Another Star" is a fairytale by Herman Hesse, which deals with the themes of the tragedy of ignorance.  When disaster strikes, we tend to get consumed by it and forget that in other places even bigger disasters are occurring.  It is through knowledge, love and grace, that they can be overcome.

The fairytale begins with a devastating earthquake that destroyed three towns, including forests and gardens, as well as the lives of people and animals.  As if this was not enough to put the entire province into complete chaos, it was discovered that there weren't enough flowers to place on the graves of the dead for proper burial, which is a custom in this land.

The Eldest addressed this problem with the people of the province.  It was agreed upon that someone who is preferably young, vigorous, and pure of heart must travel to the King and ask for help.  A boy of sixteen who fit this description stepped forward and accepted the task, for he too had suffered in this tragedy: his good friend and his favorite colt were both killed in the disaster.

And so the youth rode off on horseback and began his journey to the King.  It was when the lad decided to rest at an ancient small temple in the mountains that this fairytale really does become 'strange'.  In the sanctuary of the temple of an unknown ancient god he found a piece of black stone with a symbol on it; a symbol that the youth had never seen before: a heart being devoured by a bird of prey.

Although puzzled by the meaning of this image, the lad tried to go to sleep.  But sleep would not come easily, as the huge, dark bird came alive and asked the boy about his troubles.  The messenger told the bird about the great tragedy in his homeland and of his mission to the King.  The bird gave no comfort or sympathy, but instead told the youth that there are worse things than that happening in the world.

And when the boy tried again to explain the depths of his sorrow, the bird once again gave no comfort or sympathy and told him that he was truly ignorant of the evils of the world, such as murder, hatred and jealousy.  Despite the birds words, the boy was not convinced, for - in all of his own experience - those evils only occurred in legends and myths, and surely never actually in real life.

Without continuing the conversation any further, the bird offered the messenger a ride on his back to the King, and naturally the offer of a ride was accepted.  The lad was commanded to shut his eyes until the destination were teached, and he obeyed the wish of the bird.

As they arrived at the edge of a forest, the bird put the lad down and he was permitted to open his eyes.  As the bird flew away, a strange feeling overcame the boy.  Everything around him appeared the same as his homeland, yet everything was different.  It even appeared that an earthquake had struck this land too, so thought the boy, when his horrified gaze reached across the meadow.  It seemed as though thousands upon thousands, perhaps the entire town had been killed brutally by this disaster and now lay dead, strewn across the meadow.

The youth felt a wave of nausea, not only from the vision and smell of death and decay but from the mere fact that none of these bodies had or would have any proper burial.  His thoughts were briefly drawn away from this gruesome scene and he was reminded of the bird's words about the boys experience of the earthquake: "There are worse things than that in the world."  And the boy realized that the bird had brought him to another star to lend validity to his words.

A single man caught the boy's attention, as he stumbled across the meadow.  The boy approached the man and asked what had happened, what could have caused such destruction and death, and if there were anything he could do to help.  The man answered in amazement: "Have you never seen war?"  Puzzled the youth asked if the land had a king, and the man pointed him in the direction of the King's war tent.

The youth found the King, head bowed and greatly saddened.  The youth told to the King of his mission for flowers for his homeland, but also reported his strange adventure involving the bird and the terrible scene he had just encountered.

The youth listened patiently as the King reflected on the difficulty and madness of the peoples' ways on this star.  And although the lad took the King's words to heart, he failed to understand them.  The youth spoke to the King about the peace and serenity of his homeland.  The King pondered the boy's report yet did not seem to see a way to end the chaos on his star.

The great bird descended from the clouds and took the boy back where he found himself in the little temple where he had gone to sleep originally.    The boy had forgotten all about the bird and his dream, yet "a shadow remained in his soul."  He once again mounted his horse and continued on his original journey to the city and the King.

The King received him, and - with an expression of grace - sent him on his way back to his homeland with a convoy of wagons loaded with plants and flowers to adorn the graves of all the victims of the earthquake.

The successful messenger meditated on his experiences and the lingering memory of the bird and the mysterious visit with the King on the battlefield, and he consulted with the Eldest who asked him whether what he had begun to recall was a dream or reality.  The boy did not know the answer, just that it cast a shadow over his successful mission.  The Eldest advised him to return to the ancinet temple and make an offering.

Even though he searched carefully in the almost impassable mountains, he could not find the temple, the black sacrificial stone, the roof or the great bird on the roof, and no one he asked could recall having seen such a temple.

The boy went home, lightened in his heart.  He hung on the wall of his room the symbol of the unity of the worlds, and the next day began helping his neighbors in the gardens and the fields eradicating the last traces of the earthquake.

The theme of the need for overcoming ignorance lies deep within Hesse's tale.  On one hand we can view the sheltered youth as the ignorant figure, for being initially unaware of murder, hatred and war.  On the other hand we can also view the King in the dream as the ignorant figure, for being blind to the grace of love, peace, and unity, and for holding the pessimistic view that they were improbable and unreachable.  In blending the dreams, a brighter future might be reached after all. (Tery Aronson)