The Magic Mountain

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Although grounded in a specific time and place--the years preceding World War I at Davos-Platz in the Swiss Alps--this novel has a quality of being timeless and not of this world. The setting is strange--a sanatorium for the tubercular in a town with a healthy but unpredictable climate. Also, because patients go there presumably to recover but basically to kill time in a world withdrawn from the pressures of real life, time moves differently, becoming a kind of eternity.

When Hans Castorp, the dreamy young German protagonist, arrives to visit his cousin Joachim, a matter-of-fact soldier, he is planning to stay three weeks. At first uncomfortable with the rigid routine and slow pace, Hans soon becomes accustomed to it and eventually enjoys it. When the doctor in charge finds in Hans symptoms of tuberculosis, the weeks turn into months and eventually into years.

Through its length, its story line, and numerous discussions by narrator and characters, the novel dislodges the reader’s standard sense of time. The activities of the pre-war world below, though altering the world irrevocably, have no impact on the cloistered life of the sanatorium, except for such leisure-time innovations as the phonograph and the moving picture. This is its appeal for Hans, while Joachim yearns for that outside world, yet movingly must die apart from it.

The relationships in the sanatorium parody those in the real world, lacking permanence and...

(The entire section is 564 words.)