Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 457
Despite its subtitle in English, The Wind Spirit: An Autobiography might be more accurately called a series of autobiographical essays. While Tournier certainly provides factual details about his life, most serve as springboards for more general comments. The book is studded with ideas, aphorisms, and philosophical observations—many of them highly provocative. Thus his account of his childhood in “Born Under a Lucky Star” includes attacks on the “mutilating, castrating culture” in which he grew up, the rigidly antisexual Christian religion to which he was exposed, and the city of Paris, which he found thoroughly hostile. By contrast, he remembers with delight his grandfather’s seemingly magical pharmacy and the fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen.
Tournier stresses his family’s identification with Germany and German culture, and in the book’s second (and longest) chapter he traces the origin and gestation of his most highly regarded novel, The Ogre. In a particularly striking passage, he describes his adolescent delight in the chaos that followed France’s defeat by Germany in World War II. He concludes with a moving lament for the culturally sophisticated Germany that Adolf Hitler destroyed. While a novel must be judged independently of its author’s comments and opinions, readers of The Ogre will find that The Wind Spirit provides invaluable insights into the novel’s symbolic structure and development.
In another chapter Tournier examines the relationship between the experiences of Alexander Selkirk and the book that those experiences inspired, Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. It is the latter that in turn inspired Tournier’s first novel, Friday: Or, The Other Island, which reinterprets the role of the castaway’s “savage” companion. Tournier admits that he considered dedicating the novel to his country’s many Fridays, the Third World workers who make bourgeois life so comfortable—a comment that anticipates the subject matter of his fifth full-length novel, The Golden Droplet. A subsequent chapter analyzes the philosophical underpinnings of Gemini, his controversial fictional treatment of identical twin brothers.
In “The Mythic Dimension,” Tournier describes the excitement of his university years and his bitter disappointment at failing the examination that would have allowed him to become a teacher—a failure that set him on the path to writing. He discusses contemporary literary and philosophical figures, such as Jean Cocteau and Jean-Paul Sartre, and recounts his adolescent naïveté in “improving” the words of German novelist Erich Maria Remarque, whose All Quiet on the Western Front he translated. Typically, Tournier moves from the specific to the general, in this case drawing together his memories and his thoughts to comment on the power of myth. In what might well be his credo as a novelist, he observes: “Man rises above animality only by grace of mythology.”