Hanns Heinz Ewers (1871 — 1943) was a German writer, poet, actor and philosopher. He is perhaps better known for his horror stories, such as Alraune, die Geschichte eines lebenden Wesens. The Spider (Die Besessenen) is a short story, which was first published in 1915.
He is often compared to Edgar Allan Poe and indeed he actually published a critical essay on Poe in 1916/17. H.P. Lovecraft references Ewers as a influence in his writing. Personally I think he has shades of his peer and contemporary writer Franz Kafka, although one could argue that Kafka is definitely more on the intellectual side of literature therefore there isn’t much of a comparison to be made. I am thinking more of the feeling both writers evoke. A sense of darkness, morbidity and a wee bit depressing at times.
Ewers was a friend of Aleister Crowley, which explains why many students of the occult have an avid interest in him. His work, Alraune, is an ode to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and strongly influenced by the idea of eugenics.
In The Spider a young man called Richard moves into a room seven in a small hotel in Paris. Three persons had already hanged themselves from the cross-bar of the window in that room on three successive Fridays.The only detail not mentioned in the media was the appearance of a large black spider on the dead bodies, even coming from the mouth of one of the victims.
Clarimonda, I have concluded, lives alone in the small flat across the way. The flat has three windows, but she sits only before the window that looks into mine. She sits there, spinning on an old-fashioned spindle. What does Clarimonda look like? I’m not quite sure. Her hair is black and wavy; her face pale.
The face and body of seductress, a woman with an air of mystery and simultaneously an aura of danger, perhaps even death.
I waited until I was invaded by an irresistible need to go to the window-not to hang myself; but just to see Clarimonda. Fear is no longer what I feel. Rather, it is a sort of oppressive terror which I would not want to avoid for anything in the world.
I’ll leave you to discover the fate of Richard and whether or not he discovers the mystery in room nr 7. Is he strong enough to resist her attraction or will he follow the others to his death?
There is a reason why Ewers is cited as an influence by the occasional great writer and yet seems to be ignored by the literary community. He became enamoured with the idea of Nationalism and became involved in the Nazi Party during the end of the Weimar Republic. Ewers embraced the ideology of Nietzschean moral philosophy and the idea of the strong Teutonic (Aryan) race. He joined the NSDAP in 1931.
As the fledgling party became more entrenched in anti-Semitism and anti-homosexuality Ewers found he no longer had a place in the party. He was a bisexual, and he had written one of his main characters as a German man, who believed in Nietzschean morality, with a Jewish girlfriend.
Obviously just his sexual orientation would make him persona non-grata for the party. In 1934 most his work was banned in Germany. On top of that he himself was subjected to the ‘sub-human’ laws of his political party and his property and assets were seized.
He was allegedly an author Adolf Hitler admired and the fact Ewer’s novel Horst Wessel was commissioned and chosen as the basis for the last of a trilogy of films with the sole intention of glorifying the Third Reich and the National Socialists. The title was later changed to Hans Westmar; Einer von vielen.
It was, however, among the first films to depict dying for Hitler as a glorious death for Germany, resulting in his spirit inspiring his comrades. (quote: Erwin Leiser, Nazi Cinema)
Very similar to the techniques of manipulative, persuasion and brainwashing of modern fanatics. The promise of a glorious death in exchange for blind devotion and obedience.
This places him in an interesting position. His association with the Nazi party and in particular his idealisation of their ideas is the reason why he is ignored by the English speaking literary world and in Germany. Regardless of the fact that he eventually became a victim of the same regime.
Perhaps even more fascinating is that he was also accused of being a German agent during the First World War and had ties to groups, who would now be deemed to be domestic terrorists. Student activists can often cross the line into criminal behaviour rather quickly.
Sound reasoning, right? It’s hard to stomach the combination of eugenics, Nietzschean pomposity and the belief that certain races are superior to all others. Now meld that with Ewers propensity for violence, torture, blood-lust and even pornography. Enough reasons to put his work in a box and lock it up for eternity?
We, the world, haven’t even done that to Mein Kampf. Are we the book burners and banners the Third Reich, and quite a few other countries and cultures, would want us to be? Or do we embrace the diversity of man and freedom of thought, speech and the written word?
I know what my answers to those questions are. Knowledge is power. Restricting our access to specific literature is also putting a restriction on access of knowledge.
Perhaps Ewers work should finally have the recognition it deserves and be unlocked from the box and restraints the literary world put it under over half a century ago.
Download The Spider, Edgar Allan Poe, Das Mädchen von Schalot und andere Dramen, Vampire, Der Zauberlehrling or Alraune, die Geschichte eines lebenden Wesens. Alternatively you can listen to The Spider, Die verkaufte Grossmutter or Mein Begräbnis at Librivox.
Download Horror and Spice, and all things nice, Wonders of the Invisible World, Sharp Fanged Blood Sucking Death, Prelinger Part 2: Healthy Habits, The Last Man, Prelinger Archives Pt.1 Teen Feelings, Wuthering Heights, The $30000 Bequest, Classical Music and the Public Domain, Adventure on the High Seas, Exploring the Heart of Darkness, Father’s Little Dividend, Decadence without Difficulty, Roads of Destiny, The Capture of a Slaver, The Ghost Train, How it Feels to Die, by One Who has Tried It, Mysticism and Logic, The Scarecrow of Oz, Dressed to Kill, The Silence, the Solitude and the Shame of Oscar Wilde or Twelve Stories and a Dream right here on the blog.