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The narrator, a mysterious SS man who is later revealed to be an exceptional presence, gives us young Adolf from birth, as well as Hitler's father and mother, his sisters and brothers, and the intimate details of his childhood and adolescence.
A tapestry of unforgettable characters, The Castle in the Forest delivers its playful twists and surprises with astonishing insight into the nature of the struggle between good and evil that exists in us all. At its core is a hypothesis that propels this novel and makes it a work of stunning originality. Now, on the eve of his eighty-fourth birthday, Norman Mailer may well be saying more than he ever has before.
You may call me D.T. That is short for Dieter, a German name, and D.T. will do, now that I am in America, this curious nation. If I draw upon reserves of patience, it is because time passes here without meaning for me, and that is a state to dispose one to rebellion. Can this be why I am writing a book? Among my former associates, we had to swear never to undertake such an action. I was, after all, a member of a matchless Intelligence group. Its classification was SS, Special Section IV-2a, and we were directly under the supervision of Heinrich Himmler. Today, the man is seen as a monster, and I would not look to defend him—he turned out to be one hell of a monster. All the same, Himmler did have an original mind, and one of his theses does take me into my literary intentions, which are, I promise, not routine.
The room that Himmler used when speaking to our elite group was a small lecture hall with dark walnut paneling and was limited to twenty seats raked upward in four rows of five. My emphasis will not be, however, on such descriptions. I prefer to concern myself with Himmler’s unorthodox concepts. They may even have stimulated me to begin a memoir that is bound to prove unsettling. I know that I will sail into a sea of turbulence, for I must uproot many a conventional belief. A cacophony erupts in my spirit at the thought. As Intelligence officers, we often seek to warp our findings. Mendacity, after all, possesses its own art, but this is a venture that will ask me to forsake such skills.
Enough! Let me present Heinrich Himmler. You, the reader, must be prepared for no easy occasion. This man, whose nickname, behind his back, was Heini, had become by 1938 one of the four truly important leaders in Germany. Yet his most cherished and secret intellectual pursuit was the study of incest. It dominated our highest-level research, and our findings were kept to closed conferences. Incest, Heini would propose, had always been rife among the poor of all lands. Even our German peasantry had been much afflicted, yes, even as late as the nineteenth century. “Normally, no one in learned circles cares to speak of the matter,” he would remark. “After all, there is nothing to be done. Who would bother to call some poor wretch a certified offspring of incest? No, every establishment of every civilized nation looks to sweep such stuff under the rug.”
That is, all ranking government officials in the world except for our Heinrich Himmler. He did have the most extraordinary ideas fermenting behind his unhappy spectacles. I must repeat that for a man with a bland and chinless mug, he certainly exhibited a frustrating mixture of brilliance and stupidity. For example, he declared himself to be a pagan. He predicted that there would be a healthy future for humankind once paganism took over the world. Everyone’s soul would then be enriched with hitherto unacceptable pleasures. None of us could conceive, however, of an orgy where carnality would rise to such a pitch that you might find a woman ready to throw herself into a flesh-melting roll with Heinrich Himmler. No, not even in the most innovative spirit! For you could always see his face as it must once have been at a school dance, that bespectacled disapproving stare of the wallflower, tall, thin, a youth full of physical ineptitude. Already he had a small potbelly. There he was, ready to wait by the wall while the dance went on.
Yet he grew obsessed over the years with matters others did not dare to mention aloud (which, I must say, is usually the first step to new thought). In fact, he paid close attention to mental retardation. Why? Because Himmler subscribed to the theory that the best human possibilities lie close to the worst. So he was ready to assume that promising children when found in low, nondescript families could be “incestuaries.” The word in German, as he coined it, was Inzestuarier. He did not like the more common term of such disgrace, Blutschande (blood-scandal), or as it is sometimes employed in polite circles, Dramatik des Blutes (blood-drama).
None of us felt sufficiently qualified to say that his theory could be dismissed. Even in the early years of the SS, Himmler had recognized that one of our prime needs was to develop exceptional research groups. We had a duty to search into ultimates. As Himmler put it, the health of National Socialism depended on nothing less than these letzte Fragen (last questions). We were to explore problems that other nations did not dare to go near. Incest was at the head of the list. The German mind had to re-establish itself again as the leading inspiration to the learned world. In turn—so went his unstated coupling—much recognition might be given to Heinrich Himmler for his profound attack on problems originating in the agricultural milieu. He would emphasize the underlying point: Husbandry could hardly be investigated without comprehending the peasant. Yet to understand this man of the earth was to speak of incest.
Here, I promise you, he would hold up his hand in precisely that little gesture Hitler used to employ—one prissy flip of the wrist. It was Heinrich’s way of saying: “Now comes the meat. And with it—the potatoes!” Off he would go on a peroration. “Yes,” he would say, “incest! This is one very good reason that old peasants are devout. An acute fear of the sinful is bound to display itself by one of two extremes: Absolute devotion to religious practice. Or nihilism. I can recall from my student days that the Marxist Friedrich Engels once wrote, ‘When the Catholic Church decided adultery was impossible to prevent, they made divorce impossible to obtain.’ A brilliant remark even if it comes from the wrong mouth. As much can be said for blood-scandal. That is also impossible to prevent. So, the peasant looks to keep himself devout.” He nodded. He nodded again as if two good pumps of his head might be the minimum necessary to convince us that he was speaking from both sides of his heart.
How often, he asked, could the average peasant of the last century avoid these blood temptations? After all, that was not so easy. Peasants, it had to be said, were not usually attractive people. Their features were worn away by hard labor. Besides, they reeked of the field and the barn. Personal odors were at the mercy of hot summers. Under such circumstances, would not basic impulses trigger forbidden inclinations? Given the paucity of their social life, how were they to acquire the ability to stay away from entanglements with brothers and sisters, fathers and daughters?
He did not go on to speak of the pell-mell of limbs and torsos formed by three or four children in a bed, nor the ham-handed naturalness of the most agreeable work of all—that hard-breathing, feverish meat-heavy run up the hills of physical joy—but he did declare, “More than a few in the agricultural sector come, willy-nilly, to see incest as an acceptable option. Who, after all, is most likely to find the honorable work-hardened features of the father or the brother particularly attractive? The sisters, of course! Or the daughters. Often they are the only ones. The father, having created them, remains the focus of their attention.”
Hand it to Himmler. He had been storing theories in his head for two decades. A great believer in Schopenhauer, he would also give prominence to a word still relatively new in 1938—genes. These genes, he said, were the biological embodiment of Schopenhauer’s concept of the Will. They are the basic element of this mysterious Will. “We know,” he said, “that instincts can be passed from one generation to the next. Why? I would say it is in the nature of the Will to remain true to its origins. I even speak of that as a Vision, yes, gentlemen, a force that lives at the core of our human existence. It is this Vision which separates us from the animals. From the beginning of our time on earth, we humans have been seeking to rise to the unseen heights that lie ahead.
“Of course, there are impediments to such a great goal. The most exceptional of our genes must still be able to surmount the privations, humiliations, and tragedies of life as the genes are transmitted from father to child, generation after generation. Great leaders, I would tell you, are rarely the product of one father and one mother. It is more likely that the rare leader is the one who has succeeded in breaking through the bonds that held back ten frustrated generations who could not express the Vision in their own lives but did pass it on through their genes.
“Needless to say, I have arrived at these concepts by meditat- ing upon the life of Adolf Hitler. His heroic rise resonates in our hearts. Since he issues, as we know, from a long line of modest peasant stock, his life demonstrates a superhuman achievement. Absolute awe must overwhelm us.”
As Intelligence agents, we were smiling within. This had been the peroration. Now our Heinrich was ready to enter what Americans call the nitty-gritty. “The real question to be asked,” he said, “is how does the brilliance of the Vision protect itself from being dulled by commingling? That is implicit in the process of so-called normal reproduction. Contemplate the multimillions of sperm. One of them has to travel all the way up to the ovum of the female. To each lonely sperm cell swimming in the uterine sea, that ovum will loom as large as a battle cruiser.” He paused before he nodded. “The same readiness for self-sacrifice that will carry men at war through an uphill attack on a forbidding ridge must exist in healthy sperm. The essence of the male seed is that it is ready to commit itself to just such immolation in order that one of them, at least, will reach the ovum!”
He stared at us. Could we share his excitement? “The next question,” he said, “soon arises. Will the genes of the woman be compatible with the sperm cell that has managed to reach her? Or will these separate elements find their respective genes to be in dispute? Are they about to act like unhappy husbands and wives? Yes, I would answer, dispute is often the prevailing case. The meeting may prove sufficiently compatible for procreation to occur, but the combination of their genes is hardly guaranteed to be in harmony.
“When we speak, therefore, of the human desire to create that man who will embody the Vision—the Superman—we have to consider the odds. Not even one in a million families can present us with a husband and a wife who are close enough in the inclination of their genes to bring forth a miraculous child. Not even one, perhaps, in a hundred million. No!”—again the upraised hand—“let us say, closer to a million million. In the case of Adolf Hitler, the numbers may approach the awesome distances we encounter in astronomy.
“So, gentlemen, logic would propose that any Superman who embodies the Vision, is bound to come forth from a mating of exceptionally similar genetic ingredients. Only then will these separate embodiments of the Vision be ready to reinforce each other.”
Who could not see what Heinrich was aiming at? Incest offered the nearest possibility for such unity of purpose.
“Yet,” said Himmler, “to be reasonable, we must also agree that life is not always ready to certify such an event. Debased males and females are the ones who usually come into the world from these family intimacies. We have to recognize that products of incest usually suffer childhood ills and early deaths. Anomalies abound, even exhibitions of physical monstrosity.”
He stood there, sad and stern. “That is the price. Not only are many reinforced good tendencies likely to be present in an inces- tuary, but unhappy inclinations can be magnified as well. Insta- bility is, therefore, a common product of incest. Idiocy waits in the wings. And when a vital possibility exists for the development of a great spirit, this rare human must still overcome a host of frus- trations profound enough to unhinge the brain or induce early death.” So spoke Heinrich Himmler.
I think all of us present knew the subtext of these remarks. Back in 1938, we were looking (in greatest secrecy, you may be certain) to determine whether our Führer was a first- or second-degree incestuary. Or neither. If not, if neither, then Himmler’s theory would remain groundless. But if our Führer was a true product of incest, then he was more than a glowing example of the likelihood of the thesis, he might be the proof itself.
From the Hardcover edition.
Posted September 7, 2009
Posted August 14, 2012
CD/unabridged/Literature: Where do I start? Well, I'm giving it four stars and I hate that I liked it. I mean, it's about Hitler!
The narrator was Harris Yulin and he does a great job narrating with an American accent while doing the voices in a German one. (Harris Yulin played Head Watcher Quentin Travers on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Buffy: "....and with out the slayer, you're just watching Masterpiece Theatre".) This novel is 15 discs long and had to have a good narrator. I don't think I could have read it; listening was easier. The book is a dramatization of conversations.
This book is supposed to be about Hitler's childhood and his journey through being a sociopath. The book is mostly about his father Alois Hitler. The book is narrated by Dieter, an SS Officer. Dieter reveals himself as a devil. Not the big guy, just a henchman. He is sent, on and off through the years, to the Hitler home, before Adolf is born, to "guide" and watch the family. He tells the reader that he is writing down his memoirs of his time there, but is afraid there may be retribution. The book only goes up to Alois' death so Adolf is really young throughout the book. Adolf is evil as a child.
While there are many theories on who Adolf's grandfather was, Mailer makes it clear how he feels. (I did look on Wikipedia to see if his theory had any merit...and it does.) Mailer's theory is that Hitler was a nut because he was a product of incest. There are apparently three men that could have been his grandfather. Two of the men would be blood relatives and one a Jew. Alois, Hitler's father and a whoredog himself, marries his third wife, Adolf's mother, who is either is niece or his daughter. (Later in Adolf's life, he has a relationship with is niece).
This book goes in too many directions, but Mailer books usually do. I now know more about beekeeping than ever. The book also moves to Russia and spends two discs on the early Romanov marriage. The book goes into Adolf's older brother Alois Junior's sexual exploits which has no relevance to shaping Hitler. Dieter also tells us not to put too much into Adolf seeing a religious swastika on a door or watching bees getting gassed with sulfur in their hives. The novel goes into Adolf liking to play war games in the woods with the neighborhood kids, but does not go in the depth you would think. Mailer concentrated more on Adolf's bowel movements as a toddler, masturbation habits, becoming a confident liar, and feeling no guilt.
The funniest (as in odd) part of this book is when I went to Wikipedia to see what this book was all about. (I bought the audio for $3 bucks at a library sale). The book had gotten Literary Review's Bad Sex in Fiction Award for 2007. The problem was I could not figure out which scene they were talking about. All the scenes were crude. Alois and Adolf's mother wallow like animals and Alois Junior homosexual act are shallow. (Makes you wonder because Mailer was married six times.)
Do I recommend it? Well, if your a Mailer fan, yes. If you're not a Mailer fan, you're probably not going to like this book. But I have to say, it was entertaining and the audio was well read. BTW, this book was suppose to be a trilogy of Hitler's life, but Mailer died soon after this first part was published.
Posted October 29, 2009
Posted June 23, 2009
Posted June 14, 2009
I didn't even read the entire book. The writing became very satanic in nature and this is not what I had expected from it. I would not recommend it to anyone for any reason.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 11, 2009
Posted December 21, 2007
Posted December 21, 2007
I thought this book would be interesting based on the summary....but really this book droned on and on without very much mention of Adolf at all. I suffered through the first 314 pages then finally ditched it. I couldn't take it anymore. On to something better. Sorry I wasted my time and money.....Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 25, 2007
I couldn't wait to get this book!!! Now, I can't wait to get rid of it. If this is Norman Mailer's last book, it would suit me. It grovels, not even the charactures are interesting. Norman is starting to seem like a dirty old man writing, yikes, Norman, obviously knows nothing about women or their sexuality. Crude is one word for it. I'm angry I spent the money on it and wasted the time on anticipation of it. What a stinker.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 17, 2007
I am a fan of Norman Mailer¿s from a long time back. Starting in WWII with his Naked and the Dead. I had expected tumultuous events in this `biography¿ but did not find any. It is strange for me to read the parallel reviews of readers which point out such topics that reveal the real and forthcoming Hitler, items such as feces, seeing his overbearing father, his loving to lead boy- soldiers and be a leader to be strong and steely 'the dreams of most boys, right?', to see weakness in the parents. Who among us has not had such experiences and thoughts? There were also the good points that any normal father may use to offset his bad points, as when Alois took Adi to visit Die Alte. And a supportive mother who was always there for him. And we all walk around with some `other person¿ in our imagination, giving us ideas, unsuspected thoughts. We may never have had an SS officer, but there were enough extraneous evil thoughts in movies and the daily news and now TV. A very ordinary boy, brought up in an ordinary home, with some unseen, not discussed family history in the closets¿ which did not necessarily have genetic implications in Adi¿s gene pool. Very similar, probably, to my own life, with its embarrassing events, unfulfilled desires. Is that the message? Perhaps that is the Mailer¿s message. A boy brought up in Austria may be equivalent to a boy brought up then in the U.S., or now, in either countryWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 7, 2007
I thought this novel would be the best case study on Adolf Hitler from the fiction genre. Instead, I get a story about the everyday life of Alois Hitler. The demon who is assigned to the Hitler does not give a clear answer as to what events changed Adolf's life. What about this life as a young adult? Maybe I was expecting too much from Mailer, but after reading 'The Gospel According to the Son,' I just knew this was going to be a novel I would dream about. Instead, my only dream was to finish it.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 25, 2007
Posted February 17, 2007
I stayed up all night reading this book. I couldn't make myself put it down. The writing style is so fluid and easy to read. The content gives you so much to think about. A masterful portrait.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 12, 2007
Trying to analyze the phenomenon that was Hitler by examining his family and childhood is a fascinating idea. However, both he and his family were surprisingly ordinary. It is only through 20-20 hindsight and the conceit of taking the viewpoint of one of the Devli's minions that one can read into these dull lives the horrors that are to come. If the names were changed I doubt anyone would read past the middle of this mundane tale.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 7, 2007
Norman Mailer¿s new novel,'The Castle in the Forest' /em , published on his 84th birthday in January, is an eccentric imagining about the young Adolph Hitler, narrated by a top lieutenant of The Devil. The philandering and rationalized dysfunctions characterizing prevailing Hitler Family Values in the future Fuhrer's early life gives us a vivid, arresting depiction of the making of a Monster. Incident after incident, ranging from his father Alois's incestuous infidelities the youth's rapt fascination in a village blacksmith's theories on how a Will of Iron is galvanized, Mailer's use of the narrating demon gives a feeling of when the worm had turned. It's good, wonderfully seductive, a tale you can't turn away from. Among Mailer's life long themes have been various examinations of the gaining and use of power, for purposes good or ill. This theme, Mailer¿s central obsession in his fifty years of authoring books, is obvious in such varied novels as 'An American Dream', the staggering, problematic fiction where an alcoholic writer and television personality murdering his estranged wife from intuited instructions from the moon, or in 'Ancient Evenings', where reincarnation and sexual domination are the means to control and manage one¿s journey through history. The first person memoir of Jesus Christ in 'The Gospel According to the Son', where we witness the bizarre difficulty of being half man and half divine in the exercise of godly powers with a very mortal sense of weariness and exhaustion, while within the generational CIA novel 'Harlot¿s Ghost' Cold War intelligence gathering becomes akin to religious practice and operatives must ironically acquire the capacity for amoral application of trade craft to preserve the rumored good of their cause. Diverse though the settings and eras are, Mailer¿s fiction all have similar existential notion, whether his protagonists take responsibility for the actions given them by respective flights of intuition, voices from ashen moonscapes, or the whispers of ghosts and spirits. Mailer has defined his idea of existentialism as the practice of taking risks and accepting challenges without regard to trying to control the results. It is the pure state of happenstance that real and authentic choices are made, with the manipulation or denial of the requisites ending badly, in disease, disaster, war, lost hope. 'The Castle in the Forest'¿s imagined portrait of a world scourge emerging from a festering mess will give one something to ponder, perhaps in a pause of action when one is deciding whether to be a bastard by exacting a revenge for a slight, real or imagined, or whether will be mature enough to let the irritation fade and thus not make the world a more sour place. The beating of butterfly wings indeed our good works, enacted in good faith, has an effect on how history turns out, but the sad fact is that our worst deeds seem to swell faster and sweep aside all good intentions in their tsunami like rush. Our narrator, a lieutenant of Satan going by the name DT, or Dieter, here tells his tale in Elaborate detail, extended digressions, anecdotes about what it¿s like to work for such a horrific employer and characterizations of the small nuances of the war between heaven and hell. Young Hitler is nudged, whispered to, exposed to various stimulations, excitements and harsh experiences, made to witness great spectacles and various forms of cruelty and abuse. Worse, perhaps, DT gives the young Adolph¿s ears the speeches of vain and minor men and women speaking volumes about their best intentions, only to have their asides and instructions and philosophical squibs given the lie by crudity, violence. The petty vanities of Hitler¿s parents¿a preening brute of a father, a doting and emotionally confused mother¿and their sustained failures to be ballast for their children are portraits worthy of Faulkner of a family held together with promiscuous applications of bad faith. AdolphWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 29, 2007
I was rather sorry that I purchased this book. I found it boring and ridiculous and by page 200, I returned it to my bookshelves. Maybe I was expecting too much after The Naked and the Dead and The Armies of the Night. Or,I missed something that made this story come together at some point. Could be that the fault is mine and not Mr. Mailer's.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 24, 2011
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Posted February 26, 2011
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Posted December 1, 2009
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Posted January 19, 2009
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