Hanns Heinz Ewers  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Hanns Heinz Ewers (November 3, 1871, Düsseldorf - June 12, 1943, Berlin) was a German actor, poet, philosopher, and writer of short stories, novels and scripts. While he wrote on a wide range of subjects, he is today known chiefly for his works of horror, particularly his trilogy of novels centered around the adventures of Frank Braun, a character modeled not too loosely on himself. The best known of these is Alraune. In the film world, he is best-known for writing The Student of Prague.

Contents

Career

Ewers's literary career began with a volume of satiric verse, entitled A Book of Fables, published in 1901. That same year he collaborated with Ernst von Wolzogen in forming a literary vaudeville theatre before forming his own such company, which toured Central and Eastern Europe before the operating expenses and constant interference from censors forced him to abandon the enterprise. A world traveller, Ewers was in South America at the outbreak of World War I, and relocated to New York City, where he continued to write and publish.

After the United States entered the war he was arrested in 1918 as an “active propagandist,” although the US government, as well as British and French intelligence agencies asserted that Ewers was a German agent. They pointed to his travels to Spain in 1915 and 1916, both under an alias using a falsified Swiss passport. As a Germen national he was sent to the internment camp at Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia. Ewers was never tried as a German agent in the United States, so after the war he was released from the internment camp and returned to his native Germany.

Ewers's first novel, Der Zauberlehrling (The Sorcerer's Apprentice), was published in 1910, with an English translation appearing in America in 1927. It introduces the character of Frank Braun, who, like Ewers, is a writer, historian, philosopher, and world traveller with a decidedly Nietzschean morality. The story concerns Braun's attempts to manipulate a small cult of evangelical Christians in a small Italian mountain village for his own financial gain, and the horrific results which ensue.

This was followed in 1911 by Alraune, a reworking of the Frankenstein myth, in which Braun collaborates in creating a female homunculus or android by impregnating a prostitute with the semen from a hanged murderer. The result is a young woman with no moral center, who commits numerous monstrous acts. The novel was filmed several times, most recently by Erich von Stroheim in 1952.

The third novel in the sequence, Vampyr, written in 1921, concerns Braun's own eventual transformation into one of these blood-drinking creatures. Another novel, Der Geisterseher, was published in 1922.

Ewers also wrote several plays, poems, fairy tales, opera librettos, and critical essays. These included Die Ameisen, translated into English as The Ant People, Indien und ich, a travelogue of his time in India, and a 1916 critical essay on Edgar Allan Poe, to whom he has often been compared. Indeed, Ewers is still considered by many a major figure in the evolution of the horror literary genre, cited as a major influence by no less than H. P. Lovecraft. Students of the occult are also attracted to his works, due to his longtime friendship and correspondence with Aleister Crowley.

Movie work

Ewers was one of the first critics to recognize film as a legitimate artform, and wrote the scripts for numerous early classics of the medium, most notably The Student of Prague (1913), a reworking of the Faust legend which also included the first portrayal of a double role by an actor on the screen.

Nazi involvement

During the declining years of the Weimar Republic, Ewers became involved with the burgeoning Nazi Party, attracted to its Nationalism, its alleged Nietzschean moral philosophy, and its cult worship of Teutonic culture, although he never officially joined its ranks. He did not agree with the party's anti-Semitism (his character Frank Braun has a Jewish mistress, Lotte Levi, who is also a patriotic German) and this plus his homosexual tendencies quickly led to his falling out of favor with the party leadership. In 1934 most of his works were banned in Germany, and his assets and property seized. Ewers eventually died in poverty from tuberculosis.

Despite his enormous influence on 20th century fantasy and horror literature, Ewers remains out of favor in many literary circles because of his brief association with the Nazis. As a result, post-World War II editions of his works are often difficult to find, and earlier editions can command a premium price from collectors.

Trivia

Ewers appears in Kim Newman's novel Anno Dracula, as a predatory vampire who travels briefly with Edgar Allan Poe.





Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Hanns Heinz Ewers" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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