Places: The Magic Mountain

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: Der Zauberberg, 1924 (English translation, 1927)

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Philosophical

Time of work: 1907-1914

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places DiscussedBerghof Sanatorium

Berghof Magic Mountain, TheSanatorium. Health-care institution at Davos-Platz in the mountains of Switzerland. Primary setting of the novel. Thomas Mann’s visit to his wife while she was at a sanatorium near Davos was the inspiration for the novel and the source of many descriptions of place. Private rooms where patients lie for hours alone on their balconies as well as the monotony of the spa routine make the time pass quickly. What was to be a two-week sojourn for Castorp lasts seven years. Illness brings out the extraordinary even in a mundane person like Castorp. The unusual proximity to mortality sparks the genius in Castorp and other characters; it also stimulates their intellect and heightens their emotions. The detailed attention to the body that comes with constant physical exams, regular massage, and discussions of individual illnesses contributes to the basic conflict in the novel between the mind and nature, the material and the spiritual worlds–a conflict that preoccupies Mann in many of his works.


*Davos. Swiss resort area that includes a lake and the enclaves Davos-Dorf and Davos-Platz in the river valley, all places that the characters frequent and that constitute the view from the sanatorium, high on the mountain. As was true historically, Davos in the novel is a playground for the idle rich at the turn of the twentieth century. Stylishly dressed people wile away their leisure with outdoor band music, shopping in elegant stores, going to the movies (a new entertainment in those days), or winter sports. In view of World War I, which thunders into the novel at its close, these people and their pastimes look irresponsible or shallow. The more profound experiences of Castorp take place in the mountain wilderness or in the solitude of his room at the sanatorium.

Dining room

Dining room. Cheerful room in the sanatorium with bands of color on the vaulted walls, brass chandeliers, and glass doors. Sanatorium guests look forward to mealtime, where they socialize at their seven tables and enjoy countless delicacies described in detail and consumed lovingly throughout the novel. This room is also the scene of Dr. Krokowski’s evening lecture series on topics such as love as a cause of illness or sexual drives and the reasons these may be inhibited. Polite dining involves sensual enjoyment which is at the same time kept in check by various restraints of table manners. The conflict between social propriety and elemental needs is important in the novel and is developed in dining-room scenes.


Snow. An important chapter is devoted to Castorp’s solitary excursion on skis into the mountains, where he is surprised by a snowstorm. The driving snow makes him unable to distinguish the land from the sky and causes him to lose his sense of direction; the cold exhausts and numbs him. He fears he will be found dead the next morning. The extremity of this setting, which is disorienting morally and metaphysically as well as physically, forces Castorp to contemplate the meaning of life and death. The vision he has as he leans against a locked barn, trying to shelter himself from the storm, contrasts completely with his real surroundings. He experiences an archetypal sunny Greek landscape with a classical temple and serene people. In the inner sanctum of the temple, however, is a terrifying scene of cannibalism, which hints at the hidden side of civilized life.

*Flüela Valley

*Flüela Valley. Valley containing a powerful waterfall along the Flüela River, not far from Davos, that is the goal of a picnic excursion led by Mynheer Peeperkorn. The forest on the way, which contains exotic hanging moss and parasitic plants that make the trees seem diseased, echoes the novel’s general fascination with illness. While the deafening thunder of the falls makes all speech comically inaudible, the scene also points to the possible profundity of things beyond that which language can express. When Peeperkorn, obviously drunk, raises his cup in a speech drowned out by the waterfall, he resembles a pagan holy man celebrating life. He enjoys the rapt attention of the group as they eat.

BibliographyHatfield, Henry. From “The Magic Mountain”: Mann’s Later Masterpieces. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1979. The chapter “The Magic Mountain” provides a concise and broad introduction to the novel in the context of Mann’s other later works; a good place to start for beginners. Includes some discussion of contemporary critical opinion and politics.Heller, Erich. Thomas Mann: The Ironic German. South Bend, Ind.: Regnery/Gateway, 1979. The chapter “Conversation on the Magic Mountain” is a delightfully informative study of the novel in the form of a dialogue. Perhaps Heller’s best-known statement on Mann’s work and a key to further study. Magisterial.Ridley, Hugh. The Problematic Bourgeois: Twentieth-Century Criticism on Thomas Mann’s “Buddenbrooks” and “The Magic Mountain.” Columbia, S.C.: Camden House, 1994. A study of the reception of these two major novels in both literary and political history. Places the works in the contexts of the debate over modernism and of psychological and philosophical criticism.Weigand, Hermann J. “The Magic Mountain”: A Study of Thomas Mann’s Novel “Der Zauberberg.” Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1964. Though published first in 1933, this study still offers much to the beginning student of Mann’s novel. Provides a close reading with an especially interesting discussion of Germanness in the pre-World War I epoch.Ziolkowski, Theodore. Dimensions of the Modern Novel. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1969. The chapter “Thomas Mann: The Magic Mountain” provides a careful reading of the form, content, and substance in the novel, paying special attention to the narrator and his attitudes toward time. Useful connections to other German novels of so-called high modernism.
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