Some pleasant surprises are displayed--along with some dreary redundancies--in this nevertheless welcome first English translation of the German writer's fables and parables. Hesse (1877--1962) was, of course, the Nobel Prize--winning author of such complex and intellectually challenging novels as Steppenwolf (1927) and Magister Ludi (1943). But many readers prize him most as a Western interpreter of Eastern wisdom, especially as transmitted in such equally famous ""fictions"" (discursive as they are) as Siddhartha (1922) and The Journey to the East (1956). Even Wordsworth fainting at the sheepfold seems robust compared with the lachrymose romanticism of Hesse's little prose sermons on the fragility of the artist's temperament (""The Poet,"" ""Flute Dream""), the evils of progress and technology (""The City""), or the superiority of pacifist introversion (""The European,"" ""The Empire""). Too many of these stories trail off into inconclusiveness, and there's a fulsome excess of sentences like ""The mountain lived on silently in his greatness."" That said, there's also much to admire in this superbly edited and vigorously translated gathering of 22 such tales, all written and published between 1904 and 1918. ""Augustus"" and ""Iris"" are interesting complementary explorations of the ironies of mingled romantic failure and artistic success. ""The Dwarf"" contrives a Poe-like story of revenge in a solidly realized Italian Renaissance setting. ""The Forest Dweller"" radiates some of the confident animism, and also the vivid specificity, of Kipling's best tales in this vein. And ""A Man by the Name of Ziegler"" is magically gifted with understanding the language of animals--only to discover these ""noble"" creatures are no better than their human counterparts. Unfortunately, the later pieces are weaker, so the volume ends with a distinct whimper. No matter: Zipes's English versions, which lucidly convey both Hesse's vapid generalizations and his athletic lyricism, often manage to show this very uneven writer to best advantage. Minor work from a more-or-less major writer, and a lot more fun than much of Hesse's major fiction.