Glass bead

The Glass Bead Game

The Glass Bead Game (Das Glasperlenspiel) is the last work and magnum opus of the German author Hermann Hesse. Begun in 1931 and published in Switzerland in 1943, the book was mentioned in Hesse's citation for the 1946 Nobel Prize for Literature.

"Glass Bead Game" is a literal translation of the German title. The title has also been rendered as Magister Ludi. "Magister Ludi", Latin for "master of the game," is the name of an honorific title awarded to the book's central character. "Magister Ludi" can also be seen as a pun: lud- is a Latin stem meaning both "game" and "school."

Plot summary

The Glass Bead Game takes place at an unspecified date, centuries into the future. Hesse suggested that he imagined the book's narrator writing around the start of the 25th century. The setting is a fictional province of central Europe called Castalia, reserved by political decision for the life of the mind; technology and economic life are kept to a strict minimum. Castalia is home to an austere order of intellectuals with a twofold mission: to run boarding schools for boys (the novel is thus a detailed exploration of education and the life of the mind), and to nurture and play the Glass Bead Game (see below).

The novel follows the life of a distinguished member of the order, Joseph Knecht (the surname translates as "servant" or "farm hand" but can also mean "vassal" or "knight"), as narrated by a fictional historian of the order. Hence the novel is an example of a Bildungsroman. The text, written in a scholarly biographical style, chronicles the precocious protagonist's decision to join the order, his mastery of the Game, and his advancing in the order's hierarchy, eventually being given the title Magister Ludi, reserved for the Game's finest player.

However, Knecht's loyalty to the order is brought into question as he gradually comes to doubt whether the intellectually gifted have a right to withdraw from life's big problems. Knecht comes to see Castalia as a kind of ivory tower, an ethereal protected community, devoted to pure intellectual pursuits, but oblivious to the problems posed by life outside its borders. This conclusion precipitates a personal crisis, and accordingly, Knecht does the unthinkable: he resigns as Magister Ludi and asks to leave the order, ostensibly to become of value and service, in some way, to the larger culture. The heads of the order deny his request to leave, but Knecht departs Castalia anyway, initially taking a job as a tutor to his childhood friend's son. Only a few days later, he drowns in a mountain lake while attempting a swim for which he was not fit. The story ends abruptly.

The narrator breaks off before the final sections of the book, remarking that the end of the story is beyond the scope of his biography. The concluding chapter, entitled "The Legend", is reportedly from a different biography. After this final chapter, several of Knecht's "posthumous" works are then presented. The first section contains Knecht's poetry from various periods of his life. Then three short stories follow. The first tells of an ancient pagan named Knecht; the second of Josephus, an early Christian hermit; and the final story covers the life of Dasa, an Indian prince who grows up as a cowherd. All three stories cover the lives of spiritual seekers who learn the mystic traditions of their respective eras from sagacious teachers. Originally, Hesse intended several different lives of the same person as he is reincarnated. Instead, he focused on the story set in the future and placed the three shorter stories, "authored" by Knecht, at the end of the novel.

Allusions in the novel

Many characters in the novel have names that are allusive word games. For example, Knecht's predecessor as Magister Ludi was Thomas van der Trave, a veiled reference to Thomas Mann who was born in Lübeck, situated on the Trave River. Knecht's brilliant but unstable friend Fritz Tegularius is based on Friedrich Nietzsche, while Father Jacobus is based on the historian Jakob Burckhardt. The name of Carlo Ferromonte is an italianized version of the name of Hesse's nephew, Karl Isenberg, while the name of the Glass Bead Game's inventor, Bastian Perrot of Calw, was taken from the owner of a machine shop where Hesse once worked after dropping out of school, named Heinrich Perrot.

Central characters

  • Joseph Knecht: The central character of the book. The Magister Ludi for most of the book.
  • The Music Master: Knecht's spiritual mentor who, when Knecht is a child, examines him for entrance into the elite schools of Castalia.
  • Plinio Designori: Knecht's antithesis in the world outside.
  • Father Jacobus: Knecht's antithesis in faith.
  • Elder Brother: A former Castalian and student of Chinese.
  • Thomas van der Trave: Joseph Knecht's predecessor as Magister Ludi.
  • Fritz Tegularius: A friend of Knecht's but a portent of what Castalians might become if they remain insular.

See also


  • Hermann Hesse. The Glass Bead Game. Vintage Classics. ISBN 0-09-928362-X

External links

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