The Glass Bead Game: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Glass Bead Game  
HermannHesse DasGlasperlenspiel(1st ed).jpg
First edition
Author Hermann Hesse
Original title 'Das Glasperlenspiel'
Translator Richard and Clara Winston
Country Switzerland
Language German
Genre(s) Novel
Publisher Holt, Rinehart and Winston
Publication date 1943
Published in
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages 558 pp

The Glass Bead Game (German: Das Glasperlenspiel) is the last work and magnum opus of the German author Hermann Hesse. Begun in 1931 and published in Switzerland in 1943, after being rejected for publication in Germany,[1] 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, but the book has also been published under the title Magister Ludi, Latin for "master of the game," which is 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."



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[2]. 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, whose exact nature remains elusive and whose devotees occupy a special school within Castalia known as Waldzell. The rules of the game are only alluded to, and are so sophisticated that they are not easy to imagine. Playing the game well requires years of hard study of music, mathematics, and cultural history. Essentially the game is an abstract synthesis of all arts and scholarship. It proceeds by players making deep connections between seemingly unrelated topics.

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 (an example of a Bildungsroman). The text, written in a scholarly biographical style, chronicles the protagonist's decision to join the order, his mastery of the Game, and his advancement in the order's hierarchy to eventually become Magister Ludi, an honorary title reserved for the Game's finest player.[3]

The beginning of the novel introduces the Music Master, the resident of Castalia who recruits Knecht as a young student and who is to have the most long-lasting and profound effect on Knecht throughout his life. At one point, Knecht obliquely refers to the Music Master's "sainthood" as the Master nears death in his home at Monteport. As a student, another meaningful friendship develops with Plinio Designori, a student from a politically influential family who is studying in Castalia as a guest. Knecht develops many of his personal views about the good Castalia can do through vigorous debates with Designori, whose view of Castalia is exactly that it is an "ivory tower" with little to no impact on the outside world.

Although educated within Castalia, Knecht's path to "Magister Ludi" is atypical for the order, as he spends a significant portion of his time after graduation outside the boundaries of the province. His first such venture, to the Bamboo Grove, results in his learning Chinese and becoming something of a disciple Elder Brother, a recluse who had given up living within Castalia. Next, as part of an assignment to foster good will between the order and the Catholic Church, Knecht is sent on several "missions" to the Benedictine monastery of Mariafels, where he befriends Father Jacobus - a relationship which also has profound personal impact for Knecht.

As the novel progresses, Knecht begins to question his (and others') loyalty to the order; he gradually comes to doubt that 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, according to his personal views regarding spiritual awakening, Knecht does the unthinkable: he resigns as Magister Ludi and asks to leave the order, ostensibly to become of value and service 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 Designori's energetic and strong-willed son, Tito. Only a few days later, the story ends abruptly with Knecht drowning in a mountain lake while attempting to follow Tito on a swim for which Knecht was unfit.

The fictional narrator leaves 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, followed by three short stories labeled "Three Lives." The stories are presented as exercises by Knecht imagining his life had he been born in another time and place, and all three focus on lives of spiritual seekers who learn the mystic traditions of their respective eras from sagacious mentors. The first story tells of a pagan rainmaker named Knecht who lived "many thousands of years ago, when women ruled."[4] Eventually the shaman's powers to summon rain fail, and he offers himself as a sacrifice for the good of the tribe. The second story is of Josephus, an early Christian hermit who acquires a reputation for piety but is inwardly troubled by self-loathing and seeks a confessor, only to find that same penitent had been seeking him.

The final story concerns the life of Dasa, a prince wrongfully usurped by his younger brother as heir to a kingdom and disguised as a cowherd to save his life. While working with the herdsmen as a young boy, Dasa encounters a yogi in meditation in the forest. He wishes to experience the same tranquility as the yogi, but he's unable to stay. He later leaves the herdsmen and marries a beautiful young woman, only to be cuckolded by his brother (now the prince). In a cold fury, he kills his brother and finds himself once again in the forest with the old yogi. At first determined to become the yogi's disciple, he later gives up and is about to leave the forest when he is asked by the yogi to fill a gourd with water. At a nearby spring, Dasa meets his wife and is led away to regain his kingdom, start a family, and lose both in a war with a neighboring kingdom - only to realise that the entire life had been a dream from the yogi to teach him that the world is only an illusion (Maya).

Originally, Hesse intended several different lives of the same person as he is reincarnated[5]. Instead, he focused on a story set in the future and placed the three shorter stories, "authored" by Knecht in The Glass Bead Game at the end of 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.[6] 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.[6]

As Utopian literature

Freedman wrote in his biography of Hesse that the tensions created by the rise of the Nazi Party in Germany directly contributed to the creation of the Glass Bead Game as a response to the oppressive times.[7] "The educational province of Castalia, which provided a setting for the novel, came to resemble Hesse's childhood Swabia physically while assuming more and more the function of his adopted home, neutral Switzerland, which in turn embodied his own antidote to the crises of his time. It became the "island of love" or at least an island of the spirit."[8] Freedman opined that in the Glass Bead Game "[c]ontemplation, the secrets of the Chinese I Ching and Western mathematics and music fashioned the perennial conflicts of his life into a unifying design."[9]

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 9780099283621


  1. ^ Petri Liukkonen"Herman Hesse"
  2. ^ Theodore Ziolkowski, Foreword to The Glass Bead Game, p. xii. Owl Books. ISBN 0-8050-1246-X
  3. ^ Hesse, Hermann (1943). The Glass Bead Game. Owl Books. pp. 352–354. ISBN 0-8050-1246-X.  
  4. ^ Hermann Hesse. The Glass Bead Game. Penguin. Hammondsworth 1975 p 416.
  5. ^ Theodore Ziolkowski, Foreword to The Glass Bead Game, p. xiv-xv. Picador. ISBN 0-312-27849-7
  6. ^ a b Theodore Ziolkowski, Foreword to The Glass Bead Game, p. ix. Owl Books. ISBN 0-8050-1246-X
  7. ^ Ralph Freedman. Hermann Hesse. Pilgrim of Crisis. Jonathan Cape. London. 1979. p 348.
  8. ^ Ralph Freedman. Hermann Hesse. Pilgrim of Crisis. Jonathan Cape. London. 1979. p 348.
  9. ^ Ralph Freedman. Hermann Hesse. Pilgrim of Crisis. Jonathan Cape. London. 1979. p 350.

Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address