The Glass Bead Game: (Magister Ludi) A Novel

The Glass Bead Game: (Magister Ludi) A Novel

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The final novel of Hermann Hesse, for which he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1946, The Glass Bead Game is a fascinating tale of the complexity of modern life as well as a classic of modern literature

Set in the 23rd century, The Glass Bead Game is the story of Joseph Knecht, who has been raised in Castalia, the remote place his society has provided for the intellectual elite to grow and flourish. Since childhood, Knecht has been consumed with mastering the Glass Bead Game, which requires a synthesis of aesthetics and scientific arts, such as mathematics, music, logic, and philosophy, which he achieves in adulthood, becoming a Magister Ludi (Master of the Game).

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780312278496
Publisher: Picador
Publication date: 12/06/2002
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 576
Sales rank: 97,087
Product dimensions: 5.55(w) x 8.21(h) x 0.98(d)

About the Author

Hermann Hesse was born in Germany in 1877 and later became a citizen of Switzerland. As a Western man profoundly affected by the mysticism of Eastern thought, he wrote novels, stories, and essays bearing a vital spiritual force that has captured the imagination and loyalty of many generations of readers. His works include Steppenwolf, Narcissus and Goldmund, and The Glass Bead Game. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1946. Hermann Hesse died in 1962.

Read an Excerpt

The Glass Bead Game

By Hermann Hesse, Richard Winston, Clara Winston


Copyright © 1943 Fretz & Wasmuth Verlag AG Zürich
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-3502-3


The Call

No knowledge has come down to us of Joseph Knecht's origins. Like many other pupils of the elite schools, he either lost his parents early in childhood, or the Board of Educators removed him from unfavorable home conditions and took charge of him. In any case, he was spared the conflict between elite school and home which complicates the youth of many other boys of his type, makes entry into the Order more difficult, and in some cases transforms highly gifted young people into problem personalities.

Knecht was one of those fortunates who seem born for Castalia, for the Order, and for service in the Board of Educators. Although he was not spared the perplexities of the life of the mind, it was given to him to experience without personal bitterness the tragedy inherent in every life consecrated to thought. Indeed, it is probably not so much this tragedy in itself that has tempted us to delve so deeply into the personality of Joseph Knecht; rather, it was the tranquil, cheerful, not to say radiant manner in which he brought his destiny and his talents to fruition. Like every man of importance he had his daimonion and his amor fati; but in him amor fati manifests itself to us free of somberness and fanaticism. Granted, there is always much that is hidden, and we must not forget that the writing of history—however dryly it is done and however sincere the desire for objectivity—remains literature. History's third dimension is always fiction.

Thus, to select some examples of greatness, we have no idea whether Johann Sebastian Bach or Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart actually lived in a cheerful or a despondent manner. Mozart moves us with that peculiarly touching and endearing grace of early blossoming and fading; Bach stands for the edifying and comforting submission to God's paternal plan of which suffering and dying form a part. But we do not really read these qualities from their biographies and from such facts about their private lives as have come down to us; we read them solely from their works, from their music. Furthermore, although we know Bach's biography and deduce his personality from his music, we involuntarily include his posthumous destiny in the picture. We conceive him as living with the knowledge, which causes him a silent smile, that all his work would be forgotten after his death, that his manuscripts would be treated as so much waste paper, that one of his sons instead of himself would be considered "the great Bach," and harvest the success he himself merited, and that after his work had been rediscovered it would be plunged into the misunderstandings and barbarities of the Age of the Feuilleton, and so on. Similarly, we tend to ascribe to Mozart, while still alive and flourishing, and producing his soundest work, some knowledge of his security in the hands of death, some premonition of the kindness with which death would embrace him. Where a body of work exists, the historian cannot help himself; he must sum it up, along with the life of the creator of that work, as two inseparable halves of a living unity. So we do with Mozart or with Bach; so we also do with Knecht, although he belongs to our essentially uncreative era and has not left behind any body of work of the same nature as those masters.

In attempting to trace the course of Knecht's life we are also attempting to interpret it, and although as historians we must deeply regret the scantiness of authenticated information on the last period of his life, we were nevertheless encouraged to undertake the task precisely because this last part of Knecht's life has become a legend. We have taken over this legend and adhere to its spirit, whether or not it is merely a pious fiction. Just as we know nothing about Knecht's birth and origins, we know nothing about his death. But we have not the slightest reason for assuming that this death could have been a matter of pure chance. We regard his life, insofar as it is known, as built up in a clear succession of stages; and if in our speculations about its end we gladly accept the legend and faithfully report it, we do so because what the legend tells us about the last stage of his life seems to correspond fully with the previous stages. We go so far as to admit that the manner in which his life drifts gently off into legend appears to us organic and right, just as it imposes no strain on our credulity to believe in the continued existence of a constellation that has vanished below the horizon. Within the world in which we live—and by we I mean the author of this present work and the reader—Joseph Knecht reached the summit and achieved the maximum. As Magister Ludi he became the leader and prototype of all those who strive toward and cultivate the things of the mind. He administered and increased the cultural heritage that had been handed down to him, for he was high priest of a temple that is sacred to each and every one of us. But he did more than attain the realm of a Master, did more than fill the office at the very summit of our hierarchy. He moved on beyond it; he grew out of it into a dimension whose nature we can only reverently guess at. And for that very reason it seems to us perfectly appropriate, and in keeping with his life, that his biography should also have surpassed the usual dimensions and at the end passed on into legend. We accept the miracle of this fact and rejoice in it without any inclination to pry into it interpretively. But insofar as Knecht's life is historical—and it is that up to one specific day—we intend to treat it as such. It has been our endeavor, therefore, to transmit the tradition exactly as it has been revealed to us by our researches.

Concerning his childhood before he entered the elite schools, we know only a single incident. It is, however, one of symbolic importance, for it signifies the first great call of the realm of Mind to him, the voice of his vocation. And it is characteristic that this first call came not from science or scholarship, but from music. We owe this fragment of biography, as we do almost all the recollections of Knecht's personal life, to the jottings of a pupil of the Glass Bead Game, a loyal admirer who kept a record of many of the remarks and stories of his great teacher.

Knecht must have been twelve or thirteen years old at the time. For quite a while he had been a scholarship pupil in the Latin school of Berolfingen, a small town on the fringes of the Zaberwald. Probably Berolfingen was also his birthplace. His teachers at the school, and especially his music teacher, had already recommended him two or three times to the highest Board for admission into the elite schools. But Knecht knew nothing about this and had as yet had no encounters with the elite or with any of the masters of the highest Board of Educators. His music teacher, from whom he was learning violin and the lute, told him that the Music Master would shortly be coming to Berolfingen to inspect music instruction at the school. Therefore Joseph must practice like a good boy and not embarrass his teacher.

The news stirred the boy deeply, for of course he knew quite well who the Music Master was. He was not to be compared with the school inspectors who visited twice a year, coming from somewhere in the higher reaches of the Board of Educators. The Music Master was one of the twelve demigods, one of the twelve supreme heads of this most respected of Boards. In all musical affairs he was the supreme authority for the entire country. To think that the Music Master himself, the Magister Musicae in person, would be coming to Berolfingen! There was only one person in the world whom Joseph might have regarded as still more legendary and mysterious: the Master of the Glass Bead Game.

Joseph was filled in advance with an enormous and timorous reverence for the impending visitor. He imagined the Music Master variously as a king, as one of the Twelve Apostles, or as one of the legendary great artists of classical times, a Michael Praetorius or a Claudio Monteverdi, a J. J. Froberger or Johann Sebastian Bach. And he looked forward with a joy as deep as his terror to the appearance of this mighty star. That one of the demigods and archangels, one of the mysterious and almighty regents of the world of thought, was to appear in the flesh here in town and in the Latin school; that he was going to see him, and that the Master might possibly speak to him, examine him, reprimand or praise him, was a kind of miracle and rare prodigy in the skies. Moreover, as the teachers assured him, this was to be the first time in decades that a Magister Musicae in person would be visiting the town and the little Latin school. The boy pictured the forthcoming event in a great variety of ways. Above all he imagined a great public festival and a reception such as he had once experienced when a new mayor had taken office, with brass bands and streets strung with banners; there might even be fireworks. Knecht's schoolmates also had such fantasies and hopes. His happy excitement was subdued only by the thought that he himself might come too close to this great man, and that his playing and his answers might be so bad that he would end up unbearably disgraced. But this anxiety was sweet as well as tormenting. Secretly, without admitting it to himself, he did not think the whole eagerly anticipated festival with its flags and fireworks nearly so fine, so entrancing, important, and miraculously delightful as the very possibility that he, little Joseph Knecht, would be seeing this man at close quarters, that in fact the Master was paying this visit to Berolfingen just a little on his, Joseph's, account—for he was after all coming to examine the state of musical instruction, and the music teacher obviously thought it possible that the Master would examine him as well.

But perhaps it would not come to that—alas, it probably would not. After all, it was hardly possible. The Master would have better things to do than to listen to a small boy's violin playing. He would probably want to see and hear only the older, more advanced pupils.

Such were the boy's thoughts as he awaited the day. And the day, when it came, began with a disappointment. No music blared in the streets, no flags and garlands hung from the houses. As on every other day, Joseph had to gather up his books and notebooks and go to the ordinary classes. And even in the classroom there was not the slightest sign of decoration or festivity. Everything was ordinary and normal. Class began; the teacher wore his everyday smock; he made no speeches, did not so much as mention the great guest of honor.

But during the second or third hour the guest came nevertheless. There was a knock at the door; the school janitor came in and informed the teacher that Joseph Knecht was to present himself to the music teacher in fifteen minutes. And he had better make sure that his hair was decently combed and his hands and fingernails clean.

Knecht turned pale with fright. He stumbled from the classroom, ran to the dormitory, put down his books, washed and combed his hair. Trembling, he took his violin case and his book of exercises. With a lump in his throat, he made his way to the music rooms in the annex. An excited schoolmate met him on the stairs, pointed to a practice room, and told him: "You're supposed to wait here till they call you."

The wait was short, but seemed to him an eternity. No one called him, but a man entered the room. A very old man, it seemed to him at first, not very tall, white-haired, with a fine, clear face and penetrating, light-blue eyes. The gaze of those eyes might have been frightening, but they were serenely cheerful as well as penetrating, neither laughing nor smiling, but filled with a calm, quietly radiant cheerfulness. He shook hands with the boy, nodded, and sat down with deliberation on the stool in front of the old practice piano. "You are Joseph Knecht?" he said. "Your teacher seems content with you. I think he is fond of you. Come, let's make a little music together."

Knecht had already taken out his violin. The old man struck the A, and the boy tuned. Then he looked inquiringly, anxiously, at the Music Master.

"What would you like to play?" the Master asked.

The boy could not say a word. He was filled to the brim with awe of the old man. Never had he seen a person like this. Hesitantly, he picked up his exercise book and held it out to the Master.

"No," the Master said, "I want you to play from memory, and not an exercise but something easy that you know by heart. Perhaps a song you like."

Knecht was confused, and so enchanted by this face and those eyes that he could not answer. He was deeply ashamed of his confusion, but unable to speak. The Master did not insist. With one finger, he struck the first notes of a melody, and looked questioningly at the boy. Joseph nodded and at once played the melody with pleasure. It was one of the old songs which were often sung in school.

"Once more," the Master said.

Knecht repeated the melody, and the old man now played a second voice to go with it. Now the old song rang through the small practice room in two parts.

"Once more."

Knecht played, and the Master played the second part, and a third part also. Now the beautiful old song rang through the room in three parts.

"Once more." And the Master played three voices along with the melody.

"A lovely song," the Master said softly. "Play it again, in the alto this time."

The Master gave him the first note, and Knecht played, the Master accompanying with the other three voices. Again and again the Master said, "Once more," and each time he sounded merrier. Knecht played the melody in the tenor, each time accompanied by two or three parts. They played the song many times, and with every repetition the song was involuntarily enriched with embellishments and variations. The bare little room resounded festively in the cheerful light of the forenoon.

After a while the old man stopped. "Is that enough?" he asked. Knecht shook his head and began again. The Master chimed in gaily with his three voices, and the four parts drew their thin, lucid lines, spoke to one another, mutually supported, crossed, and wove around one another in delightful windings and figurations. The boy and the old man ceased to think of anything else; they surrendered themselves to the lovely, congenial lines and figurations they formed as their parts crisscrossed. Caught in the network their music was creating, they swayed gently along with it, obeying an unseen conductor. Finally, when the melody had come to an end once more, the Master turned his head and asked: "Did you like that, Joseph?"

Gratefully, his face glowing, Knecht looked at him. He was radiant, but still speechless.

"Do you happen to know what a fugue is?" the Master now asked.

Knecht looked dubious. He had already heard fugues, but had not yet studied them in class.

"Very well," the Master said, "then I'll show you. You'll grasp it quicker if we make a fugue ourselves. Now then, the first thing we need for a fugue is a theme, and we don't have to look far for the theme. We'll take it from our song."

He played a brief phrase, a fragment of the song's melody. It sounded strange, cut out in that way, without head or tail. He played the theme once more, and this time he went on to the first entrance; the second entrance changed the interval of a fifth to a fourth; the third repeated the first an octave higher, as did the fourth with the second. The exposition concluded with a cadence in the key of the dominant. The second working-out modulated more freely to other keys; the third, tending toward the subdominant, ended with a cadence on the tonic.

The boy looked at the player's clever white fingers, saw the course of the development faintly mirrored in his concentrated expression, while his eyes remained quiet under half-closed lids. Joseph's heart swelled with veneration, with love for the Master. His ear drank in the fugue; it seemed to him that he was hearing music for the first time in his life. Behind the music being created in his presence he sensed the world of Mind, the joy-giving harmony of law and freedom, of service and rule. He surrendered himself, and vowed to serve that world and this Master. In those few minutes he saw himself and his life, saw the whole cosmos guided, ordered, and interpreted by the spirit of music. And when the playing had come to an end, he saw this magician and king for whom he felt so intense a reverence pause for a little while longer, slightly bowed over the keys, with half-closed eyes, his face softly glowing from within. Joseph did not know whether he ought to rejoice at the bliss of this moment, or weep because it was over.


Excerpted from The Glass Bead Game by Hermann Hesse, Richard Winston, Clara Winston. Copyright © 1943 Fretz & Wasmuth Verlag AG Zürich. Excerpted by permission of Picador.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Title Page,
Copyright Notice,
Foreword by Theodore Ziolkowski,
The Glass Bead Game: A General Introduction to Its History for the Layman,
The Life of Magister Ludi Joseph Knecht,
1. The Call,
2. Waldzell,
3. Years of Freedom,
4. Two Orders,
5. The Mission,
6. Magister Ludi,
7. In Office,
8. The Two Poles,
9. A Conversation,
10. Preparations,
11. The Circular Letter,
12. The Legend,
Joseph Knecht's Posthumous Writings,
The Poems of Knecht's Student Years,
The Three Lives,
1. The Rainmaker,
2. The Father Confessor,
3. The Indian Life,

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The Glass Bead Game: (Magister Ludi) A Novel 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 27 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
What many readers have failed to realize about Master Ludi(Glass Bead Game) is that it is a cunning artistic joke, yet most of the Constant Readers' appoach it with scholarly reverance and a grave nature. If you like Hesse or just heard of the Glass Bead game by chance, I thoroughly recommend reading it, But just be cogniscent of the fact that it is meant to be a parody of a biograhy.
Guest More than 1 year ago
In The Glass Bead Game Hesse continues his tradition of following a character around throughout his entire life. In Knecht's case, the life is in a less familiar location than many Hesse has described, but because of this Knecht is more recognizeable than, for instance, Goldmund or Siddhartha. Nietzsche's influence on Hesse is also more obvious here than elswhere, especially in the the idea of 'going down' at the end of the novel. Hesse also continues to state, as in 'Siddhartha' and 'Narcissus and Goldmund,' that the correct path can never be mapped, and that the only good paths are the ones we make for ourselves. Like everything else by Hesse, this is a wonderful read, and I wholeheartedly recommend it.
poetontheone on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Around the time I turned thirteen, my grandfather took me to the bookstore. Not for me to peruse and pick something to my own liking, but specifically to buy this book and have me read it. This is a novel that was very important to him. No doubt it was a major marker in his intellectual and spiritual development. He spoke often of Hesse, and particularly of The Glass Bead Game, of the Magister Ludi. At that time, I made a feeble attempt to read it, but soon lost interest. Perhaps the premise seemed boring to me, young as I was. Maybe I was intimidated by the book¿s length. One year later, I came across Siddhartha. It was there that my own love affair with Hesse began. I soon devoured Steppenwolf, and then a few years later read Demian, and then Narcissus and Goldmund only two summers ago. It is true I have taken long breaks, but each time I return I feel as though I am stepping through the door to home. I am with friends. My grandfather passed three years ago, and The Glass Bead Game has remained unread on my shelf all that time since. I felt that I have continually postponed a commitment, a sort of duty, by not reading it. Perhaps the daunting length was still a factor. Maybe the personal importance I have placed upon the work deterred me in some way, as though to encounter it was a great task or a rare privilege to be taken up with caution. Maybe so. Despite this, I am fairly sure that any sentimental value I place upon the work does not too drastically affect my opinion of it.It is Hesse's magnum opus, truly. Here again, he explores duality. The duality between the intellectual life and the worldly life. In the end, it is shown that the intellectual life, fully realized, must have as its goal some service to the greater human community. It is a clever joke then that the book is written in the form of an indulgent scholarly biography, as Joseph Knecht ultimately rejects such a life. To simply restate the overarching themes of this book does little good. It is quite unlike any other, even among Hesse's own work. I now wonder how my experience of reading the book might have changed if I first read the appended posthumous writings attributed to Knecht. They hint at the ideas that are more fully elaborated upon in the main work.Some may yawn at the prospect of being cast into some elite province of the far future (which, in turn, feels wonderfully ancient) that is cut off from everything worldly to trace the purely cerebral life of an austere and confident man. Let them not be fooled. Hesse makes us feel attachment and concern for Knecht and his companions, crafting a tale that in all its headiness and calm, never bores. Joseph Knecht learns much, and so do we. A reader might be more gratified, perhaps, with the mysticism of Siddhartha or the tale of chaotic transformation found in Steppenwolf. Though Demian or Narcissus and Goldmund might be my favorite of his, I can say without hesitation that this is the most intricate and fully realized among Hesse's major works. I didn't mark up this book as I have his others, but if it is not necessarily quotable it is memorable. It is not so much here about the structure of a phrase, but the structure of the overall narrative and the depth of characterization. It is a journey, and one I am so glad to have taken. Thanks Grandpa.
BooksForDinner on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
For my money, and there isn't a lot of it, this is Hesse's greatest achievement. Sure, the weird abrupt ending, the lack of real description of the game itself, all the things that critics of the book hoot about... it all, for me, adds to its greatness. Steppenwolf will always have my heart since it was the first Hesse novel I read, but this is my favorite.
GaryPatella on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I consider this Hesse's greatest work. It is a celebration of intellectual topics. It reveals a truth that most intellectuals begin to discover: various topics that seem unrelated still have some connection that can bring them together. It is intense, but worth reading.
didi_49 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
One of those books that, if read as an adolescent, becomes defining and will influence the cultural and spiritual development of the individual. The tenter-hook creation of a game about you always hear about, and read pages after pages, without being able, not even at the end, to know it. Such a demanding game, requiring thinking and knowledge, discipline and application. I do not know if such a book and such a world has any more appeal nowadays, where things need to come quickly and clear...
Amsa1959 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Glass Bead Game by Herman Hesse is in many ways a strange novel. It tells the story of the man who is to become The Game Master (Magister Ludi) in a future society,but you never gets to know him. The novel is more about ideas, history, philosophy, music and mathematics. It´s about how to live our lives. I found it quite boring at times, and it is a demanding novel. It´s not easy read. I, at least, had to struggle with it. Still it gave me something, it made me think and I´m very glad I finally read it after having it collecting dust so many years in my bookshelf.
jakjonsun on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Glass Bead Game is the most complex of Hesse's work. I think the mistake people make is taking the characters, plot, setting in literal terms. Ultimately, Glass Bead Game is best appreciated as metaphor -- an elaborate, detail-rich metaphor of the unconscious struggle with the world of conception and idea, and the world of actual experience. It is also revealing to look into the book's subtleties. Hesse doesn't come out directly and tell us what he's doing, he intends for us to earn it. We must remember that the book is about the famous Joseph Knecht (the perspective implies a future wholly influenced by him). The setting is an intellectual community, reaching it's zenith of thought. Castalia is presented in overwhelmingly positive terms--a harmonized utopia of art, music, and science. The focus on such an idealistic setting is often misplaced; rather, the focus should be on Joseph Knecht's famous act: rejecting, or more accurately--fulfilling the role of Castalia, and leaving the world of symbols, thoughts, and dualistic study of the external, and experiencing the world, free of the dependence of thought. This one act, seemingly has enormous consequences. We must take a step back and imagine the repercussions: a world thoroughly free of the domination of conception, both in the lives of individuals and society in general; a world which is constantly taking creative leaps of faith, and constantly becoming rather than mere witnessing or studying. Looked at in metaphorical terms, the Glass Bead Game is not a piece of literature, but rather a spiritual road map intended to influence well into the future. It is also worth noting that this is the last major work of Hesse. Is it quite easy to draw the comparison between Hesse and Knecht. The Glass Bead Game was that final leap from thought into the calm, engulfing waters of sheer being. Hesse went to the forest never to come back, but he left this special little book as a helpful guide.
HarryHaller86 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Although many people claim this book to be the best of all he wrote (it is supposed to be the book for which he was granted the Novel Prize), the truth is, and in my humble opinion, it is an overrated book.On one hand, Hesse manages to resume in this book all his career, not only as novelist, but also as a poet an painter. Almost all the different types of literature gathers in this book: there are poems, letters, dialogues, descriptions,...It's, in fact, the result of a highly developped "craftmanship" (and I say craft beacause we could think of this book as beautiful jewel).On the other, the book lacks the instropection, the emotional point of view of Demian, Sidhartta or "El lobo estepario": the main character is human, but lacks of the emotions of a normal human. It seems more a machine than a man...
debnance on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I read this in my senior year of high school for my class, Western Thought. I thought it was one of the most fascinating books I had ever read. It is a book I've thought about a lot and I've always intended to read it again.
yogipoet on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
probably the slowest going of his works, still worth the time.
eduscapes on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
After Bernie Dodge mentioned The Glass Bead Game in his presentation about gaming, I decided to read it. If I'd been assigned this book in high school, I probably would have been overwhelmed. However at his point in my life I found the book fascinating. Although it dragged a little in the middle, the ending and particularly the appendix was worth the wait. This 1946 Nobel Prize winner is one of those books that can be read at many levels. A mixture of science fiction, biography, philosophy, irony, history, humor, and more... The Glass Bead Game should be on everyone's "classics" list.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I so much enjoy rhe glory as well as the folly of the intellectual life as portrayed here. Glad to have it on my nook!
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