The Glass Bead Game by Herman Hesse

Alternate title: Magister Ludi

Published: 1943 in German; I read the 1969 English translation

Genre: science fictionish

Length: 558

Setting: Germany, some indefinite time in the future

Interest: It was recommended somewhere, with some other classic science fiction. I keep trying some of the older stuff so I thought I’d read this book as well.

Summary: Joseph Knecht is seen as the father of the Glass Bead Game that encompasses every aspect of human history and creativity. He lived in a time when the Glass Bead Game was more limited in scope. We follow his life from the time he was in grade school. While there, he was singled out to go to an elite school and train to be part of the Castalia (an intellectual group similar to a Catholic monastery, but without the religious aspect). Once there, he’s singled out again and becomes a liaison with the Catholic Church. Finally, he’s appointed Magistar of the Glass Bead game. He’s dissatisfied with his position and that of the Castalia as so separate from the world. So, he breaks tradition and resigns his office. The book concludes with some of his writing while he was a student, poetry and three “life” stories.

Final thoughts: The set-up of the book was interesting because it was written as a biography of a very important person (with an introduction setting up his importance) who’s completely fiction. Even the reason for his importance (his influence on the Glass Bead game) was completely fiction. All that makes it science fiction is the fact that it’s set in the future. There’s no technological advances, and if you were dumped into the society, you’d recognize everything, beyond the infatuation with the Glass Bead game. I saw some comparisons to Brave New World or 1984, but I don’t get that feeling of oppression from The Glass Bead Game that I remember from those other books. I did find it interesting that this major order of intellectuals made nothing new. They just researched the old things and played the Glass Bead game. I’m not sure I would want to live in a world where there were no new pieces of art being created.

It is a very dense book. I had to make sure I had a block of uninterrupted time in which to read or I made no progress. Definitely not something you can dip in and out of while you’re waiting in line. It’s also quite devoid of female characters. In fact, up until we get to Knecht’s life stories, there’s only a single female character I can think of in the whole book.

I was very annoyed with the end of the book. I kept waiting for his big change to the game. He resigns his position in the Castalia and it looks like he’s all set to some something new, and he dies! Not appreciated.

Title comes from: The Glass Bead game was the heart of the story. That being said, I don’t understand it at all beyond there’s all kind of notations and you can include pretty much all of humankind’s doings in the game.

Reading challenges fulfilled: 15/100 in my Finally to 100 Challenge, and nothing else. All that work to read the book, and it doesn’t even count in my Alphabet Challenge.

If you’re interested in purchasing the book, you can click on the cover image to follow an Amazon affiliate link to the book and thanks for supporting my blog!


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