0009 | The Glass Bead Game – Herman Hesse


I was lent this by a colleague at work and laboured at it for a few weeks.

Boy this was tough. Don’t get me wrong. Despite Hesse’s love for the esoteric, it wasn’t that this book was difficult in any way. It was just so so devoid of anything remotely interesting in and of itself. When a book’s best parts are the appendices, you know that you’re in for a long hard slog.

Hesse strikes on a good idea: create a character and create his world. Weave this together against the backdrop of biography and you have a clever literary device. What Hesse fails to add to this promising foundation is a character of any real depth or a life of any real interest. And this isn’t because he skimps on detail. Far from it. We are treated to so much it makes the original stated intent of reconstructing events from the fictitious “scant biographical material” an obvious lie. It’s quite obvious that the writer is simply writing about his character. It’s almost like Hesse forgot details of the character were supposed to be scant. He includes thoughts, feelings, emotions and far too much to make it credible in the end.

The best part of the book is the last 100 pages where the writings of Jospeh Knecht are collected. Here, Hesse is on his safest ground, the short story. In a style reminiscent of Siddhartha, Hesse crafts three valuable stories. The last one is masterful. I wish I’d just read them and not bothered with the rest. And this is a shame because Hesse had some deep ideas which he was intending to communicate here. They just got buried under the writing somewhere instead of carried by it.

It is our intention to preserve in these pages what scant biographical material we have been able to collect converning Joseph Knecht, or Ludi Magister Josephus III, as he is called in the Archives of the Glass Bead Game.

feuilleton: a kind of supplement attached to the political portion of French newspapers. the installment of a serial story printed in one part of a newspaper.
didactic: literature or other types of art that are instructional or informative.
laconic: involving the use of a minimum of words
braggadocio: vain and empty boasting
entelechy: the state of something that is fully realized; actuality as opposed to potentiality
matutinal: pertaining to or occurring in the morning
arrant: without qualification, complete ~
vade mecum: a portable book, handbook
prolixity: boring verbosity
lares: Roman deities protecting the house and the family
penates: originally patron gods (really geniuses) of the storeroom, later becoming household gods guarding the entire household.
sardonic: Scornfully or cynically mocking
bellicose: inclined to quarrel, fight, or go to war
solipsistic: a belief that nothing exists except the self
bast: Woody fibers used for weaving such as flax, hemp, or jute.
eremites: Christian recluse

world history is nothing but an endless, dreary account of the rape of the weak by the strong

He never again left the forest.

terrible > poor > mediocre > okay > good > very good > excellent > superb

2007 – Feb

Similar Posts


  1. I liked The Glass bead game. Of course, it’s not as nice as Narziss&Goldmund, Steppenwolf or Siddhartha. But it’s ok for what it’s meant to be: an allegory to the decay of Europe. There are some things that I couldn’t understand, especially the references to the philosophy of history, but maybe this could change after I read Hegel. Referring to what you should read next, try Kundera’s “Book of laughter and forgetting” , or anything by Kundera. I just finished “The unbearable lightness of being” and it was great. Maybe I love Kundera just because what happened in the Czeck republic during communism happened in Romania as well.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.