Customer Review

261 of 273 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hesse's Best, December 5, 2003
This review is from: The Glass Bead Game: (Magister Ludi) A Novel (Paperback)
When in my 30s, after having read several of Hesse's novels, I attempted to read The Glass Bead Game. I couldn't get past the first 50 pages. I was unprepared to accept Hesse as a humourist and satirist. Now, approaching 60 and having learned not to take life or Hesse so seriously, I thoroughly enjoyed the book and consider it Hesse's greatest. A mature Hesse, who understood life's ironies, wrote The Glass Bead Game for a mature audience, who could laugh at life's ambiguities.
The Glass Bead Game is comprised of a novel, 13 poems, and 3 short stories. I think the reader would enjoy the novel more by reading the book in reverse order, starting with the three short stories: The Rainmaker, The Father Confessor, and The Indian Life. The underlying theme of the stories is that the forfeiture of self, or self-interest, leads to redemption or an awakening.
The poems superbly unite the novel's cultural, spiritual, and mental perspectives. Hesse's best known poem "Stages" is included. Here's a four line excerpt:
"If we accept a home of our making,
Familiar habit makes for indolence.
We must prepare for parting and leave-taking
Or else remain the slaves of permanence."
The novel is set in the future and located in the sequestered province of Castalia. This is a world of academia that consists of theory, analysis, interpretation, and debate - all elements of "the game". Absent from Castalia are action, creativity, originality, and experiment.
The protaganist, Joesph Knecht is raised in this culture. He also lived at a couple of subcultures outside Castalia. At Bamboo Grove, under Elder Brother's tutelage he learned to meditate, play I-Ching, read Chuang Tzu, and learn Chinese studies. (All this self absorption without gazing at his navel; instead, he stared at the carp.) Later at a Benedictine monastery he was the guest of Father Jacobus, with whom he discussed politics, religion, philosophy, music, and history. Knecht learned everything to play "the game" and was elevated to the role of Magister Ludi. But his knowledge went unapplied beyond Castalia.
Even those within Castalia were not immune to mid-life crisis. Knecht, while in his 50s is impacted by the words in "Stages":
"Serenely let us move to distant places
And let no sentiments of home detain us.
The Cosmic Spirit seeks not to restrain us
But lifts us stage by stage to wider spaces."
Anyone who has made a break from the routine will enjoy The Glass Bead Game.
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Tracked by 2 customers

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Showing 1-8 of 8 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Sep 22, 2009 9:38:19 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Sep 22, 2009 9:39:17 AM PDT
JP says:
I'll try to read it in the order you suggest. It is not my next "To read", but I'll report back when I finish reading it.

Posted on May 9, 2011 11:28:14 AM PDT
Chloedog says:
Thanks so much for the review! I have tried to read The Glass Bead Game quite a few times over the years (I am 37) and just keep stopping. I'm going to give it a try in the order you suggested. I consider this book my nemesis at this point! :)

Posted on Oct 4, 2011 10:52:25 AM PDT
Privacy says:
I admire your persistence! Your experience with the book, of setting it down while young and picking it up again in late middle-age is very encouraging, as I set it down as a student after even fewer pages than you had read and have been seriously planning on picking it back up again after all these years. Persistence pays, as I fairly recently read Huxley's "Island", which I never got around to before the workday treadmill took over my life. I can berate myself with, "If only I had read it all those years ago.", but better to finally know and appreciate it.

Posted on Dec 4, 2011 2:47:17 AM PST
Excellent product description and interpretation--very enlightening!

Posted on Sep 24, 2012 9:54:10 AM PDT

I generally prefer literal translations. Even if the rhyme - in the case that the original is rhyming - gets lost. So, here´s a literal one of Hermann Hesse`s famous poem "Stufen" (that is rhyming in German language):


Like every blossom withers and every youth
Yields to the age, blooms every stage of life,
Blooms every wisdom, too, and every virtue
Within its time and must not last forever.
At every call of life the heart has to
Be ready for farewell and new beginning
To give itself in bravery and without mourning
Into other and new bondings.
And in every start resides a magic
Protecting us and helping us to live.

We shall serenily stride through room and room,
not cling to one of them like to a home,
The world spirit does not want to narrow and to chain us,
Stage by stage, it wants to raise and widen us.
As soon as we`re indigenous to a circle of life
And closely familiarized, so threatens slackening,
Only who is ready for departure and for journey
May rouse oneself from laming injurement.

Even also the hour of death perhaps
will send us young towards new rooms,
The call of life for us will never end...
Well then, heart, take farewell and recover!

Hermann Hesse

(translation from the German language by myself, Michael Hontheim)

What an ingenious and wonderful poem! Hesse is one of the greatest!

Greetings from Germany


In reply to an earlier post on Oct 19, 2012 10:57:23 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Oct 19, 2012 11:07:34 AM PDT
Tony Theil says:
Greetings Michael,

I like your translation very much, perhaps it is because it is similar to my own.

As every blossom withers and every young person yields to old age,
each stage of life blooms,
So too blooms wisdom and each virtue in their time
And nothing is allowed to continue forever.
The heart of each life's calling must prepare for parting and a new beginning,
Giving itself courage, without remorse in forming new bonds.
And in each beginning dwells an inner magic which protects us and helps us to live.

We should cheerfully stride from place to place, not staying as if at home.
The spirit of the world wants not to bind and enclose us,
It wants to raise us further from stage to stage.
Hardly are we familiar and so intimately accustomed with one life crisis that it threatens us to indolence.
Only those who prepare for departure and travel,
Would want to tear away from paralyzing familiarity.

Perhaps, at the hour of death it will also respond by sending fresh new spaces.

The last line is lost in translation: The life calling will never end for us...
Well then, heart, take parting and recover.

Are you familiar with Hesse's poem The Heiland? This poem is much more difficult to translate.

Thanks for your input, it is well received.


In reply to an earlier post on Jul 18, 2013 9:38:35 AM PDT
Thank you so much. Beautiful.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 2, 2014 4:06:37 AM PST
Thank you so much, Michael and Tony. Wonderfully different and similar.
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