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Literature / The Glass Bead Game

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The Glass Bead Game is a novel by German author Hermann Hesse, winning him the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1946. It concerns an orphan, Joseph Knecht, who rises through the ranks of the "Pedagogical Province" of Castalia, to become the Magister Ludi, the master of the aforementioned game.

The Glass Bead Game contains instances of:

  • All Work vs. All Play: The conflict between an active life and a life devoted to abstract intellectual pursuits is one of the central themes of the novel.
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  • Artifact Title: The title game is an in-universe example of this trope. An early version of this game used a complex bead frame as the notational instrument, so this name stuck, even after the bead frame was replaced by a more practical handwritten notation.
  • Calvinball: The title game. The novel only gives small bits and pieces of information about what the game involves, and nothing about how to actually play it. The rules are described as being so numerous and complicated that it would be impossible to even write a textbook about it, and that nobody who has mastered it could ever possibly want to make it any simpler.
  • Hermit Guru: Several examples.
    • The Christian hermits Father Josephus and Father Dion in one of the stories written by the protagonist.
    • The old yoga guru sought out by the Music Master during a particularly bad time in his youth. The old man helps the Music Master by making him realize he's neglected his meditation exercises.
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    • Elder Brother, the recluse the protagonist visits and stays with for several months to learn the I Ching.
    • The most stereotypical example is the ancient Hindu hermit encountered by Prince Dasa in another of the stories written by the protagonist.
  • Leave Behind a Pistol: Bertram leaves for an extended mountain walk when the Magister he serves dies and it becomes clear he does not have the support of the elites. His subsequent fall off a cliff is heavily implied to be either an outright execution or a suggested suicide.
  • Messianic Archetype: As a "novel of ideas" with some heavily Buddhist overtones, this book has a character with this feel (the protagonist).
  • Renaissance Man: The Players need to have expert level understanding of literally every branch of human knowledge, as well as a fertile imagination and great improvisational skills.
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  • Serious Business: The title game. What it actually IS isn't clear, but the vagueness just ads to its mystery.
  • Take Our Word for It: Describing the game could never do justice to it, so how it works is left mostly vague.
  • Unreliable Narrator: It's unintentional, but for many readers, especially Westerners, the overly-idealized portrayal of some of the characters suggests that the narrator is blinded by his environment.


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