Joseph Knecht grows from an unassuming child to the leader of an esoteric order that exists to demonstrate the true nature of reality to the world. At some time in, centuries in a future, a young boy named Joseph Knecht is recruited to study within the austere order of the Castalians. All members of the order are boys and are brought in as young children. The boys study a diversity of intellectual, philosophical, and artistic topics in the hope that they would one day master the glass bead game, a mysterious practice by which the players may demonstrate to the world a kind of transcendent truth at a traditional ceremony broadcast to all corners of the globe. As a little boy, Knecht is placed under the tutelage of the Music Master, an older man who mentors the boy and has a more profound impact on him than any other person in his life. The child masters several instruments and strikes up a friendship with Disignori, another boy his age who is cynical from the start of Castalia's position in the world. He thinks it to be an impotent, isolated body existing only for its own proud satisfaction.
Joseph excels in his studies and quickly progresses at Castalia. Soon he is sent on unusual expeditions outside of the order. He is sent to stay for months with Older Brother, a secluded man living in the manner of the ancient Chinese, in his bamboo grove. There he learns Chinese and masters mystical practices like casting of runes. Later he is sent to live with a priest who is a high figure in the Catholic Church, in an attempt to bridge the gap between the Church and the Order. Both of these men make deep impressions upon Joseph's character.
After all, Knecht is elected Magister Ludi, the master player of the Glass Bead Game. He performs his duties perfectly and demonstrates a sublime execution of the Game, but he begins to doubt his role, isolated from the real world. One day, he resigns his post and leaves Castalia, taking up with his old friend Disignori, now grown with children. He tutors the man's son and goes out with him on a hike. The story ends suddenly when Joseph drowns swimming with the child.
Best part of story, including ending:
I think Hesse's understanding of the true goal of art, science, spirituality, etc is about as good as it gets. That said, the book is crazy long and very often boring. Still worth it I think.
Best scene in story:
The final scene where Joseph drowns was a mystery to me for months, but I think the point is that even drowning, he died a free man. He experienced a kind of enlightenment, and even though he died almost immediately after, his died a whole man.
Opinion about the main character:
Knecht just sort of knows what's up. He's a good imagining of the future mystic: the educated man whose spirituality and science have become one.