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Author Topic: Tolkien vs. Wagner
Roll of Honor Silmahtar
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[this is intended to be a discussion of the similarities between LOTR and Der Nibelungenlied... if this is addressed elsewhere in another thread, I'll delete...]

From Letters #229:
The Ring is in a certain way 'der Nibelungen Ring'... Both rings were round, and there the resemblance ceases.
Hogwash. That's just Tolkien's misanthropic crankiness at being asked that question a gazillion times. I'm not buying it.

From a lecture given by Professor Ed Hynes at the Wagner Society in New York, January 2004:
A greedy, smaller-than-human creature finds a treasure in the depths of a river He carries it to his underground retreat where he retains it until it is stolen by a visitor from the upper world. He swears eternal hate to the thief. The treasure is, of course, a ring of great power.

The ring exerts strange influences on its owners including giving them the ability to disappear. The ring becomes the object of a fatal struggle between close friends or brothers, in fact it seems always to bring danger or death to its owners. A hero enters the fray armed with a reforged sword that had been broken. Various races of humanoid beings attempt to gain control of the ring by magic and by heroism until it is finally brought at great cost and sacrifice back to its origin where it is purified by fire.

Is this the description of Tolkien’s prose epic The Lord of the Rings or is it a description of Richard Wagner’s four-part cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen. Actually it’s both.


BTW, if anyone wants a Word doc copy of the lecture, PM me with an email address to send it to.

About Wagner's Ring Cycle:
For anyone who's interested in learning more about Wagner's Ring opera, and are either unfamiliar with the work itself, opera in general, or the entire German language, I found these excellent story synopses at good old wikipedia.org:

Part I: Das Rheingold

Part II:Die Walküre

Part III: Siegfried
(This is a disambiguation page; the correct article title is "Siegfried_(opera)", but I'm not allowed to put parentheses in UBB code...)

Part IV: Götterdämmerung

I was struck by many parallels to some story elements in Tolkien's work. Here are just a few -- aside from an all-powerful, cursed Ring, of course: A broken sword; a disenfranchised hero; an incestuous couple (Túrin and Nienel/Siegmund and Sieglinde). The Narn i Hîn Húrin comes most especially to mind. Enjoy.

From: Vinya-Tárilos | Registered: Aug 2004  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Éoric of the Riddermark
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I think Tuor's right, though I would add one thing:

As far as I know, there is only one similarity between the two rings (besides being round and gold). They both foster a profound sense of possessiveness in the hearts of those who bear them.

And while I haven't read the Ring Cycle (any version) in a few years, I don't recall the ring in that tale granting invisibility to its wearer. I'm sure Professor Hynes knows more about it than I do, but I just don't remember anything about that...

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Roll of Honor Celebrían
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Tuor, in Wagner's version, the one holding the Ring has Power/mastery of the World as opposed to the Power of Love.
Wagner's Ring could be stolen, taken by "tricksiness", or given away when demanded as ransom.
Perhaps Gna, or someone else who has read Tom Shippey, can elaborate on "des Ringes Herr als des Ringes Knecht" (the lord of the Ring is the Ring's slave).

[ 01-28-2005, 06:53 PM: Message edited by: Celebrían ]

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Just becuase a Ring is present in both ROTN and LOTR, does not necessarily there is a great similiarity between them. In Wagner's opera, the Ring is an item desired by to help change their fortunes. In LOTR the Ring is desired but for more evil purposes. That's why for those who have it, they want to get rid of it. This fantasy is unique for that purpose. It was more original to write a tale about throwing away a treasure than keeping one.

Wagner's Ring causes all sorts of trouble, especially among the Dwarves. Alberich can possibly be paralleled in the character of Gollum. He wants the Ring just as obsessively as Wagner's Dwarf. Both Rings corrupt their owners, and in both works the people who want the Rings have gall to think they can control it. Wagner's Ring does not make one invisible as does Tolkien's.

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Roll of Honor Varnafindë
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That's just Tolkien's misanthropic crankiness at being asked that question a gazillion times.
I suppose he was asked a few times whether he had used Wagner as his source for the Ring. Which he had not.
He used the same sources that Wagner did (Norse Sagas etc.), which is different. And he used them differently, as you've already given some examples of.

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Roll of Honor Miz Lobelia
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I myself have always wondered about Erde the Vala. What is the origin of "Vala"? Does it have a common root with the Valar of Arda? It seems likely that Wagner and Tolkien got Vala from a common source, but what was that source? Anyone know?
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Roll of Honor Celebrían
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Miz Lobelia, you may enjoy checking out the Sacred Texts: Legends and Sagas, site here

[ 03-25-2005, 11:15 PM: Message edited by: Celebrían ]

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Those in the United Kingdom who want to see a new production of the Ring may like to tune to BBC 2 tonight where they are showing The Rhinegold. The Valkyrie is tomorrow night.
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Roll of Honor Sauron's Secret Agent
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Thank you Roccondil - I hadn't seen that. Wagner's Ring is one of the most amazing things I ever saw/heard.

Am I dating myself too badly when I admit to seeing Reginald Goodall's "English" Ring live? Well, I was very young - and who cared about going home on the "milk train" at that age? []

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Roll of Honor Miz Lobelia
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Friday I received my tickets to Seattle Opera's Ring in August. Can't wait! I always take the week off from work so that I can sleep in the mornings after the three long ones. Garden all day, go to operas at night. Now that's the life!

No Tolkien buffs with an origin for Vala?

Thanks for the link, Celebrian. I am sure I will find plenty of interesting reading there.

[ 03-27-2005, 10:26 PM: Message edited by: Miz Lobelia ]

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One and a half week ago, I was in Germany, in Bonn. We stayed in a hotel in Königswinter. Behind the hotel, there was a rock called the Drachenfels, or Dragonrock. We climbed it, and half way, we saw the socalled Nibelungenhalle:


And on the side of the small square in front of it, there was a plaque of Wagner:


"For I am a Bear of Very Little Brain, and long words Bother me."

John 3:16-21

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What beatiful pictures... []

..The Lord is my Shepherd.....
...Our Father who art in Heaven....
...Hail Mary full of grace.....
....Glory be to the Father......
..I belive in God the Father al...
..Hail Holy Queen Mother of.......

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Gollum Gollum
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I hardly know where to start, Tolkien being one of my favourite writers, Wagner being my favourite composer…

Many claim that the famous “Both Rings were round and there the resemblance ceases” statement is entirely false, since many similarities exist between the two Rings. Rather than “false”, I’d rather call it “inapt”. I think that what Tolkien meant was that he was never influenced by Wagner’s Ring – which is also doubtful at some points, but certainly truer than the “resemblance ceases” version.

Below I list as many similarities as I can find between Der Ring des Nibelungen and Tolkien’s works:

1) A magical ring that bestows power upon the bearer, but also brings death and/or moral decay, sometimes even on those who don’t possess it.
W: Alberich forges a ring from the Rhinegold to achieve world domination. Robbed of it, he curses it (on Des Ringes Herr als des Ringes Knecht I’ll elaborate further on). Many desire the ring (Mime, Fasolt, Fafner, Wotan, Hagen, Gunther), as it is foretold in the curse, and at the end of Götterdämmerung there is not a single character left alive, apart from the three Rhinemaidens, to whom the Rhinegold rightfully belongs. All the deaths are caused (more or less directly) by the evil power of the ring.
T: Sauron forges the One Ring to achieve domiantion over Middle-earth. The Ring corrupts all its bearers, as well as other people (Boromir, Denethor, Saruman) and causes the death of most of them. Unlike Alberich’s ring, however, it has its own will and tries to return to the hand of Sauron.

2) Talisman of invisibility connected with the ring.
W: Éoric is right, Wagner’s ring itself gives no invisibility. However, it comes with the Tarnhelm, which gives the wearer any shape he wishes or makes him invisible.
T: The only two non-disappearing Ringwearers are Sauron and Bombadil. I wonder if the Ring grants invisibility only to those less powerful than it is… What would happen to Gandalf or Saruman?

3) The ring passes from hands to hands by theft or robbery.
W: Wotan robs the ring from Alberich. Fafner kills his brother Fasolt to obtain it. Siegfried slays Fafner and takes it, later forces Brünnhilde to give it up. Hagen tries to take it from the dead Siegfried, but fails.
T: Isildur cuts off Sauron’s finger, Sméagol murders Déagol for it, Bilbo cheats Gollum to keep it, Gollum bites off Frodo’s finger.

4) Two relatives quarell over the ring, one kills the other
W: Fasolt claims the ring, but his brother Fafner kills him to obtain it
T: Déagol finds the Ring in Anduin, but is murdered by Sméagol

5) The ring betrays its bearer.
W: It betrays Alberich by allowing Wotan and Loge to rob him; Fasolt, Fafner and Siegfried by getting them slain; Brünnhilde when she tries to use its power against Gunther (Siegfried in disguise really).
T: It betrays Isildur by slipping from his finger; Gollum by getting lost in the tunnels.

6) The ring must be returned to the element from which it came.
W: waters of the Rhine
T: Mount Doom

7) Someone gives the ring away of his own will, another one does it when encouraged by someone else.
W: Siegfried; Wotan
T: Sam Gamgee; Bilbo

8) A ringbearer hides in a cave for a long time and hardly uses it.
W: Fafner takes the shape of a dragon and guards the gold
T: Gollum occasionally uses the Ring to hunt orcs.

9) An evil character grasps (or tries to grasp) the ring just before its destruction.
W: Hagen (fails)
T: Gollum (succeeds, but falls into the fire with it)

10) Corrupted power is overthrown after the Ring’s destruction.
W: Valhalla and the gods burn
T: Sauron is destroyed along with the Ring

11) The wish for a longer life/eternal youth
W: The gods and the giants need/want Freia, who tends the apples of eternal youth
T: Many mortals, for example the Nine

12) A symbolical tree dies.
W: the World Ash starts to die after Wotan has broken off a branch to fashion his spear
T: The Two Trees die after Ungoliant sucks life from them. The White Tree of Gondor dies after the line of kings is broken. The tree-herds will slowly wither, for the Entwives are gone.

13) The world is born from music, history from disharmony.
W: The Ring cycle grows out of a long held E-flat, later developing nto the Rhine motif. The light and untroubled atmosphere changes when Alberich appers. His theft of the gold destroys the initial harmony, which is reachieved after the ring is unmade.
T: The world is created from the music of the Ainur. Melkor spoils it and thus history begins.

14) The (Light-)Elves are gone, leaving the world to men.
W: The gods (called also ‘Licht-Alben’, Light-Elves) burn with Valhalla, mankind remains to create a better world.
T: Gandlaf and most of the Elves leave Middle-earth, the Fouth Age will be the age of men

15) Dwarves are greedy and evil, they forge precious objects
W: Alberich forges the Ring, Mime forges the Tarnhelm
T: The dwarves were supposed to be evil in Lost Tales, later the idea was abandoned. They forged, for example, Bilbo’s mithril shirt and the Nauglamir.

16) An immortal woman becomes mortal.
W: Brünnhilde, for whom mortality is a punishment
T: Lúthien and Arwen, who voluntarily give up their immortality

17) A dragon guarding a treasure is slain by a hero
W: Fafner, who has taken the shape of a dragon and guards the gold, is slain by Siegfried
T: Glaurung, guarding the treaures from Nargothrond, slain by Túrin; Smaug slain by Bard

18) The dragonslayer receives information from a bird.
W: Siegfried from der Waldvogel (the Forest Bird)
T: Bard from the thrush

19) A spirit of nature singing nonsense songs isn’t/wouldn’t be a trustworthy guardian of the gold/the One Ring.
W: The Rhinemaidens sing ‘Wagalaweia wallala weilaweia’, later they carelessly tell Alberich of Rhinegold’s secret ( Nur wer der Minne Macht versagt, nur wer der Liebe Lust verjagt, nur der erzielt sich den Zauber, zum Reif zu zwingen das Gold. - Only he who forswears love's power, only he who forfeits love's delight, only he can attain the magic to fashion the gold into a ring.), thus permitting him to steal it
T: Tom Bombadil sings ‘Hey dol! merry dol! ring a dong dillo!’; at the Council of Elrond Gandalf says: ‘And if he were given the Ring, he would soon forget it, or most likely throw it away.’

20) A bearded cloaked figure walking around, in fact being a god.
W: the Wanderer (Wotan)
T: Gandalf, Saruman (Maiar)

21) A sexual relationship between siblings.
W: Siegmund takes his twin-sister Sieglinde for his bride (though they know they are siblings), their son is Siegfried
T: Túrin marries Nienor, they both commit suicide when they discover they are siblings, their unborn child dies with Nienor

22) A shieldmaiden changes her lifestyle and gets married.
W: Brünnhilde
T: Éowyn

23) Two characters play a riddle game, the one who loses will die
W: the Wanderer and Mime
T: Gollum and Bilbo (Gollum is supposed to let Bilbo out, not to die)

24) A fight between a dog and a wolf
W: symbolical: Siegmund, called Wolfcub, fights Hunding (meaning: ‘son of a dog’)
T: literal: Huan’s fights

25) A young man loses family and wanders alone, fighting many enemies. Later he finds love, but also a new, worse enemy.
W: Siegmund
T: Beren, Túrin

26) A mighty sword being broken by a powerful enemy, later reforged for its owner’s heir.
W: Notung, Siegmun’s sword, is broken by Wotan. Later Siegfried, Siegmund’s son, reforges it for himself.
T: Narsil broken during a combat between Elendil and Sauron. It it later reforged for Aragorn and given the name Andúril.

27) Self-immolation on a pyre
W: Brünnhilde
T: Denethor

28) A dwarf named Mime or Mîm, who helps the main hero (Siegfried/Túrin), but eventually betrays him.

And now:
Der Ring des Nibelungen: Des Ringes Herr als des Ringes Knecht

Alberich’s curse [when Wotan robbed the ring from him]:
Bin ich nun frei? Wirklich frei? So grüss' euch denn meiner Freiheit erster Gruss! Wie durch Fluch er mir geriet, verflucht sei dieser Ring! Gab sein Gold mir Macht ohne Mass, nun zeug' sein Zauber Tod dem, der ihn trägt! Kein Froher soll seiner sich freun, keinem Glücklichen lache sein lichter Glanz! Wer ihn besitzt, den sehre die Sorge, und wer ihn nicht hat, den nage der Neid! Jeder giere nach seinem Gut, doch keiner geniesse mit Nutzen sein! Ohne Wucher hüt' ihn sein Herr; doch den Würger zieh' er ihm zu! Dem Tode verfallen, fessle den Feigen die Furcht: solang er lebt, sterb' er lechzend dahin, des Ringes Herr als des Ringes Knecht: bis in meiner Hand den geraubten wieder ich halte! So segnet in höchster Not der Nibelung seinen Ring! Behalt' ihn nun, hüte ihn wohl: meinem Fluch fliehest du nicht!

Am I free now? Truly free? Then thus I give you my freedom's first greeting! Since by curse it came to me, accursed be this ring! Since its gold gave me measureless might, now may its magic bring death to whoever wears it! It shall gladden no happy man; its bright gleam shall light on no one lucky! Whoever possesses it shall be consumed with care, and whoever has it not be gnawed with envy! Each shall itch to possess it, but none in it shall find pleasure! Its owner shall guard it profitlessly, for through it he shall meet his executioner! Forfeit to death, faint with fear shall he be fettered; the length of his life he shall long to die, the ring's master to the ring a slave , until again I hold in my hands what was stolen! Thus, in direst distress, the Nibelung blesses his ring! Keep it now, guard it well; my curse you cannot escape!

As someone already mentioned, the main thought of DRdN is the power of the ring opposed to the power of love. To forge the ring from the Rhinegold, one has to give up love. Alberich does so, forges the ring and enslaves the Nibelungs. When Wotan robs him of the it, he curses it. And the curse works: all those who wear the ring sooner or later get killed. There are many who try to obtain it – Wotan, Mime, Hagen, Gunther – to win world domination.
The only person who gives up the ring of his own free will is Siegfried. He has won it after slaying Fafner, but knows nothing about its power and is therefore free of the curse. He later gives it to Brünnhilde as a token of love (the anti-love ring becomes a token of love!). Siegfried is portaryed as the only free being in the whole cycle and there are no powers over him – he even brakes Wotan’s spear, ending the god’s power.
Another odd character would be Hagen, the very opposite of Siegfried. He is Alberich’s son and seems to be ‘des Ringes Knecht’ without possessing it. He’s plotting all the time to obtain the ring, but with no success. He advises his half-sister Gutrune to give Siegfried a magic potion which would make him forget Brünnhilde, to whom he swore eternal vows. Siegfried marries Gutrune and swears a false oath denying Brünnhilde’s accusation of treason. The drinking of the potion ends the hero’s innocence – and freedom. Now the curse affects him too and two days later he gets killed by Hagen, on whose spear he has sworn his false oath.
It is doubtful whether Siegfried can be also called ‘Knecht’. Though he gets killed because of the ring, it doesn’t affect him in any other way…
However, the true “free hero” (whom Siegfried is supposed to be) turns out to be Brünnhilde, who returns the ring to the Rhine. The harmony of nature is reestablished. Valhalla burns and mankind is left to create a new world.

[ 08-10-2014, 10:17 PM: Message edited by: Gollum Gollum ]

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