Tolkien views on Wagner

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Postby Ither » Sat Mar 08, 2003 10:23 pm

Hi there,<BR><BR>As a fan of R. Wagner's works (actually, The Ring Cycle was my first contact with the kind of mythological creativity so typical of Tolkien's works), one thing that always intrigued me, was the possible relationship between the two "ring tales".<BR><BR>There is any <i>actual</i> evidence of such a linkage between the two? If not, there is any account of Tolkien's opinions of Wagner's music and interpretations of myth, specially those present in <i>Der Ring des Nibelungen</i>? Knowing that one of the professor's most loved subjects was nordic tradition and myth, and Wagner's monumental opera drawing upon that very same subject, I find hard to believe that Tolkien never commented on the matter.
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Postby Almatolmen » Sun Mar 09, 2003 2:30 pm

I canot site sources (although I expect that the following is based on recollection of material I read in the <i>Biography</i> and the <i>Letters</i>.<BR><BR>As a youngish man, JRRT was very fond of the Ring cycle. He attended many performances and admired the music greatly. But as time went along, he became more and more perturbed by the way Wagner <u>shaped</u> the material he adapted from Germanic mythology. He became increasingly dismissive and, in the end, hostile to it. However, I seem to recall that he attended a performance of some part of the cycle as late as sometime shortly after WW II.<BR><BR>But what is most important to emphasize, is that Wagner was <b>never</b> a source for JRRT's writing. Aside from any issues he may have had with Wagner's handling of the material, it is unlikely that he would have been inclined to use a 'late source' like an opera book as an inspiration. For him, ever the scholar and philologist, only the original manuscript sources would have been acceptable .<BR><BR>"Tolkien did not like Wagner and his interpretations of the German myths. 'He delighted his friends with recitations from <i>Beowulf, the Pearl</i>, and <i>Sir Gawain and the Green Knight</i>, and recounted horrific episodes from the Norse <i>Volsungasaga</i>, with a passing jibe at Wagner whose interpretation of the myths he held in contempt' [193] and "The comparison of his Ring with the <i>Nibelungenlied</i> and Wagner always annoyed Tolkien; he once said 'Both rings were round and there the resemblance ceased.' [194]"<BR><BR>"In terms of creative background, both Rings have a common ancestry and, as ingredients of a mythological setting, have certain symbolic similarities. But it is quite clear that Tolkien's work owes nothing to <i>Der Ring des Nibelungen</i>, and it is impossible to draw comparisons between the two works. The few similarities that there are, operate as faint and disparate echoes of one another, coming from a distant and common source."
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Postby Ither » Fri Mar 21, 2003 11:52 pm

Thanks Almatolmen, that's exactly the info I was looking for. Interesting how the same myths serve as background for two completely different works, be it in form, themes or author's intention.
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Postby Tunär » Mon Apr 21, 2003 1:24 am

cool<BR><BR> Nice info Almatolmen <img src="http://www.tolkienonline.com/mb/i/expressions/face-icon-small-smile.gif"border=0> <img src="http://www.tolkienonline.com/mb/i/expressions/face-icon-small-smile.gif"border=0> <img src="http://www.tolkienonline.com/mb/i/expressions/face-icon-small-smile.gif"border=0>
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Postby Eli_Cash » Tue May 20, 2003 9:45 pm

I thought I read somewhere that TOlkien admitted that Gollum was inspired by Wagner's Alberecht, or Andvari in the norse original.
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Postby Utulien » Tue Jun 17, 2003 6:14 pm

Ither, there is an excellent book (cannot remember the author's name) called Tolkien's Ring that is filled with a plethora of information concerning the subject you are asking about. It is very interesting and very well worth the money spent.
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Postby TheWagner » Tue Jun 17, 2003 10:22 pm

Oh, <i>that</i> Wagner.... <BR><BR>Nevermind then.
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Postby jallan » Fri Jun 20, 2003 10:04 am

From letter 229 Tolkien cites some commentary by his Swedish translator Åke Ohlmarks and responds:<BR><BR><<<BR><i>The Ring is in a certain way 'der Nibelungen Ring'....</i><BR>Both rings were round, and there the resemblance ceases.<BR><i>.... which was originally forged by Volund the master-smith, and then by way of Vittka-Andvare passed through the hands of the mighty asar [Æsir] into the possession of Hreidmar and the dragon, after the dragon's fall coming to Sigurd the dragonslayer, after his murder by treacherous conspirators coming to the Burgundians, after their death in Atle's snake-pit coming to the Huns, then to the sons of Jonaker, to the Gothic tyrant Ermanrik, etc.</i><BR>Thank heaven for the <i>etc.</i> I began to fear that it would turn up in my pocket. Evidently Dr. 0 thinks that it is in his. But what is the point of all this? Those who know something about the Old Norse side of the 'Nibelung' traditions (mainly referred to since the name-forms used are Norse) will think this a farrago of nonsense; those who do not, will hardly be interested. But perhaps they are also meant to conclude that Dr. O also has <i>masterskap</i>. It has nothing whatsoever to do with <i>The Lord of the Rings</i>. As for Wayland Smith being a Pan-type, or being reflected both in Bombadil and in Gollum: this is sufficient example of the silly methods and nonsensical conclusions of Dr. O. He is welcome to the rubbish, but I do not see that he, as a translator, has any right to unload it here.<BR>>><BR><BR>I think Tolkien exaggerates the differences here. For one thing, both rings were gold.<BR><BR>Also, drop the Nibelungen part and look at the parallel cursed ring of Andvari in Norse legend still more emerge. There are more yet if you look at Wagner's use and development of both German and Norse traditions in his ring.<BR><BR>I think Tolkien, understandably annoyed by Ohlmark's silly inventions and inaccuracte scholarship, may have overreacted (and may not have been here thinking of Wagner's treatment of these traditions which Olhmarks does not mention).<BR><BR>Certainly in the <i>Nibelunglenlied</i> the ring is just as gold ring which Siegfried takes from Bunhilde and then gives to his own wife Kriemhild. It's only importance in the story is that this enables Kriemhild to prove to Brunhild that it was Siegfried that subdued her, not Gunther.<BR><BR>Norse writers added, it seems, a curse story to the ring and also the idea of a wand in the dragon Fafnir's hoard which could give world domination.<BR><BR>Wagner combined ring and wand.<BR><BR>Tolkien may have taken this further, perhaps unconsciously. But Tolkien's story is an entirely different kind of working out of the such motifs as are common to both Tolkien and Wagner.
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Postby Almatolmen » Mon Dec 22, 2003 10:23 am

Here is a different view of this matter by a critic who likes Wagner's <i>Ring</i> in the sense that he not only enjoys the music but defends it from the common charge of anti-Semitic inclinations. He also believes that JRRT owed more to Wagner's work than I've seen alleged elsewhere.<BR><BR>The critic moves from the <i>Ring</i> to LotR in his interest rather that the other way around.<BR><BR>I still diagree with his hypothesis that JRRT owed much directly to Wagner, but think it is a valid opinion not without some evidence in its favor:<BR><BR><a href='http://www.newyorker.com/critics/atlarge/?031222crat_atlarge' target=_blank>http://www.newyorker.com/critics/atlarge/?031222crat_atlarge</a>
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Postby ravynhyght » Tue Dec 30, 2003 12:02 pm

Historical circumstances changed the politics of Tolkien's art. <BR><BR> First, Wagnerians had been in the field for 75 years, not only as musical but as cultural critics. They would regard anyone clearly using Norse mythos for inspiration as a clear beneficiary if not de facto poacher on grounds cleared by Wagner & his disciples. That is, they were in the position of Tolkienists looking at the success of a fantasy work which echoed Tolkien while the author repudiated any influence. A lot of them probably dismissed LOTR as cheap literature, but the serious ones would have to doubt Tolkien's good faith. That Tolkien's actual culture was fairly narrow was something that would not have been widely known at the time. <BR><BR> Second, to confess indebtedness to Wagner in the mid-1950s would've been like saying "I read <i> Mein Kampf </i> with profit, tho' I disagreed with its author's conclusions." Wagner will never been able to efface the charge that he was what the nazis claimed he was, a precursor-prophet for the blood-occult ideology, but when LOTR was published, the Wagners had been working round the clock to rid Bayreuth of any nationalist-racist imagery. <BR><BR> Third, the opera as production that Tolkien would've been familiar with was far from the kind available to audiences after WWII, not only after the changes in staging, but after the changes in Wagnerian perspectives following the Mahler revival. The contemporary Wagner fan is much closer to the music than most audiences would've been in England in the first decades of the 20th century. Our vantage point offers us a Tolkien influenced by Wagner and a Tolkien who is also kin to Mahler, whose works he was almost certainly ignorant of.<BR><BR>
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Postby Oeln_ofOrodruin » Fri Jan 02, 2004 6:10 pm

Of course, if one were interested in further info on common origins/inspiration, I'd go look up the thirteenth-century Icelandic Völsungasaga, and the German Nibelungenlied. <BR><BR><A TARGET="_blank" HREF="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nibelungenlied">http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nibelungenlied</A>
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