"...Both rings are round and that's where the comparison ends!"

Written By The Wagnerian on Wednesday, 18 May 2011 | 1:17:00 pm

This is a very interesting post - and blog if truth be known. Even someone as in the dark about Tolkien scholarship as I,  is aware of Tolkien's reply when asked about the the similarities  between his Lord Of the Rings and Wagner's Ring Cycle: "both rings are round and that's where the comparison ends".And of course, this is a possibility. After all, both works have common sources and both sources were well studied by both Tolkien and Wagner. Never-the-less, nagging doubts remain. In a series of articles,  examines similarities between both works.  Part of the first can be found below. The rest can be found by following the link.

Wagner and Tolkien Thread: Strange Ring Fellows

In his 1849 prose sketch for his Ring cycle, The Nibelungen Myth, Wagner describes Wotan's dilemma with the cursed ring after he was forced to give it to the giants as part of the ransom for the goddess Freia.

“Wotan can not erase the the injustices without committing a new one; only a free will, independent of the gods, which is willing to take all the guilt on itself and to suffer for it, can break the spell.” (Haymes, P.47).

In the libretto for Die Walkure, Wagner dramatiizes this idea in the following admonition from Wotan to his jealous wife Fricka:

"Eines höre!
Not tut ein Held,
der, ledig göttlichen Schutzes,
sich löse vom Göttergesetz.
So nur taugt er
zu wirken die Tat,
die, wie not sie den Göttern,
dem Gott doch zu wirken verwehrt."

"Listen this once! The crisis calls for a hero 
who, free from divine protection, will be released from divine law.
 So alone he will be fit to do the deed 
which, much as the gods need it, a god is nevertheless prevented from doing. (Wagner, 1876)

Throughout the cycle Wotan tries to force the creation of this hero (first with Siegmund and then his son Siegfried) but ultimately fails. The true hero is Brunnhilde who after the death of Siegfried (who fails to end the curse of Ring) puts it on and selflessly immolates herself in the bridal fire with Siegfried - thus ending the curse. Brunnhilde starts the cycle as a valykrie – a demi-goddess with god like powers. Then she disobeys Wotan her father by protecting Siegmund in battle and is banished from the order of the valkyries and turned into a human. So Brunnhilde has very much a dual nature of goddess and human. She is also fated by her father Wotan to play a great part in the final action of the legendarium as he tells Brunnhilde's mother Erda in the final act of Siegfried:

Die du mir gebarst,
weckt sich hold der Held:
wachend wirkt
dein wissendes Kind
erlösende Weltentat. -

"Brünnhilde, whom you bore me,
will awaken to the hero: on waking,
the child of your wisdom 
will do the deed that will redeem the world. " (Wagner, 1876)

In Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, it is the character of Gollum who ultimately is responsible for the destruction of the Ring in the fires of Mount Doom. He too has a dual nature, albeit different in aspect than Brunnhilde. He is also fated by Gandalf (arguably a Wotan-like character) to perform a great act

“I have not much hope that Gollum can be cured before he dies, but there is a chance of it. And he is bound up with the fate of the Ring. My heart tells me that he has some part to play yet, for good or ill, before the end; and when that comes, the pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many - yours not the least (Fellowship, p. 58)

Ultimately it is Gollum, after the hero Frodo fails in his quest to destroy the Ring, who leaps Into the fire with the ring

“But Gollum dancing like a mad thing, held aloft the ring, a finger still thrust within its circle. It shone now as if verily it was wrought of living fire. Precious! Precious! Precious! Gollum cried “My Precious! Oh My Precious And with that, even as his eyes were lifted up to gloat on his prize, he stepped too far, toppled, wavered for a moment on the brink, and then with a shriek he fell.” (Return, p. 925)

Here of course we see a major contrast in the characters of the final Ringbearers. Brunnhilde makes a conscious decision to destroy the Ring “For I shall now return this ring to you, wise sisters of the depths. The fire that burns me will also purify the evil jewel.” (Haymes, P 59) whereas Gollum slips and falls. Brunnhilde's selfless act is replaced by Tolkien's use of eucatastrophy - the sudden joyous turn - that destroys the ring. 

Continue Reading: