Review. Richard Wagner: The Lighter Side - Terry Quinn

Written By The Wagnerian on Friday, 22 November 2013 | 7:56:00 pm

Where would we be without 7000 page, 6 volume, explorations of whether, by completing volume 6 of Wagner's prose works (Religion and Art) on Christmas Day 1897, William Ashton Ellis was indicating, for those that understood,  that according to the secret rites of the 33rd degree of Freemasonry, Wagner was the new Messiah - and hence why Aleister Crowley ("The name is Crowley, it rhymes with Holy. It isn't Crowley, that rhymes with foully") included Wagner among the Gnostic Saints of his Gnostic Mass?  Or, what about that twelve volume set explaining the true meaning of Zum Raum wird hier die Zeit, linking it to the future novels of Barbara Cartland? Or, far, far more common,  works written by authors clearly trying to out Wagner, Wagner in the turgid prose/complete incomprehensibility department?   Well, personally I wouldn't be without them. This maybe due to some unconscious, masochistic tendencies,  it has to be admitted, but I shall leave such analysis to those many authors who interpret Wagner's work, from a Freudian/Jungian perspective ( I am still waiting for someone to interpret Wagner's work based on the work of B. F.Skinner upon his pigeons. Although, one should be careful what one wishes for in Wagner research). However, just occasionally one does feel that something a little "lighter" wouldn't go amiss. Something detailed perhaps, snappily but well written. Something one could just dip into when the occasion called, but actually contains the more than odd bit of information that even a Wagner" obsessive", such as I, might find for the first time. Oh! And well illustrated, that would be nice also.

And so we turn to Terry Quinn's Richard Wagner: The Lighter Side. Oddly, and despite what I have said above, and  even, having heard good things of Quinn among Wagner "circles" (the good kind of Wagner "Circle", not the kind that once existed at Bayreuth that even Wagner ran away from straight to Venice) I was not waiting on this book with any enthusiasm. Books based on trying to make Wagner "accessible" (which its title suggests it might) are rarely ever successful. Often condescending and almost always with forced "witt". However, Quinn's book is none of this things and instead, while accessible to the Wagner "neophyte", is aimed far more at anyone with a love and some knowledge of  Wagner or his work. Basically, a series of anecdotes and more detailed explorations of Wagner, his work, Wagnerians, anti-Wagnerians, artists and more, it is simply a "fun" read and as far as I  am aware, the first of its kind. The sample pages scattered around this review can probably provide a better idea of what to expect than any description. . 

I don't believe it is the sort of book that one would read from cover to cover - although one could. Instead, it works much better as a book that one dips into for a refreshing change from the heavier tombs already discussed

Is it perfect? Well, it lacks an  index, which is a sad omission and would have proven invaluable. Despite its style, it contains much information of more than simple entertainment value - and some very interesting photos and historical illustrations. As with what seems every book I have read about Wagner over the past few years,  it contains the odd typo. Dates seem to be a struggle on one or two occasions, leaving the less familiar confused one suspects. And like any book made up of, even detailed, "factoids" it occasionally suffers from, slight repetition. But in general this does not mar the book greatly and neither are these "sins" heavily repeated.

Overall, a fun and interesting book - not without depth. Clearly written by someone with a deep passion for Wagner, aided by a wide knowledge of his world - then and now. Highly recommended. 

That twelve volume set linking Parsifal to Barbara Cartland? If its published buy it too, but for sheer fun and entertainment buy Quinn's book. Or if you have any sense, and should it be something of which you partake, put it on your Christmas present list. Its the perfect book to read while everyone else is listening to the Queens Speech and later watching the newest Disney animated feature on TV.