Outstanding essay on Richard Wagner

One of the first posts I made at Occam’s Razor was about J.R.R. Tolkien’s indebtedness to German Romanaticism, so I was very pleased when I started reading Collin Cleary’s series on Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen.  It’s a five part series and, as of tonight, he’s put up the first three installments, which I’ve anxiously been reading in bed every night on my Blackberry:

Wagner’s Place in the Germanic Tradition: Part 1: The Origins of Der Ring des Nibelungen

Wagner’s Place in the Germanic Tradition: Part 2: The Story of Der Ring des Nibelungen

Wagner’s Place in the Germanic Tradition: Part 3: Wagner’s Use of Source Materials for the Ring

This is some really good stuff.  Collin Cleary presents one of the most lucid and probing accounts of the Ring cycle I’ve ever read.

My only one minor quibble with the series, so far, is that he makes too much fuss about the “German” sources vs the “Scandinavian” sources.  If one but takes a step back, they’re all Germanic in the broad sense — closely related tribes going back to the Völkerwanderung.

That said, I cannot wait to read the next two installments.  You should set aside some time to read this series.  If you know nothing of the Ring cycle, this will serve as an accessible introduction.

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Tolkien, HBD and German Romanticism

On an email list, there has been much discussion about J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings.  There are many theories about Tolkien’s motivation in writing his fictional works but many of them seem to miss the obvious.  From list:

“There has been a tendency since WWII to divorce Tolkien’s writings from their Germanic context. Some people have even gone so far to suggest that Lord of the Rings is an anti-German WWII analogy. Upon closer inspection, however, this claim is ridiculous. While Fellowship of the Ring was published in 1954 (and Return of the King in 1955), Tolkien published the Hobbit in 1937 and already had the general outline of Lord of the Rings sketched out before WWII even commenced. Furthermore, Tolkien was a professor of Anglo-Saxon and Germanic Languages at Oxford. Many of the characters, names and events in the Lord of the Rings were taken directly from Germanic paganism (e.g. the Prose Edda, Beowulf, etc.). For instance, elves, dwarves, trolls, dragons, and rings of power are all directly from Germanic paganism. (Some other things Tolkien invented, such as Hobbits.) The various languages that Tolkien creates for Lord of the Rings are heavily influenced by the philology of Germanic languages (Gothic, Old Norse, Anglo-Saxon, etc.) as well as from ancient Celtic languages and Finnish. In short, Tolkien was working in the broader tradition of Germanic Romanticism (much like the Grimm Brothers and Wagner) but was writing in English. Because of the anti-German sentiment in the English-speaking world after WWII, his writings were quickly divorced from this Germanic tradition in the public imagination and this shotgun divorce continues to this day.”

This is obviously true but political correctness, esp. anti-Germanic sentiment in post WWII America, seems to remain dominant.

What is Christian about the Lord of the Rings is Tolkien’s division of Middle Earth into Good vs. Evil, unlike the Iliad which is divided into Friend vs. Foe.

Tolkien also seemed to be quite interested in heritable phenotypes.  For instance, the Hobbits Bilbo, Frodo, Merry and Pippin were all Tooks (of the Fallohides group), an ethnicity of Hobbits who on average were taller and fairer than other Hobbits. The Dunedain and Rohirrim are taller and fairer than the men of the South.  In fact, Middle Earth seems to replicate Medieval Europe: Men of the West (Middle Earth & Europe) are taller and fairer than people from elsewhere and the upper classes are taller and fairer than the lower classes.

Update:

If you haven’t already, check out the independent short “Hunt for Gollum