The Lord of the Ring

J.R.R. Tolkien Denied The Lord of the Rings Was Inspired by Wagner's Operas, but I Find That Hard to Swallow

Comments

1
DIdn't Tolkien, like Wagner, take his ring inspiration from among the raft of older myths, the Norse and whatnot? My understanding of Tolkien is that when he wrote the books he was much the young fellow absorbed in studying the origins of all sorts of ancient myths and linguistic roots. That's not to say anything can prove he was or wasn't influenced by Wagner, but there's a plausible basis to suppose the influence may have been minor.
2
Tom is correct. Tolkien plundered freely from Old Norse sagas and Old English poetry. Many of the elements Brown notes in common between LOTR and Wagner's cycle, including the ring and its curse, are taken from the ultimate source of that cycle, the old Norse Volsungssaga.
3
Tolkien was far more versed in the Teutonic sagas, stories, etc. than Wagner. For Tolkien, it was his endless fascination (being one of the foremost scholars in medieval Germanic languages). For Wagner, the stories were simply a way to express his prejudices, both political & nationalistic.

Something else you might want to look into is the huge amount of work that Tolkien put into his world. LOTR was 'polished up' for publication, but it is based in a world that is quite unique, w/ very little connection between it and anything else in the modern world. Tolkien approached it like it was just another history to be researched, paying special attention to the languages and how they spread, differentiated, etc.

Simply put, Tolkien was a scholar, whereas Wagner was a great composer w/ a deep bent towards propaganda. You might as well compare Shakespeare to Tarantino because they both wrote about people who murder.
4
Yes, but there's also a lot of original elements in Wagner that also appear in Tolkien. In the original myths, the ring just gives you the power to multiply your wealth, from what I understand (haven't actually read them). Wagner added the whole "the ring gives you great power but also corrupts your soul" bit.
5
martin luther had some of his religious awakenings on the crapper, too.
6
and it contains a river at the start


No, actually, it doesn't. The *movie* begins with Smeagol's hand grabbing the ring in the river. The beginning of the *book* is a prologue about Hobbits.
7
Ms. Brown - great editorial. Do you plan to attend Seattle Opera's Ring production this August? The reader is left to wonder, have you ever seen the Ring? or other opera's? If you're new to opera, or have seen only a few ===> DO NOT !!! <=== and again ===> DO NOT !!! <=== make Wagner your first experience.

Start simple, try "Pagliacci" by Leoncavallo. My favorite Wagner is "Tristan und Isolde", another opera a newbie should start with.
8
Correction to previous post, a newbie should not attend "Tristan und Isolde". It would be cruel.
9
There's a massive fundamental difference between Wagner and Tolkien.

Tolkien despised his work being interpreted allegorically, but, without reading too much into his work, it's evident that he's temperamentally a conservative. The thread running through all of his works is his love for things that have passed, and his sadness at their loss, even if it's inevitable. Victories in Tolkien are hard-won but merely delay that loss a little longer, and what replaces what is gone is never as good as what came before.

There are lots of ways to interpret Wagner, but temperamentally he's a radical. He admires and loves the status quo that Wotan and the gods represent (or else why would he make their music so noble?) and, I believe, weeps for their immolation at the end, but nevertheless hastens that end along (as, indeed, does Wotan himself in the third act of Siegfried). But something better comes after (and this is apparent if you pay close attention to the music at the end of Götterdämmerung).
10
@7 I heard a theory that one reason to make Wagner a first choice is that the way the music is used in the operas will be much more familiar to modern audiences. John Williams uses Leitmotive with almost as much creativity as Wagner himself.

On the other hand, given that modern attention spans are typically measured on the order of milliseconds, I can see how sitting through Tristan, let alone the 14 hours of your typical Ring cycle, would be agonizing to most newbies.
11
Another thought on the difference between Tolkien and Wagner...

Tolkien wrote unambiguously in terms of good and evil.

Wagner is far more nuanced. There really aren't any totally evil characters in the Ring, although I suppose Hagan comes close. Even with Alberich, I always remember how whatever evil he did was born out of his hurt, pain and embarrassment of his rejection at the hands of the Rhinemaidens, something we can all identify with.

Good and evil as categories don't really come into the Ring at all...characters just are who they are, sometimes greedy, sometimes noble, sometimes cowardly, sometimes brave—in short, all too human.
12
Why would anyone care if the latter took inspiration from the former, even if the author of the latter, disclaimed it? This has probably been the case since Mog acted out his epic shadow puppet journey on the cave wall and then Lia went and crafted her own epic shadow puppet opus.
13
I disagree with Some Old Nobodaddy above. Wagner was not just a composer, but also an intellectual with a vast study and knowledge of myth. He studied the text of the source material very diligently and over many years. Tolkien may have studied them in more depth, but not by much. Both Tolkien and Wagner used their works to express their worldviews, deeply held beliefs, etc. There is no nationalism within Wagner's Ring at all; in fact, there is no way to see nationalism within it. It is set in the world of myth and there are no nations. The "good guys" in the Ring are love and nature. Men, the Gods, the dwarfs all seek power and all are "the bad guys". Wagner's Ring is propaganda only in the sense that he is anti-greed and anti-power, and pro-nature and pro-love. To Wagner, it is not progress to defile nature in the pursuit of material goods. It is not progress to seek power over human needs. Those were his life-long beliefs. If you want to call that propaganda, feel free. But Tolkien's work is no different in the sense that he, too, had an agenda. Their core beliefs were different, but both are their versions of "propaganda". And so were Shakespeare's works, for that matter.

Secondly, no ring was significant in the original source material in the way they are in the Rings, so that certainly came via Wagner.