The Saga of
is one of the greatest tales of western storytelling. The
unknown Icelandic author who wrote the saga in the thirteenth
century based his prose epic on stories found in far older
traditions of Norse heroic poetry. Volsunga Saga, as
it is often called, recounts the mythic deeds of the dragon
slayer, Sigurd the Volsung, and tells of runic knowledge.
It is a story of love, betrayal, the vengeance of a barbarian
queen, and schemes of Attila the Hun. The saga describes events
from the ancient wars among the kings of the Burgundians,
the Huns, and the Goths and treats some of the same legends
as the Middle High German epic poem, the Nibelungenlied.
In both accounts, though in different ways, Sigurd (Siegfried
in the German tradition) acquires the Rhinegold and then becomes
tragically entangled in a love triangle, involving a supernatural
woman. In the saga she is a Valkyrie, one of Odin's warrior-maidens,
the ones who choose the slain for Valhalla at the end of battle.
in the centuries after the Middle Ages, knowledge of the Sigurd
story never died out among the rural population. Full of supernatural
elements, including the schemes of one-eyed Odin, a ring of
power, and the sword that was reforged, the tale remained
alive in oral tradition. In the nineteenth century, as the
Volsung story was rediscovered, becoming widely known throughout
TOLKIEN AND RICHARD WAGNER
many languages, Volsunga Saga became a primary source
for writers of fantasy and for those interested in oral legends
of historical events and the mythic past of northern Europe.
The saga deeply influenced William Morris in the nineteenth
century and J. R. R. Tolkien in the twentieth. Tolkien, in
particular found great inspiration the The Saga of the
Volsungs, including the sword that was reforged, rings
of power, the dragon on the hoard, and the creature Gollum.
So, too, Richard Wagner drew heavily upon the Norse Volsung
material in composing the Ring cycle as is discussed elsewhere
in the Introduction to this translation.
Among other subjects,
the comprehensive Introduction to this translation includes:
of the Volsung Story in Norse Art
- Myths, Heroes,
and Social Realities
- History and
Legend: Burgundians, Huns, Goths, and Sigurd the Dragon
- A Note on
Richard Wagner and the Saga of the Volsungs