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Two Rings and the remnants of the West –

Two Rings and the remnants of the West

Wednesday , 15, February 2017 7 Comments

Spengler is chiefly known for his political columns, but back in 2003, he wrote an unusually perceptive article in the Asia Times about the close relationship between Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings and Wagner and the Ring Cycle.
Tolkien well may have written his epic as an “anti-Ring” to repair the damage that Wagner had inflicted upon Western culture…. Tolkien himself despised Wagner (whom he knew thoroughly) and rejected comparisons between his Ring and Wagner’s cycle (“Both rings are round,” is the extent of his published comment). But the parallels between the two works are so extensive as to raise the question as to Tolkien’s intent. The Ring of Power itself is Wagner’s invention (probably derived from the German Romantic de la Motte Fouque). Also to be found in both works are an immortal woman who renounces immortality for the love of a human, a broken sword reforged, a life-and-death game of riddles, and other elements which one doesn’t encounter every day. Here is a compilation derived from sundry websites, along with a few of my own observations.

  • Alberich forges a Ring of Power. Sauron forges a Ring of Power
  • Wotan needs the giants to build Valhalla. The Elves need Sauron to forge their Rings of Power
  • The Ring gives the bearer world domination. The Ring gives the bearer world domination
  • Wotan uses the Ring to pay the giants. Sauron betrays the Elves
  • The Ring is cursed and betrays its bearer. The Ring is evil and betrays its bearer
  • Fafner kills brother Fasolt to get the Ring. Smeagol kills friend Deagol for the Ring
  • Fafner hides in a cave for centuries. Smeagol-Gollum hides in a cave for centuries
  • Siegfried inherits the shards of his father’s sword. Aragorn inherits the shards of his fathers’ sword
  • Brunnhilde gives up immortality for Siegfried. Arwen gives up immortality for Aragorn
  • Wotan plays “riddles” for the life of Mime. Gollum plays “riddles” for the life of Bilbo
  • A dragon guards the Nibelungs’ hoard. A dragon guards the dwarves’ hoard
  • The gods renounce the world and await the end. The Elves renounce the world and prepare to depart
  • The Ring is returned to its origin, the River Rhine. The Ring is returned to its origin, Mount Doom
  • Hagen falls into the river. Gollum falls into the volcano
  • The immortals burn in Valhalla. The immortals leave Middle-earth
  • A new era emerges in the world. A new era emerges in the world
  • Men are left to their own devices. Men are left to their own devices

The details are far less important than the common starting point: the crisis of the immortals. Wagner’s immortal gods must fall as a result of the corrupt bargain they have made with the giants who built Valhalla. Tolkien’s immortal Elves must leave Middle-earth because of the fatal assistance they took from Sauron. The Elves’ power to create a paradise on Middle-earth depends upon the power of the three Elven Rings which they forged with Sauron’s help. Thus the virtue of the Elven Rings is inseparably bound up with the one Ring of Sauron. When it is destroyed, the power of the Elves must fade. More than anything else, The Lord of the Rings is the tragedy of the Elves and the story of their renunciation.

What Tolkien has in mind is nothing more than the familiar observation that the high culture of the West arose and fell with the aristocracy, which had the time and inclination to cultivate it. With the high culture came the abuse of power associated with the aristocracy; when this disappears, the great beauties of Western civilization and much of its best thought disappear with it. That is far too simple, and in some ways misleading, but it makes a grand premise for a roman-a-clef about Western civilization.

  • peter connor says:

    Implausible….Tolkien was using English folklore and magicto save civilization, not to repair a German opera.

    • icewater says:

      And Tolkien wasn’t the sort to write intentional “subversions” of works he disliked/disagreed with, especially not when that “subversion” would be his most ambitious prose work to date.

  • Eleanor says:

    They were also both drawing from the same well. Tolkien was familiar with the Eddas and and probably most variants of Norse mythology (although I have read that Tolkien drew more from Icelandic versions than from Germanic). Plus a lot of old English folklore has Norse roots, certainly Beowulf does.

  • Hooc Ott says:


    I hear the Josalfar horns a calling

    My shouldered wench she is a stirring

    Chtulu maddened mind

    within mushroom clouds arising

    Pulppendix R Pulppendix R!!

    The wind is carrying

    three coins of four a Saxon;

    Spengler common Oswald

    Oh how he does have me SPERGlering


    For my affliction Vox’s post on this along with the comments are no salve.


  • celt darnell says:

    Both Wagner and Tolkien were working from the same sources — Scandinavian, German and Anglo-Saxon mythology. In the broadest scheme of things, they used the same source material. Wagner did not invent the concept of a magic ring any more than Tolkien did (and neither man ever pretended that he did).

    The divergence in their approaches is a cultural one: a devout, Roman Catholic subject of the British Empire (Tolkien was born in South Africa) versus an unorthodox Christian, German nationalist.

    I love Der Ring des Nibelungen (have Solti version) and The Lord of the Rings both.

  • RandyJJ says:

    When Tolkien first wrote about his ring, it was an invisibility trinket; the sort of thing that had been written about before by people who were not Wagner. He didn’t plan on a sequel, and only began LotR after he had been pressured into it, commenting that he had used all of his favorite motifs in ‘The Hobbit’ and didn’t know what he was going to do with the sequel. The early story was aimless and meandering. He wanted to send Bingo Baggins (along with his cousins, Odo and Frodo Took) on an adventure, but he didn’t have an adventure ready to hand and wasn’t going to simply rehash the opening of ‘The Hobbit’. Bilbo’s ring was the only thing in the Shire that was odd, unusual, and up to the task of prying a hobbit out of his comfortable hole and getting him on his way.

    All of which is to say that while I would not be surprised if Tolkien was influenced by Wagner, I doubt that he intended to make any sort of statement, rebuttal, or reference to the composer’s work.

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