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Loose Ends in the Ring

April 20th, 2005 · 10 Comments

Two things that I’ve found myself wondering about:

First, who is the father of the Rhinemaidens, the one who entrusted them with the Rhinegold, told them how it could be fashioned into a ring of power, and warned them about “such a foe” as Alberich? I guess in the back of my head I’d thought it must be Wotan, but I realized last week watching the opera that this can’t be right. When Loge mentions the gold, Wotan says of it “hört ich raunen” (“I have heard whispers”), which would be a pretty odd thing to say if he’d given it to them. Probably more decisively still, he then has to ask Loge how one could go about making the ring, which pretty much scotches any notion that he was the one who told the Rhinemaidens how to do it.

Second: What, exactly, does the ring do? We see Alberich use it to summon the Nibelungs at one point, and it apparently enables him to make the Tarnhelm, but its powers are left pretty vague. Notable, though, are the things it doesn’t do. It doesn’t allow Alberich to do much of anything to free himself when Wotan and Loge capture him and truss him up. It doesn’t prevent Fasolt from getting a club to the head, which is understandable enough, since he’d just barely picked it up and presumably had no idea how to use it. But neither does it prevent Fafner from succumbing to a stab wound. Brunnhilde seems to threaten to use it when Siegfried (memory erased by a potion) comes to abduct her in the guise of Gunter, warning him that it makes her “stronger than steel,” in response to which he unceremoniously rips it from her finger. Some ring of power.

Tags: Art & Culture



10 responses so far ↓

  • 1 David T // Apr 20, 2005 at 10:31 am

    I think the Rhine itself is their father.

    From a Usenet discussion a few years back:

    “They are referred to several times as ‘the daughters of the Rhine’ or
    ‘children of the Rhime’. (Loge: “…den RheintÃ?¶chtern gehÃ?¶rt diess
    Gold:” And later, ‘Des Rheines Kinder beklagen des Goldes Raub.’)

    “I think that’s as specific as they get, but it’s pretty clear from this
    that their father is the Rhine. (This is mythology, don’t forget.)”


  • 2 Brian Moore // Apr 20, 2005 at 11:06 am

    “Some ring of power.”

    Those crazy Vikings need to invade Middle-Earth. I hear they got better ones. Better warranties, too.

  • 3 Julian Sanchez // Apr 20, 2005 at 12:19 pm

    Interesting reading. I’d always figured that was metaphorical, in the sense that someone might call me a “son of New Jersey,” but in this context it’s certainly possible that it’s meant literally.

  • 4 Jacob T. Levy // Apr 20, 2005 at 12:38 pm

    I took “daughters of the Rhine” literally, too– that their father is a rivergod.

    I think the Ring’s primary powers are more like Tolkien’s dwarven-rings. It allows the wearer to multiply his fortune, and to *buy* control of the world. You’re right that it doesn’t seem to be, say, a combat device.

  • 5 Brian Moore // Apr 20, 2005 at 12:48 pm

    “I think the Ring’s primary powers are more like Tolkien’s dwarven-rings.”

    Man, this opera really sounds like the author really ripped off Tolkien. Rings of power, evil one-eyed deities, dwarves, dragons. This Wagner guy is a cheap hack. Show some creativity!

  • 6 The Navigator // Apr 20, 2005 at 1:07 pm

    I’m succumbing to a stab wound. Are you succumbing to a stab wound? No? Look closer. There! You were succumbing to a stab wound all along.

    Sorry, I don’t have anything of substance to contribute to this series of Wagner posts, which, I suppose, won’t be over until the fat lady sings.

  • 7 Cacciaguida // Apr 21, 2005 at 11:01 am

    The Rhinemaidens’ father is probably the Rhine itself. Whatever it/he is, it/he is part of the arch-constitution of the world that Wotan himself must obey, the one that imposes the rule “contracts must be obeyed,” which obliges Wotan to pay the giants, and, later, forbids him from seizing the Ring from Fafner.

    The limits on the Ring’s power may be an insuperable plot problem. There are lines in RHEINGOLD that suggest that you have to renounce love not only to forge the Ring, but also to wield it. But in GOTTERDAMMERUNG Alberich, telling Hagen that Siegfried now has the Ring, remarks: “Valhalla and Niebelheim bow before him,” though of course Siegfried doesn’t know that.

  • 8 Stephen // Apr 22, 2005 at 10:22 am

    There is a reading of that posits that the ring is what it is — gold — i.e. the represenation of greed, avarice, and unchecked commercial prosperity. The soon-to-be Germany of the era in which Wagner composed the Ring was the second most explosive economy if the era (after the US). It can be read as an anti-commercial screed, on some levels.

    On a Nietzchean level, the ring could be read as a represenation of Will. But only those who know their Will can use the ring to do anything with it.

  • 9 David T // Apr 23, 2005 at 1:04 am

    Stephen: Wasn’t that George Bernard Shaw’s famous theory–the Ring cycle as a socialist allegory?

  • 10 Stephen // Apr 23, 2005 at 2:08 pm

    It’s hardly original on my end. I know Shaw used to put forth that interpretation, but it predates him, as far as I know.

    If one reads Wagner’s memoirs, one can see Wagner’s anti-bourgoise senitments on display.