A greedy, smaller-than-human creature finds a treasure in the depths of a river. The treasure is a ring of great power which exerts strange influences on its owners including giving them the ability to disappear but always to bring danger or death to its owners. A hero enters the fray armed with a reforged sword that had been broken. Various races of humanoid beings attempt to gain control of the ring by magic and by heroism until it is finally brought at great cost and sacrifice back to its origin where it is purified by fire. The last pursuer perishes along with the ring.
Sound familiar? Is that because you’re familiar with Wagner’s opera tetralogy The Ring of the Nibelung, AKA The Ring Cycle?
Don’t worry, i’m not either. At least, I wasn’t until I read Caroline Leech’s fascinating article about Tolkien and Wagner. Did Tolkien borrow from Wagner, or are their stories both so commonly archetypal in theme that they could hardly help to intersect?
Regardless of the answer, Welsh National Opera’s dramaturge Simon Rees offers the follow summary opinion:
The more I look at the two pieces, the clearer it is to me that Wagner produced a piece of extraordinarily united and unified work that you can tap from every angle and it remains as sound as a bell. And that Lord of the Rings is the conception of a very much lesser imagination, though still a very interesting and powerful piece of writing.
“Basically Wagner is for grown-ups.”
For some additional background on The Ring Cycle the the First Timer’s Guide, or the Wagner Experience @ uTexas, or ever-trusty Wikipedia’s articles on each of the four parts: Das Rheingold, Die Walküre, Siegfried, and Götterdämmerung. Or, if you are musically inclined, examine the collected vocal scores, all available via the Indiana University Digital Library Program.