Tolkiens's Sigurd & Gudrun: summary, sources, & analogs.
I have not attempted to compare Tolkien to other modern treatments of the story (Richard Wagner, William Morris). Throughout the table I use J.R.R. Tolkien's [JRRT's] names for the characters, even when discussing sources that give them different names (Gudrun for Kriemhild, etc).
I begin with a genealogical table. This shows all persons, named or unnamed, in both lays.
Babcock, Michael A. The Night Attila Died: Solving the Murder of Attila the Hun. New York: Berkley Books, 2005.
The Elder Edda: A Selection. Trans. Paul B. Taylor and W. H. Auden. New York: Vintage Books, 1970.
Gregory of Tours. The History of the Franks. Trans. Lewis Thorpe. New York: Penguin Books, 1974.
Maenchen-Helfen, Otto J. The World of the Huns: Studies in Their History and Culture. Ed. Max Knight. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973.
The Nibelungenlied. Trans. A. T. Hatto. New York: Penguin Books, 1965.
The Saga of King Heidrek the Wise. Trans. and ed. Christopher Tolkien. London: Thomas Nelson & Sons Ltd., 1960.
The Saga of the Volsungs. Trans. Margaret Schlauch. New York: W. W. Norton & Co, 1930.
Shippey, Tom. Tolkien out-Wagners Wagner. (Review of Sigurd & Gudrun). Times [of London] Literary Supplement 8 May 2009. 3-5.
-- "The Problem of the Rings: Tolkien and Wagner." Roots and Branches: Selected Papers on Tolkien. Zurich: Walking Tree Publishers, 2007. 97-114.
Thiorekssaga. <http://www.timelessmyths.com/norse/thidrek.html>. 24 September 2009.
Tolkien, J.R.R. The Adventures of Tom Bombadil. London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd, 1962.
--. Farmer Giles of Ham. New York: Ballantine Books, 1969. Bound with Smith of Wooton Major.
--. Finn and Hengest: The Fragment and the Episode. Ed. Alan Bliss. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1983.
--. The Hobbit. London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd, 1937.
--. The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun. Edited by Christopher Tolkien. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2009.
--. The Lord of the Rings. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1977.
--. The Silmarillion. Ed. Christopher Tolkien. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1977.
Wolfram, Herwig. History of the Goths. Trans. Thomas J Dunlap. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988.
Rejected Elements Sources The Lay of the Volsungs: Beginning Elder Edda: Voluspa. Elder Edda; Snorri's Edda. "This motive of the special function of Sigurd is an invention of the present poet"--JRRT, Sigurd & Gudrun [S&G] 53-54. The Lay of the Volsungs: I. Andvari's Gold Nibelungenlied only Elder Edda: begins at a much Reginsmal; Snorri's later point. Edda; Volsunga Saga are the sources throughout this section. Nibelungenlied also has a dwarf, Alberich, and a treasure. Details are different and the treatment is far less extensive. JRRT's invention. The Lay of the Volsungs: II. Signy In Beowulf it is Volsunga Saga is Sigmund who the main source slays the dragon, throughout this and nothing is said section, greatly of any son Sigurd. compressed. Elder Edda: Grimnismal (only for the name Grimnir). In Volsunga Saga Signy has four other sons by Siggeir, who all come to bad ends at the hands of Sinfjotli and Sigmund. The Lay of the Volsungs: III. The Death of Sinfjotli JRRT greatly Volsunga compressed Volsunga Saga; Elder Saga, where the Edda: Fra queen's name is dauoa Borghild. The story Sinfjotla. of her son Helgi Hundingsbani is omitted as irrelevant. At the third attempt, Volsunga Saga's Sigmund advises his son to strain the drink through his beard. This detail, though picturesque, makes no sense; JRRT omits it. The Lay of the Volsungs: IV. Sigurd Born Volsunga Saga throughout, except that the name Sigrlinn has been adapted from Nibelungenlied. The Lay of the Volsungs: V. Regin Thiorekssaga has Volsunga Saga a very different primarily, childhood account throughout this of Sigurd, who is section. nonetheless still the son of Sigmund. The infant sails down a river in a glass basket, is raised by a doe, then found and adopted by Mimir. In Thiorekssaga, Also Snorri's Edda Regin is the dragon and two lays of the and the smith is Elder Edda: called Mimir. Reginsmal and Sigurd kills the Fafnismal. dragon, then kills Mimir, then betroths himself to the Valkyrie Brynhild. In Volsunga Saga, Sigurd will pursue no dragon until he has avenged his father. JRRT drops this. Nibelungenlied knows that Sigurd killed a dragon, and says so briefly in a flashback. The horny skin is important here; a vital spot between the shoulder blades is left unprotected. (6) In Volsunga Saga the riddles are interesting in themselves but irrelevant to the plot, so dropped by JRRT. In Volsunga Saga, he saves part of the heart to give later to Gudrun. The Lay of the Volsungs: VI. Brynhild Volsunga Saga; Elder Edda: Sigrdrifumal. Nibelungenlied Remote sources for knows nothing of Sigurd and Brynhild Valkyries. Its may be Sigibert King Brynhild is an of the Franks Amazon and can only ([dagger] 575) and be subdued by his queen Brunhild deflowering her. ([dagger] 613), She is Queen of daughter to the Iceland and sister King of the of Attila, Visigoths. (12) stretching dynastic geography to the limit. In Nibelungenlied, the two first meet in Iceland, where Brynhild's prior knowledge of Sigurd is tantalizingly unclear. In Volsunga Saga Brynhild gives us a dissertation on runes which JRRT omits. Volsunga Saga gives Here Sigrdrifumal the couple a breaks off and the daughter Aslaug, 8-leaf gap in the who marries Ragnar Codex Regius begins. Lodbrok. (13) From this point the only source is Volsunga Saga. Brynhild's refusal to marry Sigurd until he attains his kingdom is JRRT's own invention. Volsunga Saga now re-introduces Brynhild & her domestic sister as though Sigurd had never seen her before. The Lay of the Volsungs: VII. Gudrun In the source, she Volsunga Saga. recounts this dream to Brynhild. The main narrative Volsunga Saga; of Nibelungenlied Snorri's Edda. For begins here, with the bare names of Hogni (Hagen) being the historical a vassal, not a personages, Old brother. English sources & Burgundian lawbooks. In Thiorekssaga, Volsunga Saga. Sigurd likewise (after various adventures) comes to Gunnar. (17) King Heidrek's Saga; Elder Edda: Atlakvioa. Recapitulation of story already told. Volsunga Saga. In Volsunga Saga this expedition took place at an earlier point. Volsunga Saga. Volsunga Saga. Volsunga Saga. The Lay of the Volsungs: VIII. Brynhild Betrayed In Thiorekssaga, Volsunga Saga is the Sigurd knowingly primary source breaks his throughout this betrothal to section. Odin's Brynhild and visit to Brynhild marries Gudrun, is original to JRRT. just because it is a more advantageous alliance. Brynhild marries Gunnar on the rebound, but as in Nibelungenlied she rebuffs him on the wedding night and hangs him from a peg. She is not tamed until Gunnar authorizes Sigurd to rape her. Volsunga Saga gives the couple a son Sigmund, whom JRRT ignores. In Nibelungenlied the heroes travel to Iceland where Sigurd, using an invisibility cloak that he got from the dragon, overcomes Brynhild in athletic contests (Gunnar going through the motions). Gunnar marries her. For three nights running she ties him up and hangs him from the wall. Sigurd has to wrestle Brynhild down so that Gunnar can deflower her. In Nibelungenlied Brynhild is encouraged to think that Sigurd is Gunnar's vassal. This ineradicable delusion, not any love for Sigurd, is the reason she subsequently claims social precedence over Gudrun. For the wide variations in the ring story at this point, between and even within the different sources, see Tom Shippey, "The Problem of the Rings: Tolkien and Wagner." The Lay of the Volsungs: IX. Strife Volsunga Saga remains the primary source throughout this section. Snorri's Edda covers much the same ground more briefly. In Nibelungenlied, the ladies quarrel at the church door. (22) In Thiorekssaga, This ends the the quarrel of the missing eight queens occurs much leaves of the as in the Codex Regius, and Nibelungenlied, and the manuscript Hogni spears Sigurd resumes in the in the back. When middle of the Brot. he rubbed on the dragon blood he hadn't been able to reach between the shoulder blades. In Nibelungenlied, he goes so far as to beat her. Various sources Elder Edda: have Sigurd killed Brot; by Gunnar or by Siguroarkvioa Hogni; outdoors en skamma. while hunting or indoors lying in Gudrun's arms. In Nibelungenlied, Hogni tricks Gudrun into revealing Sigurd's one vulnerable spot so he can be speared in the back. In Volsunga Saga, Gudrun bears to Sigurd a posthumous daughter Swanhild. In Nibelungenlied, Brynhild survives Sigurd's death but take little part in the rest of the story. This passage is JRRT's own, except for echoes of Hakonarmal. The Lay of Gudrun Gudrunarkvioa en forna. The German sources, unlike the Norse, treat Attila as a noble and generous king. (26) Elder Edda: Atlakvioa and Atlamal are the primary sources throughout this Lay, and begin at this point. Volsunga Saga covers the same ground but is a less important source. In the Elder Edda Grimhild gives Gudrun one of her patented potions to induce her to accept Atli's suit. Atlakvioa: Gudrun and Atli have a horrible domestic life together. In Thiorekssaga, Atli & Gudrun jointly invite the Niflungs so as to ambush them and get the gold. Numerous subsidiary characters & adventures are introduced. In Nibelungenlied, so far from warning off the Niflungs Gudrun entices them to Hunland to get revenge on Hogni. (31) In Thiorekssaga, there are no hostilities upon arrival and everyone sits down to a very strained feast. Unable to get any of Atli's henchmen to attack Hogni, Gudrun precipitates the fight by tricking her young son into landing a punch on him. Hogni slices off the boy's head for his pains, and tosses it into Gudrun's lap. In Nibelungenlied and Thiorekssaga, Atli stands above the fray dithering while his vassals (32) do the actual fighting. The names in the song come from Heiorek's Saga. Here JRRT abandons the Norse sources and turns to Nibelungenlied, supplemented by material from Finn & Hengest not originally connected to the Niflung story. Thiorekssaga omits these refinements and kills off all the Niflung brothers, either during the battle or at the hands of Gudrun. Reflecting rather too late that his queen has caused a lot of bloodshed, Atli has one of his henchmen (Theodoric as it happens) cut her up into little pieces. Fantastic as the situation now is, there are strong parallels (if not perhaps sources) in actual history. (38) Nibelungenlied & Marcellinus Comes Thiorekssaga leave thinks that Attila Attila alive at was murdered (42) by story's end, thus his new wife Ildico, getting wrong the whose name suggests only fact about the some sort of German. whole affair that ancient historians agree upon. Volsunga Saga Elder Edda: lets her live Gudrunarhvot. to remarry. Original to JRRT. Rejected Elements Strophe JRRT's Plot The Lay of the Volsungs: Beginning 1-9 The Gods (Aesir) construct the world, plant the sun and moon in the sky, make the flora and fauna, create mankind, forge weapons, and (tentatively) overcome the Titans. 10-15 A Sybil foresees the future destruction (in the Last Battle) of men, gods, and earth itself. Only the greatest of heroes (Sigurd) can avert this Ragnarok, because he, unlike the Gods, will have experienced both death and apotheosis. Thus can the Aesir re-build a new heaven and a new earth following the apocalypse. (1) 16-20 Odin constructs Valholl, where the dead heroes can await the Last Battle. Odin will recruit the race of Volsungs for this purpose, and particularly Sigurd-- even if he has to curse them to do so. The Lay of the Volsungs: I. Andvari's Gold Nibelungenlied only 1-6 The Aesir, Odin, Loki, and Hnir walk begins at a much the world. At Andvari's pool, Loki later point. gratuitously kills Otr. He had been fishing in otter's shape. The three Gods then seek hospitality from Hreidmar, (2) who turns out to be father to Otr, Fafnir, and Regin. Hreidmar and his two surviving sons take the Gods prisoner, and demand as wergild that they cover Otr's skin with gold. 7-8 Loki is paroled long enough to borrow the sea goddess's net for catching drowned sailors. With this he ensnares the dwarf Andvari (in pike's shape). Andvari owns a treasure of gold, the future Hoard of the Niflungs. We are not told where or how he got it. Nibelungenlied also 9-10 Loki will only release Andvari upon has a dwarf, surrender of all his gold. Andvari Alberich, and a begs to retain one little ring, treasure. Details Andvaranaut. He wants seed money are different and to re-build his fortune (he knows the treatment is about compound interest). Loki far less extensive. insists on having it all. Mistake! Andvari curses all the gold, but especially the little ring. 11-12 Odin covers the otter skin with the gold, keeping back the little ring. One whisker remains uncovered. Odin is forced to give that up too. Hreidmar keeps the gold but releases the three Gods. Odin will seek revenge. 13-15 Loki foretells the disasters to follow. Odin replies, admitting the disasters but foreseeing also the ultimate eucatastrophe--that is, that Sigurd will come to Vallholl and so participate decisively in the Ragnarok. Out of evil he will bring forth good. The Lay of the Volsungs: II. Signy In Beowulf it is 1-4 Volsung (3) is a Viking king, the Sigmund who great-grandson of Odin. A Valkyrie slays the dragon, wife bears him eleven children: the and nothing is said twins Sigmund and Signy (male and of any son Sigurd. female), as well as nine other sons. He reigns gloriously and builds a great hall with a living tree in its midst, upon which the birds sing. 5-9 Siggeir King of the Gauts proposes to marry Signy. It is an advantageous political marriage. Volsung and Sigmund both consent, although Signy foresees the disastrous consequences. 10-20 At the wedding feast, Odin appears in the guise of Grimnir and sinks a sword (later to be identified as Gram) into the living tree. He challenges those present to draw out the sword. This provokes a battle between Volsungs and Gauts. Sigmund withdraws the sword and defeats the Gauts, but spares Siggeir. Siggeir offers to buy the sword for cash, but is refused. The defeated Gauts swallow the insult and are allowed to sail back with the bride. Having already given her away, Volsung will not go back on his word. 21-25 Some time later, Volsung and Sigmund sail to Gautland with an army, ostensibly on a visit to Signy. Upon their arrival she warns them that Siggeir still wants revenge and that they are marching into an ambush. The Volsungs attack first but are defeated; Volsung is slain; the ten brothers are captured alive. 26-29 Signy begs Siggeir to let her brothers live. He ironically agrees, then sets them bound in the forest to starve. Siggeir's mother, a werewolf, emerges on ten successive nights to eat the brothers alive. On the tenth night, she attacks Sigmund, the last brother, but he escapes. (4) 30-32 Sigmund retires to an abandoned dwarf-cave. Signy seeks him out and commits incest with him. She does this with loathing, but feels duty-bound to conceive the next generation of Volsungs and to provide a hero who will avenge Volsung. She gives birth to Sinfjotli. In Volsunga Saga 33-36 Sigmund lives as an outlaw while Signy has four Sinfjotli grows to a boy. Then other sons by Signy sends Sinfjotli to Sigmund, Siggeir, who all bearing Volsung's sword Gram. The come to bad ends son and father live a horrible at the hands of life together as werewolves and Sinfjotli and murderers, until Sinfjotli is Sigmund. fully grown. 37-41 Sigmund and Sinfjotli, still as werewolves, attack Siggeir. They kill him and burn down his fortress. Signy appears at the door of the burning fortress, but declines to be rescued--she loathes her own deeds, necessary though they were, and retires into the fortress to die with her hated husband. The Lay of the Volsungs: III. The Death of Sinfjotli JRRT greatly 1-4 Sigmund and Sinfjotli are now back compressed Volsunga at their ancestral seat, gloriously Saga, where the reigning and victorious in war. queen's name is Sigmund takes a queen, and this Borghild. The story queen is a witch. We are not told of her son Helgi her name. Hundingsbani is omitted as irrelevant. At the third 5-10 Sinfjotli has killed the queen's attempt, Volsunga father, how and when we do not know. Saga's Sigmund The queen, bent on revenge, three advises his son to times attempts to poison Sinfjotli. strain the drink (5) Sigmund twice intercepts the through his beard. drink. It does him no harm (he is This detail, though immune to poison) except to make picturesque, makes him drunker. By the third attempt, no sense; JRRT Sigmund is too drunk to intervene omits it. further. Sinfjotli swallows the drink in the first half of a line and dies in the second half. As a junior hero he is immune only to externally-applied poison. 11-13 With the help of Odin (disguised this time as a boatman), Sigmund dispatches the dead Sinfjotli to Valholl, where his grandfather Volsung greets him. Two down, two to go. The Lay of the Volsungs: IV. Sigurd Born 1-4 Sigmund, grown old, has married a beautiful young girl, Sigrlinn (presumably the old witch queen has died). Sigrlinn has chosen the old man in preference to seven king's sons who all wooed her. She wants the glory of bearing "the World's chosen," Sigurd the Dragon-Slayer, most famous of the heroes of the North. 5-9 The rejected suitors attack as soon as the couple is married. Sigmund is disarmed by the disguised Odin, who has a reputation for abandoning his favorites. Sigmund is mortally wounded in battle, and the sword is broken. 10-13 After the battle Sigrlinn offers to heal Sigmund, but he feels Odin calling him to Valholl, and declines help. He predicts the birth and early death of Sigurd, enjoins the pregnant Sigrlinn to preserve the shards of the sword, and dies. 14-18 A second fleet of pirates sails by, and captures Sigrlinn after she succeeds in changing places with her handmaid. Thus Sigurd is born into slavery in a far country. The Lay of the Volsungs: V. Regin Thiorekssaga has 1-2 Sigurd has grown up. He is sent (we a very different are not told why or by whom) to be childhood account tutored by Regin, who is a master of Sigurd, who is smith and all--around polymath besides nonetheless still being the brother of Otr and Fafnir. the son of Sigmund. The infant sails down a river in a glass basket, is raised by a doe, then found and adopted by Mimir. In Thiorekssaga, 3-6 Regin knows of a dragon. He urges Regin is the dragon Sigurd to kill the dragon and seize and the smith is his treasure. called Mimir. Sigurd kills the dragon, then kills 7-12 Regin tells Sigurd the story of Mimir, then Andvari's Gold. We have heard all betroths himself this before. to the Valkyrie 13-14 Regin goes on to tell Sigurd how Brynhild. Fafnir has killed Hreidmar, seized his hoard, denied any share to Regin, and has consequently turned into a dragon on Gnitaheioi. 15-16 Sigurd is suspicious of Regin's motives. Regin counters that the benefit is mutual--Sigurd can use the cash to recover his throne, Regin can wreak his own revenge on Fafnir. In Volsunga Saga, 17-20 Sigurd finally accedes. Regin twice Sigurd will pursue forges a sword for Sigurd. Sigurd no dragon until he breaks each one in testing it. From has avenged his Sigrlinn (who reappears in the father. JRRT drops briefest of cameos), Sigurd obtains this. the shards of Gram: the Sword that was Broken. Regin reforges the sword and gives it to Sigurd. The sword cleaves the anvil and severs a tuft of wool floating in the Rhine. 21-25 Regin and Sigurd set off to find the dragon. Odin, again in disguise, meets Sigurd and gives him the horse Grani. Nibelungenlied 26-29 Sigurd kills the dragon by digging a knows that Sigurd pit and stabbing upwards as the killed a dragon, dragon passes overhead. He is and says so briefly drenched in the blood, which in a flashback. The hardens his skin (JRRT retains horny skin is this plot element but makes no important here; a further use of it). Regin takes no vital spot between part in the combat. the shoulder blades is left unprotected. (6) In Volsunga Saga 30-34 Sigurd and the dying Fafnir converse. the riddles are Sigurd identifies himself. (7) Fafnir interesting in tells Sigurd that the gold is cursed, themselves but then dies. Sigurd ignores the curse. irrelevant to the plot, so dropped 35-38 Regin congratulates Sigurd, then by JRRT. feigns remorse at killing his own brother. Sigurd assures him that his share of the guilt is inconsiderable. 39-40 Regin cuts the heart out of Fafnir and drinks of his blood. This sends him to sleep--but not before Regin has asked Sigurd to roast Fafnir's heart for him. 41 Sigurd does so. (8) Burning his finger, he sucks it cool. As soon as he tastes the hot gravy, he understands the speech of birds and beasts. 42-44 Two birds warn Sigurd that Regin (9) is dangerous and that Sigurd should eat the heart himself. 45 Turning around, Sigurd sees Regin creeping up on him, perhaps to avenge his brother, perhaps to steal the gold. He has been shamming sleep. Sigurd cuts him down. In Volsunga Saga, 46-48 He then finishes the heart. This he saves part of must be what turns him into a the heart to give champion. Up till now he has been later to Gudrun. more a burglar than a hero. He puts on the Helm of Horror (originally Hreidmar's), rifles the gold from the dragon's cave, loads it on Grani, and begins his return trip. JRRT retains the Helm from his source but makes no further use of it. 49-54 As he returns, two birds tell him of the two women soon to come into his life--Brynhild and Gudrun. He hears, (10) but pays no attention. The Lay of the Volsungs: VI. Brynhild 1-4 Sigurd, coming directly from the dragon-slaying, reaches the mountain Hindarfell. He finds it surrounded by a shield-wall and a fence of flickering flames. He crosses the flames, (11) finds Brynhild asleep in full harness, and awakens her. 5-6 Brynhild poetically celebrates her resuscitation. Nibelungenlied 7-8 Brynhild introduces herself. She is a knows nothing of shield-maiden, a favorite of Odin. He Valkyries. Its has punished her by condemning her to Brynhild is an marry and putting her into this Amazon and can only charmed sleep. It is implied that be subdued by she must marry whomever wakes her. deflowering her. Before falling asleep, Brynhild has She is Queen of vowed to take no husband but the Iceland and sister greatest of warriors. The birds of Attila, have already told us that Brynhild stretching dynastic is a Valkyrie, a chooser of the geography to the slain. At some point she has limit. chosen the wrong warrior to die. This is the offense for which she is punished. In Nibelungenlied, 9-10 Sigurd reveals his name and family, the two first meet and they compare notes. Brynhild in Iceland, where realizes that her hero has come. Brynhild's prior After a show of modesty, Sigurd knowledge of Sigurd admits to being the World's is tantalizingly chosen--the one that all the unclear. heroes in Valholl are waiting for. In Volsunga Saga 11-14 They drink to each other and betroth Brynhild gives us themselves. a dissertation on runes which JRRT omits. Volsunga Saga gives 15-17 Brynhild warns Sigurd of all the the couple a things he shouldn't do while he daughter Aslaug, is seeking his kingdom. Sigurd who marries Ragnar winds up doing them all. She Lodbrok. (13) foretells his early death. 18-19 They plight their troth a second time. (14) 20-22 They do not spend the night on the mountain nor consummate the match. (15) They set off in company, but soon part. Brynhild will not marry Sigurd until he attains his destined kingdom. That is Brynhild all over. We will see this fatal pride again. Sigurd does not argue; he always does what is asked of him. Volsunga Saga now 23 Sigurd goes to the court of the re-introduces Burgundian kings, the Niflungs. Brynhild & her Brynhild returns to her own land domestic sister as (wherever that may be), where she though Sigurd had seems to be held in high honor never seen her (she claims to have formerly before. been a queen, which does not quite jibe with the Valkyrie story). The Lay of the Volsungs: VII. Gudrun In the source, she 1-6 At some length, Gudrun recounts to recounts this dream her mother Grimhild her prophetic to Brynhild. dream of the disasters to follow. Grimhild makes light of it. The main narrative 7-10 Gjuki is king of the Burgundians (or of Nibelungenlied Niflungs, or Gjukings); his wife begins here, with Grimhild is an aged witch. Their Hogni (Hagen) being sons are Gunnar and Hogni; their a vassal, not a daughter is Gudrun. Gutthorm is brother. a step-son, perhaps even a bastard. Their court is rich and glorious, but at constant war with the Huns. (16) In Thiorekssaga, 11-13 Sigurd arrives at Gjuki's court, Sigurd likewise bearing the treasure. (after various adventures) comes to Gunnar. (17) 14-15 At the welcoming feast, Gunnar sings of wars when the invading Huns first encountered the Goths, then of later wars in which Niflungs slew Atli's uncle. 16-19 Sigurd sings of killing the dragon, recovering the gold, and encountering Brynhild. 20-24 Sigurd is an instant success. He becomes the Niflungs's champion warrior; they award him gold and honors; they call him king. This is a titular honor (Gjuki retains political control), but it seems to be enough to satisfy Brynhild's stipulation. 25-32 They loan him an army and a fleet to win back Volsung's former kingdom, but he finds the court desolate and the tree dead. Grimnir (Odin) warns him that his fate now lies elsewhere. The anticlimax is that they all go back home and forget about Volsung's kingdom. 33-34 Grimhild decides to marry Sigurd off to Gudrun, and persuades her children to agree. She wants this valuable champion in the family. 35 Sigurd begins to think that it is time to claim Brynhild. 36-39 Grimhild gives Sigurd a magic potion which causes him to forget all about Brynhild and his vows to her. Gudrun appears and dazzles Sigurd. The Lay of the Volsungs: VIII. Brynhild Betrayed In Thiorekssaga, 1-6 Brynhild waits two years at her Sigurd knowingly court, and develops a reputation breaks his for wealth and splendor. Kings betrothal to come courting her, but she Brynhild and sends them packing or kills marries Gudrun, them off. The last king is Odin just because it is in disguise. He tells her that a more advantageous she must marry within two years, alliance. Brynhild and (for a second time (18)) marries Gunnar on hedges her in flickering flame. the rebound, but as in Nibelungenlied she rebuffs him on the wedding night and hangs him from a peg. She is not tamed until Gunnar authorizes Sigurd to rape her. Volsunga Saga gives 7-11 Meanwhile Sigurd marries Gudrun and the couple a son swears an oath of brotherhood with Sigmund, whom JRRT Gunnar and Hogni (but not with ignores. Gutthorm). Gudrun loves and hero- worships Sigurd. He returns her love dutifully, but by his own later admission he is always casting sheep's eyes at Brynhild. In Nibelungenlied 12-24 Grimhild urges Gunnar to enhance the heroes travel his prestige by marrying Brynhild. to Iceland where Gunnar, Hogni, and Sigurd set off Sigurd, using an to find her. Gunnar's horse Goti invisibility cloak is daunted by the flame, and throws that he got from Gunnar. Gunnar borrows Grani from the dragon, Sigurd. Grani will not bear him overcomes Brynhild either. (19) Not without some in athletic disdain, Sigurd agrees to woo contests (Gunnar Brynhild for Gunnar. The two of going through the them magically exchange appearances. motions). Gunnar marries her. For three nights running she ties him up and hangs him from the wall. Sigurd has to wrestle Brynhild down so that Gunnar can deflower her. In Nibelungenlied 25-32 Sigurd crosses the flame and accosts Brynhild is Brynhild, who of course was expecting encouraged to think Sigurd not Gunnar. Now she is caught that Sigurd is between conflicting oaths--to marry Gunnar's vassal. Sigurd, and to marry whomever crosses This ineradicable the flame. She decides to accept delusion, not any Gunnar. They spend the night love for Sigurd, together, but Sigurd lays the is the reason she sword Gram between them so that subsequently claims the marriage-by-proxy is not social precedence consummated. (20) over Gudrun. For the wide 33 In the morning, while Brynhild is variations in the still sleeping, Sigurd takes a gold ring story at this ring from her finger (presumably one point, between and that he himself had given her at even within the their first encounter) and instead different sources, sets the ring Andvaranaut on her see Tom Shippey, finger. Brynhild will not notice "The Problem of the switch until Gudrun points the Rings: Tolkien it out later. and Wagner." 34 They set a date for the wedding and separate. The Niflungs return to prepare the wedding feast. The Lay of the Volsungs: IX. Strife 1-3 Brynhild arrives at the Niflung court and duly marries Gunnar. 4-5 The potion of forgetfulness wears off. Sigurd remembers that he was supposed to have married Brynhild, not Gudrun. (21) 6 Sigurd goes out hunting to think it all over. In Nibelungenlied, 7 Meanwhile, the two queens go wading the ladies quarrel in the Rhine to shampoo their hair. at the church (23) Brynhild orders Gudrun to go door. (22) downstream. As the senior queen, Brynhild will wash only in fresh water, not in Gudrun's rinsings. In Thiorekssaga, 8-10 They quarrel. Gudrun claims to have the quarrel of the the better man, because Gunnar feared queens occurs much to ride the flickering flame. She as in the points to the ring on Brynhild's Nibelungenlied, and finger, Andvaranaut. It could only Hogni spears Sigurd have come from Sigurd. This is proof in the back. When that it was Sigurd not Gunnar who he rubbed on the won Brynhild. dragon blood he hadn't been able to 11-20 Brynhild is mortified. She retires reach between the to her bower and goes into a deep shoulder blades. depression, not eating or drinking. She still loves Sigurd, but she has broken her oath to him, as he to her. She can never have him now, so she wants him dead. She hates Gudrun for having taken her place. She despises Gunnar as a coward and a cheat. When Gunnar visits her to find out what is wrong, she tells him so to his face. 21-34 Sigurd returns from hunting, and he too visits Brynhild. He explains about the potion of forgetfulness. (24) While in his right mind, Sigurd had loved Brynhild exclusively. He loves her still. Brynhild accepts the explanation, so far as it goes. It does not mend matters much. Sigurd proposes a menage a trois; she will have none of it. He even offers to kill Gunnar and ditch Gudrun. Brynhild rejects this because it would make a traitor of Sigurd (whom she loves) and an innocent victim of Gunnar (whom she despises). In Nibelungenlied, 35-37 Sigurd is desolated. He reproaches the he goes so far as remorseful Gudrun for having provoked to beat her. Brynhild. 38-42 Sigurd advises Gunnar to patch up matters with Brynhild, offering cash compensation. She refuses scornfully. 43-44 Brynhild lies to Gunnar, telling him that Sigurd has cuckolded him and has bragged about it to Gudrun. Gunnar must kill Sigurd! If not, Brynhild will leave Gunnar. This ploy suits Brynhild because it leaves Sigurd the innocent victim and Gunnar the despised oathbreaker. The down side is that it makes Brynhild a guilty plotter and self-confessed whore, rather than an innocent victim of fate. This guilt she grimly accepts. 45-50 Now it is Gunnar's turn to be caught between conflicting obligations. As a wronged husband he must kill Sigurd, but as Sigurd's blood-brother he cannot do so without deep disgrace. He consults with Hogni, who tells him outright that Brynhild is lying. Gunnar will not believe him. He resolves to kill Sigurd and brazen out the disgrace. Besides, Gunnar is tired of sharing the kingship with an outsider. Also, he covets the hoard. Various sources 51-60 Assassinating Sigurd is easier said have Sigurd killed than done. The step-brother Gutthorm by Gunnar or by is available, and he is not a sworn Hogni; outdoors brother of Sigurd's. Gunnar bribes while hunting or him, then psyches him up with another indoors lying in magic potion. At a first attempt, Gudrun's arms. In Gutthorm reviles Sigurd but is Nibelungenlied, frightened off by Sigurd's bare Hogni tricks Gudrun words. For his second attempt, the into revealing coward attacks Sigurd as he is Sigurd's one sleeping beside Gudrun. Sigurd is vulnerable spot so mortally wounded but succeeds in he can be speared killing Gutthorm anyway by flinging in the back. Gram at him. Half of Gutthorm falls on this side of the threshold and the other half on the other side. 61-63 The dying Sigurd magnanimously appeals to Gudrun to go easy on her brothers. She will try her best to honor this last request. In Volsunga Saga, 64-71 Gudrun mourns. Brynhild laughs, and Gudrun bears to curses the Niflungs. She declares Sigurd a posthumous her intention of leaving Gunnar. He daughter Swanhild. begs her to stay, but Hogni is glad to get rid of her. In Nibelungenlied, 72-76 Brynhild falls on her sword. (25) Brynhild survives Before dying she asks to be burned Sigurd's death but on the same pyre as Sigurd--with take little part in the sword between them! Thus she the rest of the gloats to Gunnar that Sigurd's story. supposed seduction has been a lie. 77-82 The Lay ends with the arrival in Valholl of Sigurd and Brynhild. All the heroes have been eagerly awaiting him throughout the poem. At the Last Battle it will be Brynhild who will buckle on his sword, and Sigurd will save the world. The Lay of Gudrun 1-2 Gudrun grieves, wandering alone in the woods. The German 3-9 Atli, king of the Huns (the sources, unlike the historical Attila) has long Norse, treat Attila been an enemy of the Niflungs, as a noble and though Sigurd has hitherto held generous king. (26) him at bay. He wants the treasure and he wants Gudrun. He also wants revenge for the death of his uncle (27) at the hands of the Niflungs (offstage and much earlier). He bethinks him that Sigurd is gone. He threatens war, but also offers marriage to Gudrun. Grimhild likes the idea. 10-16 Gudrun has passed through the worst stages of grief and is now living in a cottage in the woods, embroidering a sort of Bayeux Tapestry displaying the heroic deeds of Sigurd. The poet lovingly describes the tapestry, which gives him the chance to recapitulate the events of the former Lay. In the Elder Edda 17-28 Grimhild persuades Gudrun to accept Grimhild gives Atli's offer. She does so reluctantly Gudrun one of her --only as a patriotic duty and only patented potions after much soul-searching. Gunnar and to induce her to Hogni agree. Nothing is said of Gjuki. accept Atli's suit. He seems to have died in the interim and to have left the throne to Gunnar. (28) Atlakvioa: Gudrun 29-32 Gudrun goes off to Hunland to be its and Atli have a queen, and Atli makes peace with the horrible domestic Niflungs. Gudrun makes a sincere life together. effort to be a good wife to Atli. For his part, Atli is besotted with her. 33-36 Atli's desire for the treasure overcomes his love for Gudrun. She overhears him talking in his sleep, and realizes that he plans to break his treaty and attack the Niflungs. In Thiorekssaga, 37-43 Atli sends an embassy to Gunnar, Atli & Gudrun headed by one Vingi. He offers jointly invite the treasure and territory, provided the Niflungs so as to Niflungs accept Atli as overlord. ambush them and get Vingi is entertained at a feast the gold. Numerous but no decision is reached at first. subsidiary characters & 44-45 Vingi carries two gifts from Gudrun adventures are in his diplomatic pouch: runes (29) introduced. of healing for Gunnar, and a ring for Hogni. (30) In Nibelungenlied, 46-48 Grimhild, Gunnar, and Hogni consult. so far from warning Gunnar is first inclined to reject off the Niflungs the offer. Hogni notices that Gudrun entices them Gudrun's ring has a wolf hair to Hunland to get wound around it, presumably as a revenge on warning. Grimhild notices that Hogni. (31) there are earlier runes, an unreadable palimpsest, on Gunnar's gift. Someone (Vingi?) has distorted Gudrun's original runes, whatever they may have been. 49-54 Gunnar tells Vingi he rejects the offer. Vingi mocks him for being under his mother's thumb, then ups the ante. Atli, he says, is growing old and wishes Gunnar to serve as regent of the Huns during the minority of Atli's own sons. It is not clear to what extent Vingi is following instructions, and to what extent he is making up these lies on his own hook. Lies they are, as the poet clearly tells us. 55-56 This time Gunnar, well on in drink, agrees to follow Vingi back to Hunland. Grimhild does not agree. Hogni does not believe Vingi and he knows that what they are about to do is disastrous. He does it anyway--classic hero behavior in the North. Gunnar is king and must be supported, even when he is drunk and foolish. 57-58 Hogni remarks that always in the past they have heeded their mother, and she has led them to disaster; now that she is right, they pay her no attention. Grimhild is a malicious but short-sighted intriguer; always she looks to the Niflungs's immediate advantage but never beyond that. Vigni swears the runes are genuine. In Thiorekssaga, 59-67 Gunnar and Hogni travel with few there are no companions to Hunland. They find the hostilities upon gates barred. Vingi parleys at the arrival and gate and threatens them with hanging. everyone sits down For all his diplomatic immunity, the to a very strained Niflungs hang him in the sight of feast. Unable to Atli. get any of Atli's henchmen to attack Hogni, Gudrun precipitates the fight by tricking her young son into landing a punch on him. Hogni slices off the boy's head for his pains, and tosses it into Gudrun's lap. In Nibelungenlied 68-78 The Huns attack. The Niflungs beat and Thiorekssaga, them back and enter the fortress. Atli stands above Atli appears, and demands the gold the fray dithering as ransom. They refuse, and the while his vassals battle resumes. (32) do the actual fighting. 79-80 Gudrun in her bower hears it all. She agonizes between loyalty to her first husband, loyalty to her current husband, and loyalty to her brothers. 81-86 At Gudrun's urging, Goths in Atli's service switch sides and help the Niflungs. Gunnar welcomes them with a song, recalling old wars when Goths and Burgundians united against the Huns. 87-88 Hogni's son Snaevar is slain. 89-93 The new allies turn the tide of battle. The Niflungs are winning, when Gudrun appears and begs her brothers to let Atli escape. They do so, dismissing him with scorn. Atli ungratefully uses the respite to recruit reinforcements. Meanwhile Goths & Niflungs cast the dead out of the hall. 94-112 Atli and his men now regain the upper hand. In a night attack they besiege the Niflungs in the hall. After five days the Niflungs are in desperate straits, reduced to drinking the blood of the dead. Inexplicably, Atli despairs of defeating them. Atli's counselor Beiti advises him to fire the hall. He does so despite the shame. (33) The Niflung brothers are forced out and captured. 113- Atli throws Hogni in jail, but 116 brings Gunnar bound before Gudrun. He expects she will gloat; after all, he has revenged her for Sigurd. Instead she begs Atli to spare him. Thiorekssaga omits 117- Even at this eleventh hour Atli these refinements 120 is willing to release the Niflungs and kills off all in return for the treasure (so at the Niflung least he pretends). It has been brothers, either hidden in the Rhine somewhere. during the battle Only Gunnar and Hogni know where. or at the hands of Gunnar would surrender his half, Gudrun. Reflecting if only he could do so without rather too late disclosing Hogni's half too. (34) Of that his queen has course, if Gunnar held Hogni's heart caused a lot of in his hand, he would then own both bloodshed, Atli has halves of the treasure. (35) one of his henchmen Bargaining would become easier, he (Theodoric as it hints. Gudrun thinks poorly of this happens) cut her up proposal--she wants to save into little pieces. both brothers, not just one. 121- Atli is delighted to have driven a 124 wedge between Gunnar and Hogni. Still, he wishes to save Hogni's life in order to conciliate Gudrun. He tries to deceive Gunnar by giving him the heart of Hjalli. (36) Gunnar detects the imposture because the heart quakes so. 125-128 Finally Gunnar is given the genuine heart of Hogni. (37) Gunnar recognizes it, for Hogni's heart does not quake. This is all the obituary Hogni gets, but for a thousand years it has been considered the height of Norse sang-froid. 129-131 Gunnar is now the only one alive who knows where the gold is hid. He reneges on his promise to Atli, refusing to reveal the hiding place after all. At this point the only revenge Gunnar can get is to deny the treasure to the Huns, and this he is determined to do even if it means torture and death. 132-139 Atli throws Gunnar into a snake pit. By way of a life-line Gudrun tosses him a harp. Gunnar's harping puts the snakes to sleep (39)--all except the biggest, which stings him to death. 140 The murder of her brothers Gunnar and Hogni is the final straw for Gudrun, who now at last renounces her wifely obligations. She determines upon revenge. She is a sweet girl really, (40) but you can push her only so far before she goes over the edge altogether. 141-147 Atli has the bodies burned in a pyre, then returns for a victory feast. (41) Gudrun serves the drink. When all have feasted, she announces that she has killed Erp and Eitill, her two sons by Atli. She has cooked them up for the cannibal feast. Nibelungenlied & 148-152 Atli swoons in horror and the Thiorekssaga leave servants put him to bed. Gudrun Attila alive at barges into his chamber, wakens story's end, thus him from his drunken stupor, getting wrong the mocks him, and stabs him dead. only fact about the He dies reviling her. whole affair that ancient historians 153-155 Gudrun sets the second hall agree upon. afire. (43) Volsunga Saga 156-165 Gudrun takes to wandering in the lets her live woods alone. After recapitulating her to remarry. history in song, she drowns herself in the river. 166 The gold is still in the Rhine. All the characters are dead; not even a Fortinbras is left standing. Odin has gotten what he wanted. Sigurd is in Valholl, eagerly awaiting the Last Battle. Sub species Aeternitas, all has ended happily. The poet dismisses his audience. Rejected Elements Strophe Analogs in JRRT The Lay of the Volsungs: Beginning 1-9 Silmarillion: Ainulindale 10-15 16-20 Turin Turambar is similarly reserved for the Last Battle in the Silmarillion. The Lay of the Volsungs: I. Andvari's Gold Nibelungenlied only 1-6 The Lord of the Rings begins at a much [LotR]: Gollum fishing later point. in the Pool of Henneth Annun. 7-8 Oin, father to Andvari, lends his name (but nothing else) to one of the companions of Thorin Oakenshield. Nibelungenlied also 9-10 Farmer Giles makes no has a dwarf, such mistake; he leaves Alberich, and a Chrysophylax enough treasure. Details gold to keep him are different and respectable. the treatment is far less extensive. 11-12 For the much-misunderstood relationship between this ring and Sauron's, see Tom Shippey ("Problem" 97). 13-15 The poem "The Hoard" in The Adventures of Tom Bombadil follows the history of a similar hoard. The Lay of the Volsungs: II. Signy In Beowulf it is 1-4 LotR: The White Tree in the Sigmund who court of Minas Tirith slays the dragon, and nothing is said of any son Sigurd. 5-9 10-20 The name Grima in LotR comes from the same root ("mask") as Grimnir. The Sword in the Stone motif, so prominent in the Arthurian story, is not used in Tolkien's other fiction. 21-25 26-29 Silmarillion: Finrod Felagund and his companions, serially slain by werewolves in the dungeons of Morgoth. 30-32 The incest of Turin Turambar in The Silmarillion is rather to be compared to that of Kullervo in the Kalevala. In Volsunga Saga 33-36 Signy has four other sons by Siggeir, who all come to bad ends at the hands of Sinfjotli and Sigmund. 37-41 The Lay of the Volsungs: III. The Death of Sinfjotli JRRT greatly 1-4 compressed Volsunga Saga, where the queen's name is Borghild. The story of her son Helgi Hundingsbani is omitted as irrelevant. At the third 5-10 attempt, Volsunga Saga's Sigmund advises his son to strain the drink through his beard. This detail, though picturesque, makes no sense; JRRT omits it. 11-13 The Lay of the Volsungs: IV. Sigurd Born 1-4 5-9 10-13 The shards of Isildur's Narsil are similarly preserved to be reforged as Aragorn's Anduril. 14-18 The Lay of the Volsungs: V. Regin Thiorekssaga has 1-2 a very different childhood account of Sigurd, who is nonetheless still the son of Sigmund. The infant sails down a river in a glass basket, is raised by a doe, then found and adopted by Mimir. In Thiorekssaga, 3-6 Regin is the dragon and the smith is called Mimir. Sigurd kills the dragon, then kills 7-12 Mimir, then betroths himself to the Valkyrie 13-14 Brynhild. 15-16 In Volsunga Saga, 17-20 LotR: Elendil's Sigurd will pursue sword Narsil, no dragon until he later reforged has avenged his Aragorn's sword father. JRRT drops Anduril. this. 21-25 Nibelungenlied 26-29 The slayings of knows that Sigurd Glaurund and killed a dragon, Smaug. and says so briefly in a flashback. The horny skin is important here; a vital spot between the shoulder blades is left unprotected. (6) In Volsunga Saga 30-34 The riddling the riddles are conversation interesting in between Bilbo & themselves but Smaug in Hobbit. irrelevant to the plot, so dropped 35-38 by JRRT. 39-40 41 42-44 The talking thrush (9) and raven that help Bilbo in Hobbit. 45 In Volsunga Saga, 46-48 LotR: Aragorn & he saves part of the hobbits load the heart to give the trolls' gold on later to Gudrun. Bill the Pony. Turin also had a Helm of Horror. 49-54 The Lay of the Volsungs: VI. Brynhild 1-4 Tolkien makes no use of the Sleeping Beauty motif in his other fiction. 5-6 Nibelungenlied 7-8 Brynhild has knows nothing of some Valkyries. Its resemblances to Brynhild is an Eowyn in LotR. Amazon and can only be subdued by deflowering her. She is Queen of Iceland and sister of Attila, stretching dynastic geography to the limit. In Nibelungenlied, 9-10 the two first meet in Iceland, where Brynhild's prior knowledge of Sigurd is tantalizingly unclear. In Volsunga Saga 11-14 Brynhild gives us a dissertation on runes which JRRT omits. Volsunga Saga gives 15-17 the couple a daughter Aslaug, who marries Ragnar Lodbrok. (13) 18-19 20-22 Similarly in LotR Elrond enjoins Aragorn not to marry Arwen until he becomes King of both Arnor and Gondor. Volsunga Saga now 23 re-introduces Brynhild & her domestic sister as though Sigurd had never seen her before. The Lay of the Volsungs: VII. Gudrun In the source, she 1-6 recounts this dream to Brynhild. The main narrative 7-10 of Nibelungenlied begins here, with Hogni (Hagen) being a vassal, not a brother. In Thiorekssaga, 11-13 Sigurd likewise (after various adventures) comes to Gunnar. (17) 14-15 16-19 20-24 25-32 LotR: The dead White Tree in the courtyard of Minas Tirith. 33-34 35 36-39 The Lay of the Volsungs: VIII. Brynhild Betrayed In Thiorekssaga, 1-6 Sigurd knowingly breaks his betrothal to Brynhild and marries Gudrun, just because it is a more advantageous alliance. Brynhild marries Gunnar on the rebound, but as in Nibelungenlied she rebuffs him on the wedding night and hangs him from a peg. She is not tamed until Gunnar authorizes Sigurd to rape her. Volsunga Saga gives 7-11 the couple a son Sigmund, whom JRRT ignores. In Nibelungenlied 12-24 the heroes travel to Iceland where Sigurd, using an invisibility cloak that he got from the dragon, overcomes Brynhild in athletic contests (Gunnar going through the motions). Gunnar marries her. For three nights running she ties him up and hangs him from the wall. Sigurd has to wrestle Brynhild down so that Gunnar can deflower her. In Nibelungenlied 25-32 Brynhild is encouraged to think that Sigurd is Gunnar's vassal. This ineradicable delusion, not any love for Sigurd, is the reason she subsequently claims social precedence over Gudrun. For the wide 33 variations in the ring story at this point, between and even within the different sources, see Tom Shippey, "The Problem of the Rings: Tolkien and Wagner." 34 The Lay of the Volsungs: IX. Strife 1-3 4-5 6 In Nibelungenlied, 7 the ladies quarrel at the church door. (22) In Thiorekssaga, 8-10 the quarrel of the queens occurs much as in the Nibelungenlied, and Hogni spears Sigurd in the back. When he rubbed on the dragon blood he hadn't been able to 11-20 reach between the shoulder blades. 21-34 In Nibelungenlied, 35-37 he goes so far as to beat her. 38-42 43-44 45-50 Various sources 51-60 have Sigurd killed by Gunnar or by Hogni; outdoors while hunting or indoors lying in Gudrun's arms. In Nibelungenlied, Hogni tricks Gudrun into revealing Sigurd's one vulnerable spot so he can be speared in the back. 61-63 In Volsunga Saga, 64-71 Gudrun bears to Sigurd a posthumous daughter Swanhild. In Nibelungenlied, 72-76 Brynhild survives Sigurd's death but take little part in the rest of the story. 77-82 The Lay of Gudrun 1-2 The German 3-9 sources, unlike the Norse, treat Attila as a noble and generous king. (26) 10-16 The tapestry is reminiscent of the one in Meduseld depicting the coming of Eorl the Young out of the North, in LotR. In the Elder Edda 17-28 Grimhild gives Gudrun one of her patented potions to induce her to accept Atli's suit. Atlakvioa: Gudrun 29-32 and Atli have a horrible domestic life together. 33-36 In Thiorekssaga, 37-43 Vingi's seductive offer Atli & Gudrun recalls that of Sauron's jointly invite the ambassador to Dain, as Niflungs so as to reported by Gimli at ambush them and get the Council. the gold. Numerous subsidiary characters & 44-45 adventures are introduced. In Nibelungenlied, 46-48 so far from warning off the Niflungs Gudrun entices them to Hunland to get revenge on Hogni. (31) 49-54 55-56 57-58 This is reminiscent of Bilbo's remark to Gandalf at the Council of Elrond: All Gandalf's former advice has been unpleasant, but good; now that his advice is pleasant, Bilbo pretends to suspect it. In Thiorekssaga, 59-67 LotR: The there are no Mouth of hostilities upon Sauron. arrival and everyone sits down to a very strained feast. Unable to get any of Atli's henchmen to attack Hogni, Gudrun precipitates the fight by tricking her young son into landing a punch on him. Hogni slices off the boy's head for his pains, and tosses it into Gudrun's lap. In Nibelungenlied 68-78 and Thiorekssaga, Atli stands above the fray dithering while his vassals (32) do the actual fighting. 79-80 81-86 87-88 89-93 94-112 113- 116 Thiorekssaga omits 117- The situation in these refinements 120 Hobbit following the and kills off all death of Smaug the Niflung depicts a similar brothers, either tangle of conflicting during the battle legal claims to a or at the hands of treasure. Gudrun. Reflecting rather too late that his queen has caused a lot of bloodshed, Atli has one of his henchmen (Theodoric as it happens) cut her up into little pieces. 121- 124 125-128 129-131 132-139 140 141-147 Nibelungenlied & 148-152 Thiorekssaga leave Attila alive at story's end, thus getting wrong the only fact about the whole affair that ancient historians 153-155 agree upon. Volsunga Saga 156-165 lets her live to remarry. 166 (1) This of course makes Sigurd a precursor to Christ, and his story an adumbration of the Gospel. Having single-handedly turned Beowulf into a Christian poem, Tolkien now does the same to Sigurd. Tolkien often found fragments of Christian truth in pagan myth, however far from Christianity the originals might be. It would be interesting to have C.S. Lewis's take on all this. Christopher Tolkien is mum, considering such speculation "outside [his] editorial limits" (S&G 185). (2) In his prose introduction to this section, JRRT rather oddly calls Hreidmar a "demon" (66). In Volsunga Saga he is merely a well-off farmer. (3) The name Volsung is used throughout the lay as though it were the name of a dynasty or of a chosen race, as well as the name of this particular representative of the dynasty. JRRT believed that the word derived from a root meaning to choose (S&G 54). To some extent the Volsungs are equated with the Jews of the Old Testament, as viewed retrospectively by Christians. (4) JRRT does not tell us what has happened. We know (from Volsunga Saga) that Signy has smeared Sigmund's mouth with honey. The werewolf has a sweet tooth, and goes for the mouth first. Sigmund bites out the wolf's tongue by the roots, killing the wolf and bursting his bonds at the same time. Signy has maneuvered to sacrifice nine brothers in order to save the tenth. (5) With wine, beer, and ale; JRRT omits mead. (6) This is the same basic idea as Achilles's unprotected heel. This motif must go back at least as far as the common Indo- European ancestor of Greek and Norse. (7) In Volsunga Saga Sigurd first calls himself the "Noble Beast," somewhat as Ulysses identifies himself to Polyphemus as "No Man." JRRT drops this epithet but retains the initial riddling response. The idea seems to be that if a dying enemy knows your right name he can curse you by it, and such curses will bite. In both versions the hero, without explanation, goes on to give his right name after all, rather spoiling the effect. (8) Why? We are not told. The plot requires that the heart be roasted, but the compiler of Volsunga Saga gives Sigurd no good motive to comply. Immediately after their quarrel we are asked to believe that Sigurd allows Regin to participate in the cookery and even to dictate the recipe. Tolkien leaves this problem as he found it. (9) These stanzas are in a different meter (ljooahattr) from the rest of the poem. (10) Tolkien leaves this enigmatic. Perhaps Sigurd understands the words (which is more than most people make of bird chatter) but does not realize the implications of what the birds say. The birds describe Brynhild's situation recognizably but do not mention her by name. (11) We are not told why he does so. Perhaps he is merely curious; perhaps he has been paying more attention to the birds than Tolkien lets on. Perhaps because of his hardened skin, he seems to experience no difficulty crossing the flames. (12) Sigibert was successful in war and defeated the Huns in battle. He was assassinated by an in-law. Brunhild, described as wise and beautiful, mourned him deeply. Both were involved in plots and assassination attempts. In her old age her enemies had her dragged to death by a wild horse. See St. Gregory of Tours. Gregory annoyingly leaves out Brunhild's horrible death because at the time of writing it hadn't happened yet. (13) Notorious semi-legendary Viking; ancestor to the kings of Norway. (14) The redundancy is strange. Perhaps JRRT fears that a single betrothal would be taken for perfunctory prophecy-fulfillment. Lovers proverbially delight in repeated avowals of love. (15) This is crucial to the plot, since Brynhild will later lie to Gunnar about it. (16) All these people except Hogni are actual personages--much transformed from their historical prototypes. (17) The Gudrun character in this saga is called Grimhild, not to be confused with the Grimhild character in Volsunga Saga. (18) The two enchanted sleeps presumably derive from an early conflation of two different versions of the same incident. The duplication is already entrenched in the Elder Edda, too deeply for JRRT to uproot it without fatally disrupting the plot. JRRT goes so far as to add a third awakening (S&G 160); and this he emphasizes, very unusually, by a marginal annotation. Perhaps this is meant to distract our attention. (19) Brynhild later blames Gunnar for cowardice in not facing the flames. At the time, the poet diplomatically lays all the blame on the horses. (20) This is crucial to JRRT's plot, since Brynhild will later lie to Gunnar about it. (21) At this point in the Lay, Tom Shippey points out a metrical error, the only one in the poem. The second half-line alliterates where it should not: "oaths were remembered | all unfulfilled" ("Tolkien out-Wagners Wagner" 5). Sigurd is so distressed that the poem falters in its prosody. Perhaps JRRT wishes to alert the reader, "Here is the turning point of the whole poem!" JRRT demands a very alert reader. (22) Because, Shippey says, skinny-dipping queens offended medieval ideas of decorum ("Problem" 103). Why, when the Norse and German poets are near-contemporaries? The Norse poets seem to have had a better feel for historicity ("The past is another country, they do things differently there"); hence they may have felt less need to modernize old stories. Perhaps German courts were more elegant than Scandinavian ones of the same period, or perhaps group nudity was more acceptable among a people who may already have borrowed the sauna bath from their Finnish neighbors. Swimsuits were not invented till the 18th-century. (23) Sixth-century Burgundians dressed their hair with butter and would have benefited from occasional shampoos. St. Sidonius Appolinaris, quoted by Christopher Tolkien (S&G 339). (24) How does he know that his temporary selective amnesia had been caused by Grimhild's magic potion? Or does he know? We are not told. He seems to bear no special grudge against Grimhild. (25) Shippey calls this very close to suttee ("Tolkien out-Wagners Wagner" 3). Great queens who die for love are thin on the ground, even in fiction. In real life I can think only of Sophonisba, Cleopatra, and Yang Kuei-Fei. (26) A result of their different history. Ethnic Huns (fugitive remnants escaping out of far China) constituted only a cadre within Attila's empire. The Huns prevailed by a classic technique: first you subdue your weaker neighbors (mostly Germans of one sort or another). You do not exterminate them; you recruit them into your army with the promise of victory. With this strengthened army you then repeat the cycle on the next set of neighbors, and so ad infinitum. The Ostrogoths and other eastern Germans were willing allies and tributaries to Attila. Even Attila's name is German (= "Daddy"); his own real name has been forgotten. The medieval Germans inherited this favorable view of Attila. The medieval Norse, although never in direct contact with the Huns, inherited the hostile view of the western Germans (Visigoths, Franks, et al.), who had been mercilessly massacred by Attila's hordes. During the two World Wars, the Allies called the Germans "Huns"; it was not a misnomer. See Maenchen; Wolfram. (27) The brother of Budli, who here is Atli's father. The historical Bleda was not Attila's father but his elder brother and co-king. Attila himself is strongly suspected by modern historians of having murdered Bleda. (28) Gunnar must therefore have lived down the disgrace of killing Sigurd. Probably he has succeeded in casting all the blame on the conveniently-dead Gutthorm. (29) Runes were used for magic and for inscriptions, especially on tombstones. They were never used for correspondence, nor to record commercial transactions or literary compositions. If Gudrun sent a letter in runes, she was far ahead of her time. When the historical Justa Grata Honoria sent her famous love letter to Attila (also enclosing a ring, by the way), she was writing in Latin. Attila is known to have employed secretaries and interpreters to handle his Latin and Greek correspondence. (30) The ring is probably not Andvaranaut, but who knows? We have not been told what became in the end of that evil bauble. (31) In the Norse sources (Eddas and Sagas), Attila is malevolent, Gudrun is benevolent, and her loyalty to her reconciled brothers is stronger than her desire for revenge. In the German sources (Nibelungenlied and Thiorekssaga) the reverse is true. (32) Including two historical personages who in real life had no connection to Attila: Ermanaric and Theodoric the Great. These worthies flourished several generations before and after Attila respectively. (33) The shame lies not in using fire as a weapon, but in firing his own hall. (34) Gunnar's pretended legal scruples are disingenuous. Atli is already de jure owner. Gudrun inherits the treasure from Sigurd. During her first widowhood, her person and property revert to the guardianship of Gunnar and Hogni. The latter have a fiduciary responsibility to preserve the treasure for her, instead of which they fraudulently sink it in the Rhine--precisely so that she will not bring it to Atli upon her second marriage, as should have been done. (35) The pretense that Gunnar is more concerned for Hogni's legal rights than for Hogni's life is ridiculous. Atli takes this to mean that Gunnar is trying to save his own life by setting Hogni up as the fall guy. In Strophe 129 we learn different. (36) Hjalli, Atli's pig keeper or perhaps cook, is not consulted about this. He objects, but in vain. (37) Hogni does not resent this cavalier treatment by Gunnar. He is a hero and has already resolved not to yield the treasure under any circumstances. Thus his own death is now certain no matter what Gunnar does. (38) The fictional Atli destroys a kingdom to recover a dowry he claims for his marriage to a Burgundian queen. The historical Attila devastates half of Europe to recover a dowry he claims for his betrothal to a Roman princess. The story of Attila and Honoria can be read in any standard history of the period, such as Gibbon or Bury. (39) Cf. the effect of Burgundian music upon St. Sidonius Appolinaris (S&G 339). (40) Critics who think that Tolkien marginalizes women should ponder Grimhild, Gudrun, and Brynhild. (41) Presumably at a spare hall, since the original one has been burnt. Atli must carry around spare halls the way Sherman carried around spare railroad tunnels during the Atlanta campaign. (42) Priscus, quoted in Jordanes, thinks that Attila died of natural causes aggravated by intemperance, and this view is endorsed by Christopher Tolkien (S&G 347). For a contrary view, extended to book length, see Babcock. Babcock also suggests that the character of Hogni may have been based on the Roman general Aetius--apparently because both when young had been hostages at the Hunnish court. It is true that Hogni's name does not alliterate with those of his three supposed siblings and their father, also that his name, unlike theirs, is absent from the ancient Burgundian law codes. (43) The double burning of Atli's hall, like the double awakening of Brynhild, must be due to conflating two different versions of the same event at some time prior to our earliest manuscripts.
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|Title Annotation:||JRR Tolkien's 'The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun'|
|Author:||Berube, Pierre H.|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2009|
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