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Tolkiens's Sigurd & Gudrun: summary, sources, & analogs.

TOLKIEN'S VERSE IN SIGURD & GUDRUN IS INTENTIONALLY so condensed and so allusive that it is easy to miss the plot on a first reading. This table is intended to provide a convenient summary. It also indicates which major elements of the existing primary world legendarium Tolkien used for his purposes, and which he rejected. I have relied on Christopher Tolkien's endnotes and have also compared Tolkien to his sources. A third goal is to show what use of these elements Tolkien made in his other fiction.

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.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

WORKS CITED

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.
Publication:Mythlore
Article Type:Table
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 22, 2009
Words:10755
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