Why Did Tolkien Care About the Jews?
Wagner's legacy remains baleful. Fortunately, many more people know Tolkien than know Wagner, and we may pronounce Tolkien's project a success. Unfortunately, Wagner's hold on the cultural elite remains strong, and influences modern culture in ways of which the popular audience is unaware. A stake has not yet been driven through his heart. I swing a mallet to this end whenever opportunity permits.
In a 2003 essay ("The Ring and the Remnants of the West") I compared Wagner's and Tolkien's respective treatment of the same Norse and Teutonic mythological themes:
|Nibelung Alberich forges a Ring of Power||Sauron forges a Ring of Power|
|Wotan needs the giants to build Valhalla||The Elves need Sauron to forge their Rings of Power|
|The Ring gives the bearer world domination||The Ring gives the bearer world domination|
|Wotan uses the Ring to pay the giants||Sauron betrays the Elves|
|The Ring is cursed and betrays its bearer||The Ring is evil and betrays its bearer|
|Fafner kills brother Fasolt to get the Ring||Smeagol kills friend Deagol for the Ring|
|Fafner hides in a cave for centuries||Smeagol-Gollum hides in a cave for centuries|
|Siegfried inherits the shards of his father's sword||Aragorn inherits the shards his fathers' sword|
|Brunnhilde gives up immortality for Siegfried||Arwen gives up immortality for Aragorn|
|Wotan plays "riddles" for the life of Mime||Gollum plays "riddles" for the life of Bilbo|
|A dragon guards the Nibelungs' hoard||A dragon guards the dwarves' hoard|
|The gods renounce the world and await the end||The Elves renounce the world and prepare to depart|
|The Ring is returned to its origin, the River Rhine||The Ring is returned to its origin, Mount Doom|
|Hagen falls into the river||Gollum falls into the volcano|
|The dwarves are the Jews (and are very wicked)||The dwarves are the Jews (clannish and greedy but not wicked)|
|A new era emerges in the world||A new era emerges in the|
|Men are left to their own devices||Men are left to their own|
I concluded, "Tolkien enthusiasts emphasize his differences with Wagner, as if to ward off the disparagement that The Lord of the Rings is a derivative work. As Bradley Birzer, David Harvey, and other commentators observe, Tolkien detested Wagner's neo-paganism. He was a devout Roman Catholic, and explicitly philo-Semitic where Wagner was anti-Semitic. But this defense of Tolkien obscures a great accomplishment. He did not emulate Wagner's Ring, but he recast the materials into an entirely new form. 'Recast' is an appropriate expression. A memorable scene in Wagner shows Siegfried filing the shards of his father's sword into dust, and casting a new sword out of the filings. That, more or less, is what Tolkien accomplished with the elements of Wagner's story. Wagner will still haunt the stages of opera houses, but audiences will see him through Tolkien's eyes."
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