Better than Wagner

By Bettina Bildhauer [TLS, 9 June 2010]
There is not much about being human that one cannot learn from the Nibelungenlied (Song of the Nibelungs). This epic poem is the Northern European myth of power and revenge, distilling centuries of wisdom about psychology and politics into a simple but tragic story: the tale of Siegfried, a hero who comes to power purely through his own strength and daring, and is crushed by the political elite. His widow, Kriemhild, then takes on the members of the establishment who killed him, and step by step slaughters them all because they refuse to give up one of their own. The grandmother of all medievalist fantasy and of superhero comics, the Nibelungenlied has it all in terms of a gripping yarn, too: it gives you the treasure, the dragon, the most valiant knights, the most beautiful ladies, the invincible hero, the spectacular battles, the mysteries, the mermaids, and the dead.