find ‘dragons’ a fascinating product of imagination. But I don’t
think the Beowulf one is frightfully good. But the whole problem of the
intrusion of the ‘dragon’ into northern imagination and its
transformation there is one I do not know enough about. Fafnir in the late
Norse versions of the Sigurd-story is better; and Smaug and his
conversation obviously is in debt there."--Letter to Naomi Mitchison,
18 December 1949
Outline of Tolkien's Introduction to The Elder
I. Appreciation of the Poetry
A. Philological Debt
B. Old English versus Old Norse--The latter's sudden power and
II. The Scandinavian Past
A. Stone Age and Early Nordic cultures
B. The Heroic Age (post-700AD)
1. The Saga--the prose works
2. The Poetic: Meter and Myth
3. Transition Period Between Pagan and Christian
C. Post-1100AD--Skaldic Poetry--The
D. 16th/17th Century Revival of Interest
E. 18th Century Dismissal of the Gothic
F. The Codex Regius
Key Versions of the Myth that
"The Story of Sigurd
(adapted by Andrew Lang himself from Morris' translation of The
Volsunga Saga) was my favorite without rival. Even as it stands in the
Red Book that is no light matter; it is strong meat for
nurseries."--Manuscript B of On Fairy-stories
- The Poetic Edda (850-1050AD)
- The Prose Edda (Snorri Strulson, ca.
- The Saga of the Volsungs (Volsungasaga;
ca. 13th century)
- The Nibelungenlied (Germanic; ca.
- The Story of Sigurd the Volsung and the Fall
of the Niblungs (William Morris, 1876)
- "The Legend of Sigurd" (Andrew Lang, Red
Fairy Book, 1890)
Other Minor Related Poems
- Waldere I and II--two
Old English fragments of the story of Walter and Hildegyth who steal
treasure from the court of Atli.
English poem from 9th century that lists some of the key peoples
Lament of Deor--Old English 10th century
The Poetic Form
Fornyrđislag 8-line (Old story
meter): 2 half-lines with 2 stressed syllables each; the first half-line
has 1 or 2 alliterating syllables; the second half-line should have one
syllables that alliterates with the first half-line. 5 possible types of
half-lines: (a) /x/x; (b) x/xx; (c) x//x; (d) //\x or //x\; (e) /\x/.
A Few Key Themes and Motifs
- Oathbreaking (eiđrofa)
- The Dragon
- Heroic Culture
The Valkyrie Traditions
Donovan in her article "The Valkyrie Reflex in The Lord of the
Rings" mentions the following characteristics associated with
valkyrie traditions. They:
an otherworldly radiance, sometimes associated with the glittering
shine of armor or with the fractured illumination linked to battle
physical prowess equaling or exceeding that of male heroes;"
ceremonial functions within the hall such as ritual cup-bearing at
official occasions, gift-giving to heroes, and sewing or preserving
special heroic garments, which challenge heroes to fulfill their
prophetic acts or engage in other speech acts that determine some
actions based on the operation of their own strong wills;"
the loss of something central and precious to their lives."
- In what
ways does Tolkien take advantage of the compression and
"pithy" nature of the Nordic verse pattern? Is it always
- Are the
early accounts of demons and dwarves essential to the tales? How so?
- Why do
you think that the story of Sigurd and the dragon had such a strong
impact on Tolkien as a child?
- Why are
various kinds of oaths made and broken so important to the Lays of the
Völsungs and Gudrún?
important is the magic and shape-shifting in the text?
should we respond to the (a)moral character of the Völsungs, the
Niflungs, and the Huns?
role do the aspirations and plight of women play in the lays?
- How many
of the characteristics of valkyrie does Brynhild?
Three sketches of the Sigurd and the dragon story used on Scandinavian