The sub-title tells you what this book is, it's an account of the story contained in the libretto of Richard
Wagner's four-opera cycle "The Ring of the Nibelung". It's a little more ambitious than that though. Runcie has read widely
around his subject and there is much philosophical and psychological insight to be gathered from this shortish book. This
will be readily seen when I tell you that the story is 121 pages long, but there are three appendices totalling 9 pages, 13
pages of notes, a bibliography and a page of web-links.
Runcie is trying to give us the true meaning of the Ring. Simply put, it is that all the characters in this
saga are really just aspects of one complete character, who is, or would be if everything worked as it should, the supreme
God Wotan. At least, that was what I thought Runcie was getting at, although not as simplistically as I've put it (but there
I haven't got all those pages either).
I am familiar with the Ring, having been introduced to it in my early twenties by someone knowledgeable about
it. I liked it then and I still like it now. However, I am forced to admit that, of the four operas the first, Rhinegold,
is easily my preferred one. This could be a matter of stamina, a three-hour opera being rather easier to take than a five-hour
It could, however, be simply because I find the gods, giants and dwarfs of Rhinegold, of far more interest
than the humans that take centre stage in the rest of the saga. This is a personal view and obviously not one shared by most
But enough of Wagner, what about Runcie's work? I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It, despite the copious notes,
is an easy book to read and he has a direct, controlled style that works well with his material. This book would be well worth
checking out by those just coming to the Ring and wanting to know more.
I do, however, have one criticism. Thanks to one of those happy coincidences that sometimes happen in life,
I read this book while Radio 3's Composer of the week was Richard Wagner. The presenter of the series was an obvious aficionado,
yet he didn't shy away from Wagner's dark side. Wagner treated nearly everyone who came into contact with him appallingly
and was a committed anti-Semite. Indeed, it is widely accepted that Wagner's philosophy was a major building block for the
Nazis. There is not a sniff of that in this book and I felt its omission. I realise that Runcie took a conscious decision
to leave it out, but I think his book is weaker for that.
Nevertheless, that one criticism aside, a well researched, considered text, that would reward any new Wagnerite.