6 reasons Richard Wagner is the real Lord of the Rings

10 December 2014, 15:27

Rings? Mythology? Leitmotifs? Trolls? Sounds like Wagner to us! The final Hobbit movie is due to hit cinemas this week, so it's time to compare Tolkien's epic saga to Wagner's Ring Cycle. Note the similarities…

1. Rings

Well, obviously. Both of these epic sagas trade heavily on the appearance of a mankind-controlling ring, variously nabbed, hidden, lost and destroyed in an effort to wield its power. But, crucially, Wagner did it first… 

2. Norse mythology

The Nibelungenlied and the Volsunga saga (what do you mean you haven't read them?) heavily informed Wagner's treatment of his epic Ring Cycle story. What's more, the very same legendary texts were known to have passed the eyes of Tolkien before he wrote his Middle Earth books.


3. Leitmotifs

Again, Wagner is first past the post on this one. His complex system of leitmotifs (small musical themes that represent certain characters, locations or emotions) in the Ring Cycle have become a template for how film music is often written - including Howard Shore's scores for the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies.


4. Dwarves

The dwarves in The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy are a stocky, amiable bunch - grumpy but ultimately good knockabout fun. The dwarves in the Ring Cycle are thieving, duplicitous, love-renouncing, power-mad murderers. Guess which one is more exciting?


5. Fire in general

So Tolkien has his fires of Mount Doom and the all-seeing flaming eye of Sauron, but Wagner's got an actual God of Fire, musical themes to represent fire itself, magic fire that only a fearless person may walk through, an all-consuming funeral pyre and a multitude of Gods consumed by flames at the end. So yeah, Wagner wins.

6. Running times

The movie versions of both the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, in their full extended versions, will take you around 1,188 minutes, or just shy of 20 hours. Which, frankly, is rather too long to tackle in one go. The Ring Cycle, however, will only take up a much more manageable 15 hours in total.


Or maybe it was all just a co-incidence…?

Tolkien himself refuted the idea that he'd taken an excessive amount of influence from his operatic predecessor, saying: "Both rings were round, and there the resemblance ceases."