Wagner, it's often said, has had more books written about him than anyone in history with the exceptions of Napoleon and Jesus Christ. This is one of the most fascinating, coming as it does from George Bernard Shaw, a penetrating music critic under the pen-name Corno di Bassetto as well as the familiar dramatist.
This is GBS's take on Wagner's Ring of the Nibelung. It is a predictable mix of Shavian wit, perception and frustratingly obstinate didacticism. There is no doubt about the seriousness with which Shaw takes this massive work. He clearly sees it, still fairly fresh in people's experience as it was when his book was written, as one of the seminal works of his time. He writes to prove how much deeper its philosophy was than the simple charming fairy tale many took it for at the time. That he sees it essentially as a Shavian/Fabian fable is hardly surprising. If the book has a weakness it is, as Deryck Cooke points out in his excellent `I Saw the World End', that the whole argument is too narrow, too one-track to accommodate the many facets and many different interpretations that can all, quite justifiably, be placed on the Ring. This of all operatic works is bigger than any of its commentators. Even Shaw was aware of that.
"Only those of wider consciousness can follow it breathlessly, seeing in it the whole tragedy of human history and the whole horror of the dilemmas from which the world is shrinking today," he wrote.
When he wrote the book, Shaw intended it for the Wagner novice, helping them to a fuller understanding of the work - or, at least, how he saw it. It perhaps shouldn't be recommended for that purpose these days, but it still remains an essential read for anyone who has already started down the road to becoming a Perfect Wagnerite. Chances are you won't agree with some/most/any of it. But it is still a fascinating read for anyone with a serious interest in Wagner's works.