Most helpful critical review
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Pretentious psycho-babble. Avoid
on 28 April 2013
I don't like writing negative reviews. Anyone who has written a book (or anything, really) knows how difficult it is and how wounding bad notices can be, so giving one star is not something that I would do lightly. However, I'm afraid this book deserves it, and incredibly it still gets quoted and referred to as one of the key books on the subject. So I doubt Prof Donington would have been too concerned about my comments. The average rating it gets implies it is worth buying and reading, so I think a contrary view is called for: it might save you from wasting a few quid.
Perhaps I am bitter because when I was a student at the turn of the eighties I spent some of my hard earned vacation wages on this book. This was at the height of my Wagner obsession, and not having much free cash immediately regretted it. It is rare that I do not finish a book even if I don't like it that much, but this was one of those cases.
The book offers a Jungian interpretation of the Ring. I am not a psychologist or even a scientist but I have always had a problem with psychoanalytical `theories` because that is all they are and ever can be. There seems to be no way of proving or disproving them, they are as Popper put it `unfalsifiable'. So they are pseudo-science at best.
Donington's analysis, as in all Jungian interpretations of myths, sees the drama as symbolic of the internal development of the psyche of the individual. The problem with this is that it ignores many aspects of the drama that we see before our eyes on the stage: Das Rheingold, for example, is clearly above all else about power and politics. Like all Jungian analysis, the book imposes Jungian categories or archetypes on the work, sometimes it appears, just because those are the available archetypes, not because they explain anything in the drama. The anima, or mysterious femininity, is represented by Sieglinde and Brunhilde, presumably because they are the main young female protagonists in the drama. Hunding and Hagen represent the shadow, or hidden unconscious traits. Perhaps the most absurd interpretation is of the giant-turned-dragon Fafner as `the devouring aspect of the mother-image', which `guards a treasure which stands for the access of rich life accruing when the fascination of the mother image has been confronted & overcome'. I'm sorry but surely Fafner could be more credibly seen as someone who is greedy for power (like most of the main characters in the loveless world of Das Rheingold) but who lacks the energy & imagination to use it once it has been obtained: I had never thought of the dragon as the terrible mother before I read this, and I still don't see how anyone not wedded to the Jungian model could regard this as a reasonable analysis of the character.
Donington's interpretation was politely but forensically taken apart by Deryck Cooke in his posthumous `I Saw the World End', which, even though little more than 1/3 of it was finished through the author's untimely death, remains in my view the best analysis of the Ring over 30 years after its publication. His conclusion could not be bettered: `perhaps the fairest thing to say about Donington's book is that it is a Jungian interpretation of the Ring..... which nevertheless does not explain what the Ring is actually about'.
There are certainly flashes of insight that are useful, but in my opinion not enough to justify ploughing through all the Jungian stuff. There are some very good introductions to Wagner, such as Michael Tanner's short book, and then books offering more depth for those with some knowledge of the work. This is clearly intended to be the latter. However, I would recommend instead Cooke's book, which, unfinished as it is, is much more insightful and rewarding.