Customer Review

4.0 out of 5 stars Much To Enjoy, 3 Jan. 2011
This review is from: The Nibelungenlied (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
The title means Song of The Nibelungs and, written in 1200 in Germany, this is both an essential part of German culture and an inspiration to many European artists.

Siegfried is heir to the throne and treasure of the Nibelungs (a slightly nebulous people that includes today's Netherlands and parts of Scandinavia). On his travels around Europe he falls in love and marries Kriemhild who is sister to the three kings of Burgundland (approximately France). Despite becoming brother to those three kings, Siegfied is murdered by one of them - Hagan - and Kriemhild extracts her revenge by destroying all the kings and knights of Burgundland. It's a dirty and bloody tale, particularly in the last third where Kriemheld sends wave after wave of knights against her brothers and their supporters until finally everyone in the battle lies dead.

I have a soft spot for epic poetry but this one just didn't quite nail it for me. It's not, I think, because this version is written in prose - I am quite happy to read the Iliad in that form - and nor is it the quality of the translation, which here relies on using straightforward everyday language. Rather it is the narrative which failed to fully excite and interest me; and that is a rather strange result because it is full of the usual ingredients of such poems and much of it is well and interestingly done. There are great and powerful heroes, both men and women. Wonderful deeds are completed in the pursuit of love and honour. Courage, romance, malice, treachery, sorrow and pageant are all on display in embroidered descriptions of each scene and, of course, there is magic and fortune telling. But, there is a flaw at the centre of the storytelling that I could not get over and it is that the central characters trim their positions so that this is really a story about politicians and politics rather than heroes and heroics - and I can get that kind of stuff any and each day in the newspapers. Specifically the brothers allow Siegfried to be killed by Hagen and for Hagen to be excused the crime. After that they allow Hagen to abuse Kriemhild and marry her off to Etzel in far off Hungary, in the meantime stealing her fortune so that she cannot use it to buy revenge. As a result it is hard to feel any sympathy with the brothers when Kriemhild does for them and although she is extremely cruel, her motives stem from love of Siegfried whereas theirs are routed in base preservation of their status, and so it ends as a rather grubby family fight instead of a principled stand of heroes.

For all that, this is an easy read and I am glad that I now know about this text. There is much to enjoy amongst the battles and wild events of the story but it is not on a par with, say, The liberation of Jerusalem and certainly not the Iliad or Odyssey, with which Penguin try to make a comparison. The notes at the end are brilliant.
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