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Hoisted from the Archives: Stephan Grundy's "Rhinegold"


The raw ingredients out of which J.R.R. Tolkien fashioned The Lord of the Rings are equal parts Norse-Anglo-Saxon-Germanic myth, chivalric romance, and Christian apocalyptics (evil personified and mighty, but also powerful guardian spirits, and over all a God who arranges things so that the highest prizes fall to those who suffer). The mix is extraordinarily powerful.

But if you want the Norse-Anglo-Saxon-Germanic myth itself, akratos--unmixed, undiluted--you have to go elsewhere: to a place like Stephan Grundy (1994), Rhinegold (New York: Bantam: 0553095455: 1994).

The dwarf scuttled away between the rocks, slithering into them until Loki could no longer see where dwarf ended and stone began. Only the red sparks of his eyes glowed out of the darkness as his voice hissed:

My curse on the ring I made, on all who wear it! Gold fired in blood, ruby blood-red, be you bathed in your holders' blood again and again, the death of athelings and the sorrow of women. Death to every man who takes you, make each woman who keeps you the bringer of death to her kind. Be strife of kinsmen, be breaker of bonds, let no gift and no oath hold where the river's fire burns, let no love bear lasting fruit, but cut all kin of your keepers down. My curse on the hoard I kept, held by the ring! Let no craft work its might to weal, let no need turn round nithing's might, but smith-craft's torch and need-fire's glow burn but to funeral pyres. Brother's bane and drighten's doom: thus Andward names the hoard! Norns, lay this orlog from the Rhine's depths. Write this wyrd--so shall it be!

Then what hope is there for us?" asked Alfarik quietly. "To die like Walsungs," Wynberht answered, then started to chant softly:

If our wyrd is crueler,       let our courage be keener
harder be hearts       and higher be souls
unweakened by fear       though with horror fraught
then shall Wals's sons       all worthy be named.

Now I shall sing a song for you which is seldom heard on the Rhine these days... of the Rhine's gold: how it was drawn forth... how the children of Hraithamar fought over it till at last it was won by Sigifrith the son of Sigimund and Herwodis:

Wodan and Hoenir       wandered with Loki
to Middle-Garth       as men by the Rhine.
There an otter       eating saw they
a goodly fish       the flood beside...

No hero, say men,       higher has lived
Than Sigifrith Fadhmir's Bane       slaying the wyrm
to get for himself       the gold's red-bright fire,
glittering by       the banks of the Rhine.

Wyrd love no fosterling       more long than a moment,
and no man may breathe       for more than his days,
Nor trust long in Wodan       Walhall's high drighten,
for raven and wolf       wait for his thanes aye.

Now lies the weregild       all lost by the Rhine,
and no man may say       nor see where it's hid.
For only two living       owned Fadhmir's secret,
now that secret's kept       in cairn with the dead.

Stephan Grundy is not to everybody's taste--I'm not even sure that he is to my taste: I have never picked up Rhinegold again since I read it for the first (and only) time perhaps six years ago. But the memory of reading it still haunts me, and it is not an experience that I would have foregone.