The Dusk of the Gods portrays at the opening the three norns or fates weaving and measuring the thread of destiny. It is the beginning of the end. The perfect pair, Siegfried and Brunhild, appear in all the glory of their life, splendid ideals of manhood and womanhood. But Siegfried goes out into the world to achieve deeds of prowess. He gives her the Nibelungen ring to keep as a pledge of his love till his return. Meanwhile Alberich also has begotten a son, Hagan, to achieve for him the possession of the ring. He is partly of the Gibichung race, and works through Gunther and Gutrune, half-brother and half-sister to him. They beguile Siegfried to them, give him a magic draught which makes him forget Brunhild and fall in love with Gutrune. Under this same spell, he offers to bring Brunhild for wife to Gunther. Now is Valhalla full of sorrow and despair. The gods fear the end. Wotan murmurs, “O that she would give back the ring to the Rhine.” But Brunhild will not give it up,—it is now her pledge of love. Siegfried comes, takes the ring, and Brunhild is now brought to the Rhine castle of the Gibichungs, but Siegfried under the spell does not love her. She is to be wedded to Gunther. She rises in wrath and denounces Siegfried. But at a hunting banquet Siegfried is given another magic draught, remembers all, and is slain by Hagan by a blow in the back, as he calls on Brunhild’s name in love. Then comes the end. The body of Siegfried is burned on a funeral pyre, a grand funeral march is heard, and Brunhild rides into the flames and sacrifices herself for love’s sake; the ring goes back to the Rhine-daughters; and the old world—of the gods of Valhalla, of passion and sin—is burnt up with flames, for the gods have broken moral law, and coveted power rather than love, gold rather than truth, and therefore must perish. They pass, and a new era, the reign of love and truth, has begun.
Those who wish to study the differences in the legends of the Nibelungen Lied and the Nibelungen Ring, and the way in which Wagner used his ancient material, are referred to Professor W. C. Sawyer’s book on “Teutonic Legends in the Nibelungen Lied and the Nibelungen Ring,” where the matter is treated in full detail. For a very thorough and clear analysis of the Ring as Wagner gives it, with a study of the musical motifs, probably nothing is better for general readers than the volume “The Epic of Sounds,” by Freda Winworth. The more scholarly work of Professor Lavignac is indispensable for the student of Wagner’s dramas. There is much illuminating comment on the sources and materials in “Legends of the Wagner Drama” by J. L. Weston.
The Druids were the priests or ministers of religion among the ancient Celtic nations in Gaul, Britain, and Germany. Our information respecting them is borrowed from notices in the Greek and Roman writers, compared with the remains of Welsh and Gaelic poetry still extant.