ELTS 151: Valkyries and Dragonslayers. Study of medieval Norse and German traditions of Völsung and Nibelung families.

Instructor: Kimberly Ball

The epic and legendary traditions of the Völsung family (descended from Odin) and their dealings with the Nibelung family (keepers of the Rhine Gold) constitute “the Great Story of the North,” as William Morris once called it. The exact origins of this story are unknown, but it is thought to have circulated in the oral tradition long before it was first referenced in writing, in Beowulf, composed as early as 700 CE. It has been told in many forms across the Germanic-language speaking world, across genres and media, and across the centuries – featuring shapeshifting dragons, dragon-slaying heroes, vengeful Valkyries, manipulative gods, cursed treasures, doomed romance, blood feud, and so much more. We will explore this story in some of its myriad variations ranging from Old Norse Eddic poetry and sagas, to the Middle High German Nibelungenlied, to Wagner’s 19th-century Ring Cycle of operas, to Fritz Lang’s silent Nibelungen films. We will consider the appeal and import of this enduringly popular story in terms of its various historical and cultural contexts, its artistic and political uses, as well as the influence it has had on the modern fantasy tradition – most notably inspiring J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.  All instruction/readings/viewings in English.