The Norse myth that inspired “The Lord of the Rings” - Iseult Gillespie
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The saga is generally known as Andvaranaut. The character of Andvari, the shapeshifting master craftsman who falls prey to the lure of precious gold, is central to the story. You can learn more about Andvari in Norse mythology here. Today, Andvari appears in a variety of games like God of War.
Andvari is commonly depicted as living in a cave behind a waterfall, where he forges marvelous creations. One day, Andvari took the form of a fish and dived to the land of the water nymphs, who guarded the purest gold. At first, he had merely wanted to see the legendary treasure for himself. But when the nymphs giggled at his awkward appearance, Andvari was filled with anger and stole their gold.
With Loki’s accidental slaying of Hreiðmarr’s son Prince Ótr, Andvari became a target. Loki stole his gold and gave them to the king of the dwarves, including the precious ring that took a strange hold over whoever wore it. You can learn more about Loki’s misadventures in the TED-Ed lessons Loki and The Deadly Mistletoe and Loki and The Master Builder.
After the transfer of the ring to the king of the dwarves, the object wreaked havoc on the family. When the king refused to share his wealth, Fafnir slit his father’s throat, seized the gold and fled the palace. He came to rest in a dark cave, where he curled up in his new possessions. Over time, Fafnir morphed into a gruesome dragon, the ring warping him inside and out.
Back at the palace, Fafnir’s brother Regin enlisted the help of the loyal warrior, Sigurd. If Sigurd defeated the monster, Regin promised they would split the gold. Sigurd wanted to believe that Regin would keep his promise – but after he slayed the dragon, he grew paranoid. He would kill Regin just to be safe, seizing wealth and power for himself. Despite Sigurd’s pure heart, the ring was overpowering. These deaths were only the beginning. Over the coming years, the ring would tear families apart, doom lovers, and destroy all who attempted to master it.
Andvaranaut has inspired many retellings and spin-offs, but the most notable musical example is Richard Wagner’s epic opera Der Ring des Nibelungen, also known as the Ring Cycle. You can read a helpful introduction to the inspiration and story here, then watch a performance of one of the most famous movements from the piece here. These articles lay out the relationship between the myth and Wagner’s version.
You may also have noticed some similarities between Andvaranaut and JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings novels. You can read more about the background for Tolkien’s fantasy here, as find out more about the similarities between the two here.
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