CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 29. . . .April 2, 2010.
Brunhilda and the Ring.
Jorge LujŠn. Illustrated by Linda Wolfsgruber. Translated by Hugh Hazelton.
Toronto, ON: Groundwood Books, 2010.
96 pp., hardcover, $24.95.
Grades 10 and up / Ages 15 and up.
Review by Alison Mews.
Tell me what you expect from me," Brunhilda replies.
Annoyed, Wotanís sorrow turns to rage.
"Fulfill Frickaís desire, which is also my own.
Carry Siegmund off to die!"
The Valkyrie shudders.
"You who taught me to admire this young Volsung
are now asking me to snatch away his life?
Are rules more important to you
than all the wisdom of nature?" Brunhilda asks defiantly.
"You didnít make me a warrior
to defend the wrong combatant."
"Obey me, or Iííll wipe all the smiles
from the face I have loved so much!"
Based on Richard Wagnerís four operas that form The Ring of the Nibelung, this free-verse retelling focuses on Brunhilda, whose integrity and compassion for humanity result in the loss of her immortality and the eventual downfall of the Gods of Valhalla. Wagnerís original epic story was drawn from many sources, including German and Norse mythology, and it was intended for adults. Consequently, it is filled with the whole range of human emotions - love, compassion, courage, betrayal, greed, lust - and while it contains heroic acts, it also has incest and rape. An unusual choice for a young adult book, it will have limited appeal.
Stripped of the music that helps define the operas, the illustrated narrative must stand on its own. However, anyone unfamiliar with the story will struggle to comprehend it as the myriad plot twists are couched in poetic language and the characters names are often similar (for instance, twins Sieglinde and Siegmund and their love-child Siegfried). This is compounded by the way that dialogue is represented; changes of speaker are separated by quotation marks but not by spacing, and, because there is sparing use speech tags, itís often difficult to determine who said what. Occasionally, too, the text is placed on a dark background and is difficult to decipher. Altogether, this is not an easy book to read, and it will require concerted concentration and much rereading.
The illustrations do alleviate the difficulties with the story comprehension, but they are stylized and artistic rather than a straightforward interpretation. Linda Wolfsgruber reflects an innocence in the naked bodies of the Rhinemaidens and the lovers that makes their actions seem more a part of the natural world and the stuff of mythology. Her sparsely detailed images provide an elegance to the retelling that is not present in the translated text.
Those who enjoy Wagnerís Ring will likely be charmed by this book, but others will find it heavy-going.
Recommended with reservations.
Allison Mews is the Coordinator of the Centre for Instructional Services in the Faculty of Education, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. Johnís, NL.
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