The Ring Cycle explained Part 5 – Ringtones author Julie Lake explains the REAL story behind Wagner’s Ring of the Nibelung
Loge is the most enigmatic being in The Ring of the Niebelung. In Wagner’s four operas there is a hint that his role is more significant than it appears on the surface, even though the audience only really gets a good look at him in the first opera, The Rhinegold. In Ringtones Loge plays a much bigger part, for here he is revealed for what he really is – the evil genius of the saga who is the instigator of just about every major development. In face the book, which claims to be the true story behind The Ring, is largely based on a fragment of Loge’s memoirs which is all that remained after The Big Bang.
In Norse mythology, from which The Ring story is culled, Loge is the God of Fire; a shape changer and trickster whose mischief-making is a constant irritant to the gods. He is the killer of Baldur, son of Wotan, and the main instigator of Ragnarok, the mythical destruction of the gods and their universe. Wagner didn’t bother with Ragnarok in his version of events but substituted his own Twilight of the Gods in which the malicious Loge’s role is minor but significant because it is he who suggests to Wotan that he can get the ring of power from Alberich the Dwarf. The composer retains the Fire God’s essential nature, however, as do I in researching and writing Ringtones. In the book, Ragnarok becomes ‘Wagnerog’ (hee hee!) and gets a brief, fearful mention though it has no connection with the catastrophic events that actually do come to pass. Loge is still, however, the probably deliberate force behind the burning of Valhalla even though his is not the hand that lights the fire.
We don’t really know much about Loge, not even his birth. He is said to be part-giant, though his stature (according to both opera and book) is slender and quite small. Certainly he is not a full-god but rather more of a sprite, like Ariel or Puck. And like these airy beings he serves a powerful master, in this case Wotan, Head God and CEO of Teutonic Gods Inc. The other gods dislike and distrust him and he, in turn, despises them though it’s hard to know whether the attitude of the gods to Loge is because of his conniving nature and sarcastic tongue, or whether Loge behaves like that because they sneer at his inferior birth. In any case, we do have a clear picture of this enigmatic being as lithe, red-haired, sharp-featured, sharp-tongued, charming when he wants to be, always stirring up trouble, impertinent to his betters, supercilious to his inferiors and highly intelligent. In fact one opera critic described him as “the only true intellectual” in the Ring Cycle. Myself, I think that’s going a bit far. There’s no evidence that Loge ever reads a book or writes a poem or studies anything worthwhile except how to make mischief. He’s certainly smarter than your average god – let alone your average dwarf or (for Mortalsake!) giant. But I don’t see him as having a highly-developed intellect. He is, however, a profound cynic and the only one in the story not to believe in the power of the ring.
Loge is able to travel easily in time as well as space but his main personal power lies in his job description – he is the God of Fire. This isn’t actually a terribly important job as things go in Valhalla – Brunnhilde’s role as Head Prefect of the Valkyrie corps of warrior maidens carries far more prestige – but it does make him useful. What is always unceretain with Loge is his motivation. Alberich, for example, wants the power that goes with the ring. Wotan wants to put his world back to rights (and hang on to his power). Frikka wants marital fidelity. Brunnhilde wants Siegfried. Siegmund and Sieglinde want each other. Hunding wants vengeance. Fafner wants to get paid. Siegfried wants to get laid.
But what, exactly, does Loge want? We are never quite sure, but we sense his envy and malice towards those who have more than he. There is a hint that he is ambitious and wouldn’t mind seizing power if it comes his way easily. Yet he is too cynical to believe that power, like love, is anything but transitory and ultimately futile. And certainly he doesn’t want the responsibility that goes with it. He gets his kicks from covert manipulation and thus the type of power he enjoys most is that of the puppet master who can make others dance to his pulling of the strings. Should the ring ever come into his possession you can be sure that he will use it in the worst possible way for the worst possible reasons.
In Ringtones the ubiquitous Fire God fills in the gaps left by Wagner in his operas. It is Loge who shows Wotan how to trick Alberich into giving up the ring. It is Loge who serves as Wotan’s spy on Earth and who pokes and prods the various characters and situations in the gleeful expectation of mayhem while simultaneously spreading alarm and despondency around Valhalla. Loge is the little bird who tells Siegfried about the beautiful maiden imprisoned on a rock and Loge is the one who tells Hagen and his Gibich siblings about Siegfried and who shows him the way to the Gibich Castle. After first convincing Brunnhilde that she needs to let her lover get out and about a bit more. And of course Loge is there are the end, when Valhalla falls into flaming ruin. He is the God of Fire and also Fire Chief of Valhalla; in these capacities he would for sure have played a supervisory role in erecting Siegfried’s pyre and using his powers (or perhaps planting incendiaries if you prefer the realistic view) to ensure that it burns with exceptional ferocity. When the fire explodes heavenwards and gets out of control we’re reminded that, not long before, Loge promised Froh, God of Spring, a spectacular fireworks show. This seems to indicate that the destruction of Valhalla is no accident. But why? What could shape-changing Loge possibly gain from burning down his own home? Sure, he’s the ultimate nihilist. But even for someone so apparently world-weary such large-scale destruction seems a bit extreme.
Therefore it’s not unreasonable to assume that Loge’s real interest is to create enough distraction and alarm so that he can grab Siegfried’s ring from the flames. After all, he is the only one there with the expertise to safely enter a burning structure. But Brunnhilde, hell-bent on self-immolation, is too quick for him. It is she who actually sets fire to the funeral pyre after first taking the ring from Siegfried’s finger and throwing it into the river. Brunnhilde has no idea that the flames will leap high enough to reach Valhalla, and wouldn’t care much anyway by then. Whether Loge realises it or not is something we’ll never know for sure because ultimately his fire – the only real power he possesses – is overwhelmed by the greater power of water.
Ringtones remains true to Norse legend in that Loge first appears to us as a mischievous imp enslaved by Wotan and gradually develops a more sinister persona and purpose. In the end he is the most dangerous of all the characters in the saga because he alone understands the importance of symbolism in the attainment and maintenance of power. He doesn’t for a minute believe that the Nibelung ring possesses any magic. To him, it’s just a bit of bling and its purported power lies only in the fact that others believe in it. Loge would have made a great advertising executive. And we all know what happens to THEM, eventually. They burn out!