Academic journal article German Quarterly

A Companion to the Nibelungenlied

Academic journal article German Quarterly

A Companion to the Nibelungenlied

Article excerpt

McConnell, Winder, ed. A Companion to the Nibelungenlied. Columbia, SC: Camden House, 1998. xiv + 293 pp. $65.00.

This collection includes essays on twelve topics that have conventionally been conceived as central to Nibelungen.lied studies, among them: authorship, manuscripts, heroic vs. courtly ethos, reception, otherworld and dragons, Nibelungenlied and Wagner, politics, and Kriemhild. Among the contributors are established scholars of international repute. With such contributors, writing about such topics, under such a volume title, one might have expected at century's end a synthesis of scholarship on this important medieval text and on the cluster of extra-textual concerns that have over the course of time grown up around the Nibelungenlied. Such expectations, however, remain not only unfulfilled, but unaddressed. In the end it remains unclear just what purpose this volume was intended to serve.

From the outset it is clear that conceptual problems have crippled the project. What, for instance, is a "companion" volume, and whose reading of the text is it intended to accompany, that is, what is its audience? One might imagine various incarnations, among others: a comprehensive synthesis of the current state of scholarship in the field for the use of scholars; or, for advanced students, a scaled-down version of the same with extensive bibliography; or, for beginning students and a lay readership, a basic introduction to central issues in the text. This volume does not fit into any such category. While the essays focus on topics traditionally conceived as central to the field, in only a couple of the essays is there any productive, critical engagement with the vast research literature (e.g., J.Heinzle, W.Wunderlich); elsewhere the essays consist primarily of elementary level summaries of the issues (most of which are quite useful, in themselves), selective and focussed plot paraphrase or summaries of "sources and analogues," and where scholarship is cited, most of it is over thirty years old. There is nowhere an attempt to provide a basic bibliography on the central topics, and since the essays inconsistently engage the research literature, it is also not possible to piece together such a bibliography from the footnotes. Thus it seems that the volume is not intended to serve the needs of scholars and advanced students, and it clearly will not be of value to them. Lest one imagine that it might serve as a basic introduction to the text, however, it should be noted that the (rather frequent) German quotations (whether medieval or modern) are not translated, which makes the book effectively inaccessible to a lay audience, to a general undergraduate audience, and to all but the most advanced of German majors at Anglophone universities. Likewise, since the essays themselves are in English, it will be all but inaccessible to most students at German universities, where facility with English among students of the humanities is still more aspiration than actuality, and is rarely strong enough to enable meaningful engagement with scholarly publications.

As is so often the case with collections, the individual essays are of uneven quality and conception. As noted above, Wunderlich's essay deals more effectively than most with research in the field, but, ironically, the issue on which he writes-the poem's authorship-is one on which by definition no solution is possible. The essays by Lionarons and Flood represent the major sub-field of "source and analogue studies," selectively summarizing the plots of relevant episodes concerned with the magical Otherworld and dragons, respectively; while competently summarized, neither essay adds significant insights to this already long overworked topic. The title of McGlathery's essay on "erotic passion" might initially seem most intriguing, but the essay soon reveals itself as an exercise in arbitrary taxonomy, for it simply labels as "passion" what many, with good reason, would view quite differently. …

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