Part Three: Siegfried
The non-white Mime
Sieglinde lived for nine months in the shelter of a rock in the middle of a vast forest. She fed on wild fruits all that time and carefully kept the pieces of Sigmund’s sword.
When she felt that the day of her son’s birth was near, she travelled through the forest in search of a hut where she could give birth.
One night, after so much walking, she came to a cave that looked like a blacksmith’s workshop. She went in and lay down on a bed of straw in a corner.
After a few hours, the owner of the workshop came in. It was Mime, Alberich’s brother, whom Alberich had forced to do hard labour when he wore the gold ring of the Rhine on his finger. Both one brother and the other had taken up residence near the giant Fafner’s cave. Fafner kept watch day and night to ensure that no greedy Nibelung would steal his treasure. To guard it better, the giant had transformed himself into a dragon, to terrify, with his monstrous form, those who dared to steal it.
Neither Alberich nor Mime dared to confront the terrible monster, who never left the treasure.
When Mime reached his workshop, he heard a creature wailing. He found Sieglinde, who had just given birth, dying. The unhappy mother recommended the dwarf take charge of her child’s upbringing.
“Call him Siegfried, a name that means ‘joy of victory’. He will be a strong and valiant hero. Here are the fragments of his father’s sword. It is a gift from the gods. With it my son will be invincible,” she told him in a faint voice, feeling death approaching.
Siegfried, cared for by the dwarf smith, grew strong and healthy in the middle of the forest. Mime forged arrows for him, with which the sturdy boy hunted birds and deer. When he grew out of childhood, he began to face bears and wild boars.
More than once, the young boy had asked his guardian for the name of his father.
“I am your father,” replied Mime; “I have seen you born and raised you; I have taught you to handle the bow so that you will be invincible.”
“You have brought me up and trained me in the handling of weapons, but you are not my father,” replied Siegfried. “I see that the nestlings of the nests are like the birds that raise them. I observe that the cubs of wild beasts are similar to the mothers that nurse them. How can you pretend to be my father when I am white and blond, tall and slender, and you are swarthy and wrinkled, short and hunchbacked? Or do you think you are deceiving me?”
Mime was silent then and continued to pound on his anvil.
Siegfried spent his time hunting, fishing or chasing the wild beasts that crossed his path. Since he knew no fear, he dared everything. His powerful arm would tear apart animals that would have taken a giant, and his accurate arrows would shoot down the swiftest flying birds.
Towards evening he would return to the cave and pester the dwarf with his questions.
“For the last time! Who was my father?”
“Your father was the hero Sigmund. He died in a duel. Hundingo killed him.”
“You haven’t taught me how to handle a sword yet. I’m old enough for that. I want to avenge my father.”
“Fine. I’ll forge you a sword. See these two pieces of steel? I’ll put them together and you’ll have a weapon worthy of your strong arm.”
And indeed, Mime worked day and night in his attempt to weld the fragments of Sigmund’s sword together. In vain. As soon as Siegfried took the weapon and struck a blow on the anvil, the two pieces separated.
“What is it about this steel that does not bind?” wondered the dwarf.
And Siegfried answered:
“You are an unskilful smith, Mime.”
“That’s all we needed, that you pretend to teach me how to forge swords.”
“You teach me, then, and I’ll try to put those pieces together.”
Siegfried and the Nibelung Mime
by Hans Toepper
Siegfried could not put the two fragments together either. Then the young man had an idea. He filed the steel and reduced it to powder, a task that took him days and days of hard work. Then he melted the powder, strained the liquid and finally tempered a new weapon.
“Here is my sword, Mime!”
“Try it on my anvil,” the dwarf replied.
And Siegfried, without a word, struck such a blow on the anvil that it was split to the core.
“Admirable, my son, I congratulate you!”
“I told you not to call me son!” shouted the young man, advancing with a menacing air.
Mime recoiled in fright. He realised that he no longer had any ascendancy over the young man. The hero was ripe for great deeds, and it was necessary to handle him with cunning to make use of him.
“Siegfried, listen to me,” he said to him one night before going to bed, “there is one thing you have yet to learn, and that is fear.”
“Fear? What is that?”
“It is a feeling that shakes the heart and paralyses the will.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Didn’t you feel your heart pounding when you faced the bear that afternoon?”
“No. I couldn’t take care of my heart. I was attentive to the beast’s movements.”
“Did you feel nothing strange that stormy night when you got lost and arrived at dawn in the cave?”
“I only felt cold that night.”
“Well then. If you want to know fear you must face a dragon.”
“I’ve never seen a dragon. Are there any around here?”
“Yes, it lives in a nearby cavern.”
“Tomorrow you will lead me there. I want to see this animal.”
“It’s a monster that will pounce on you as soon as you get close.”
“I’ll keep my distance.”
“It will chase you. He’ll take you down with a single blow of the tail.”
“Then I’ll stand up to it. I’ll carry my sword.”
“Yes, but be careful.”
“That dragon can be no more agile than a panther, no stronger than a bear, no more furious than a wild boar. Tomorrow we will set out at dawn, and you will lead me to the dragon’s cavern. In a short time, I will give an account of him.”
2 replies on “The Ring of the Nibelung, 8”
A dragon guarding gold in a cavern… In his children’s book The Hobbit, Tolkien seems to have copied this from Wagner too.
Bearing in mind that in theatre a drama is a play in which the conflict is resolved at the end, whereas in tragedy it is not, the difference between Tolkien’s children and Wagner’s audience is that the latter ends in tragedy.
Tolkien also copied the reforging of Sigmund’s sword by Siegfried, when he wrote the reforging of Isildur’s sword into Aragorn’s sword, Anduril.
This is an ancient archetypal theme, paralelled also in Arthurian legend: Arthur pulls Excalibur from the stone, just as Sigmund pulls Wotan’s sword from the tree. Arthur breaks Excalibur fighting Lancelot, just as Sigmund breaks the sword fighting King Lyngi.
I wager there must be an equivalent story in Greco-Roman pagan mythology.