Originally published in the Xena E-xine
Presented by Bacchae2 aka E.J. Rain
by E.J. Rain
The most ambitious episode(s) since "Fallen Angel." (Or that little bittersweet musical based on the Tarot!) Every bit as overarching as the Rainbow Bridge to Valhalla.
The ingeniously interwoven ancient bardic tales, The Niebelungen and Beowulf, are presented on a triptych tapestry as grand as any Wagnerian opera. This trilogy came as a surprising grandiose treat as the series was winding down its final season. Inspired and Inspiring. Inspired by the producer's fondness for a Dark Horse comics adaptation of The Ring Cycle--but was some of the grand design (of sets and costumes and the comic's artwork) further inspired by the Golden Age illustrations of the great Arthur Rackham? As are many productions on the operatic stage. You be the judge.
Could Rackham's famous torturously twisted trees have inspired the unique creation of Grindl as a walking arboreal nightmare?
Guarding the Ring
Fafner (the Dragon guards the gold of the Niebelung)
They could've slacked off altogether this season as they descended into tv oblivion and became video history and just phoned it in. Instead we were given one of the best trilogy of series episodes in tv history. This was truly mythology for adults. And the subject at its heart as the trailor announcer intoned and left no room for doubt--"True Love." As Gabrielle flings her arms about her errant soulmate and demands, "Don't ever leave me again" as only a lover has any right to do. Any questions? That should put them all to rest.
X&G perchance...? (Waltraute and Brunnhilde, sisters and valkyries)
A little bird told me. As the crow flies...mangy stool pigeons (Wotan's/Odin's Ravens)
The valorous Brunnhilde, outted by Odin, makes the supreme sacrifice for love by truly burning for it (much as Gab did in "Sacrifice") and she does it for the sake of both soulmates, thus proving, finally, the purity of her love. The L word (Love) is bandied about in such dialogue dense intensity that it began to sound like a tennis match. Does anything more needs be established?
The Anguished Brunnhilde
Post Kiss Bliss
Is there any more heroic image in all the series than that brave little bard running down that mine shaft and flinging herself upon the back of the monstrous beast? And, thank heavens we didn't have to live through another Twilight of the Gods. Even though prescribed by the myth. By placing the emphasis on love (and its denial or renunciation) instead of on mere magical rings, dragons, hero's quests, gold and sirens, it never gets lost in the trappings as many modern productions of The Ring may seem to. This is a vibrant retelling, full of passion. This incisive version of The Ring saga (apart from the inclusion of Beowulf, ironically no longer the hero in his own tale--not with Xena around) is a lesson in revitalizing and reshaping myth and incorporating new elements to keep the meaning of the myth alive. Joe Campbell would've loved it. It's a rediscovery of deep truths and an appropriate metaphor for the true depth of X&G's journey together as one of the great epic love stories to rival any in world lit. Tristan & Isolde, Lancelot & Guinivere, Xena & Gabrielle...
A curiously androgynous charming prince (looking more like Callisto in IOM) about to awake the sleeping beauty with a kiss...
Brunnhilde sacrifices herself in the flames of her lover's pyre
The intense character driven Gab trilogy ("Who's Gurkhan?," "Legacy," "The Abyss") and The Ring Cycle made me proud of the show once again and excited by what it could achieve at its best--filmic quality gems like "The Debt," "Ides of March" and "Fallen Angel," "Destiny" and "The Quest" when everyone was engaged in great storytelling and in supporting and not losing sight of the real story, the love story at the show's heart and soul.
Kissing the Ring
The Opera. It's a tetralogy. Four parts, actually, like Lord of the Rings, a trilogy preceded by a prologue. In order: "Das Rheingold," "Die Walkure" (The Valkyrie), "Siegfried," and "Die Gotterdammerung" (The Twilight of the Gods). I've sat through the Cycle, more than once. C.S. Lewis counts Rackham's famed illustrations for the saga, calling them "the very music made visible," as an early childhood influence on the man who would create his own fantastical realm in Narnia. (Mr. Lo Duca, in scoring the Xena eps, does hit the sublime Wagnerian chords with great subtlety, the underscoring of muted horns, without going wild by quoting "Ride of the Valkyries," e.g.--or "Apocalypse Now" as the non-operatic generation might recognize it).
Ride of the Valkyries
Wait...Listen for it...
Another inspired to create his own fantasy world was George Lucas as the Ring's influence is manifested in "Star Wars," e.g., the incestuous twins Siegmund and Sieglinde mirror Luke and Leia and Darth Vader has a Wotan (Odin) like stage presence. Unknown to these two sets of twins, Wotan/Darth Vader is their father. The Force/The Ring/The Power of Love. Moved by the lovers, the valiant Valkyrie Brunnhilde disobeys her father/her god and is punished by enchanted sleep in a ring of fire. How charming that this same character actually becomes the Eternal Flame in the X:WP retelling.
Brunnhilde lying enchanted in the flames
Brunnihilde is transposed into the very flame itself (and gives Gab a much sweeter and more gentle rush than the rude intrusion of Dahok's fire.) In the opera she will give up her godhood for love just as she fights and kills her sister valkyries for Gabrielle. The hero Siegfried (son of the twin lovers) wakes the sleeping valkyrie, his soulmate, but is later overcome with amnesia through a spell and coerced into a marriage to another. In this state he attempts to destroy the thing "he values the most."
Xena...you've changed... (Xena's inner dark hairy evil covetous dwarf? Alberich, the Niebelung, who steals the Rhinegold is the mirror of Xena's soul, a Dorian Grey attic portrait of the Warrior as a young woman...who renounced love.)
The Ring must be cleansed of its curse by returning it to the Rhinemaidens. It survives the lovers' funeral pyre and is recovered from the ashes. Grimhilde, a mere footnote, is a valkyrie never seen on stage in the opera, she is only alluded to. But she has the great distinction of serving as a means to bring a memorable monster into the mix in the Xena ep. In the end, the New World Order, a golden age is born from the ashes of Valhalla in the foretold Gotterdammerung, the order of the gods is ended and the world will now be ruled by love alone. And You Are There!
Freia or Freya (goddess who tends the golden apples which provide youth eternal for the gods without which they will begin to age... She also gives us her namesake day of the week, Friday; my favorite day since that's when I got to see X:WP)
The Norns (the three Fates of Norse mythology; literally fading into oblivion here as the thread breaks and the reign of the gods comes to an end...)
A woman and her horse
Valkyrie, Valkyr-eye, aye-aye
Check out the other Rackham illustrations for The Ring. They're all here.
For the other issues in this xine go to the
XENA E-XINE ARCHIVES: https://bacchae2.tripod.com/index-10.html