Twentieth Century Books

Expecting Someone Taller?

My favourite of the Norse myths is the Saga of the Volsungs, the tale of Odin’s descendants of whom the most famous is Sigurd the Dragon-Slayer. It’s a saga which was well-known throughout the mediaeval Germanic world, being vaguely historical from about the 5th Century – one of the characters in the German Nibelungenlied is Attila the Hun. The German Sigurd is known as Siegfried.

It’s the story which Richard Wagner used as the basis of his epic four-part Ring Cycle opera, Der Ring Des Nibelungen.

And the opera is the basis for Tom Holt’s Expecting Someone Taller?, which is the story of one Malcolm Fisher, who runs over a badger in a dark, Somerset lane. This badger is no ordinary badger, but the Giant Ingolf, who managed to swipe the Ring and the Tarnhelm (another dwarf-made magical object) at the end of Der Ring Des Nibelungen when everyone and everything else went up in the flames of Siegfried and Brunnhilde’s funeral pyre.

And because Malcolm Fisher has run over and killed Ingolf, the Ring and Tarnhelm are passed to him, making him the ruler of the world. Sort of. Fortunately Ingolf doesn’t die until after he’s explained the most important bits to the disbelieving Malcolm, who is nothing like what Ingolf remembers Siegfried being like (ie – heroic in a traditional Germanic/Norse fashion). Malcolm is, in fact, nothing special. Basically good, but probably below average in all the ways that matter.

Expecting Someone Taller? is an entertaining take on the old myths, although it does have to be stressed that it is based on Wagner’s opera, not the saga or poem. And Wagner changed the saga and poem to fit his plans for his epic. So it’s an adaptation of an adaptation. So if you know and love the original, try not to get too cross: it’s still worth a read .

And it’s amusing to think of the Rhine-gold being hidden in Somerset for a thousand years. Especially if you know Somerset.

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