Form and Content

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

As the title suggests, German Hero-Sagas and Folk-Tales is divided into two parts. In the first section, Barbara Leonie Picard retells in condensed, third-person prose four celebrated medieval Germanic epic narratives: Gudrun, Dietrich of Bern, Walther of Aquitaine, and the Nibelungenlied. Originally employing elaborate medieval strophic forms and composed variously in Middle High German or Old Norse, Picard’s modern adaptations masterfully capture much of the authentic atmosphere associated with the epic milieu. While the shortening of the narratives necessarily results in the loss of some detail, Picard nevertheless is able to retain the central features of the respective plots as well as their salient thematic characteristics.

These sagas offer insights into the often grim and fatalistic, yet always fascinating medieval European heroic world. Such components as ill-fated marriages, knightly sport and warfare, fierce liege and kinship loyalty, and still fiercer vengeance are common to the epics presented in this collection. The Nibelungenlied (song of the Nibelungs), the story of Siegfried and Kriemhild, is at once representative and also perhaps the most striking of the heroic epics. Famous for slaying a dragon, bathing in its blood, and wresting a cache of gold from the Nibelung dwarfs, young prince Siegfried hears of the lovely maiden Kriemhild of Burgundy, who lives in Worms at the court of her three royal brothers: Gunther, Gernot, and Giselher. A visit to the Burgundian court strengthens Siegfried’s determination to marry Kriemhild. In return for her hand, Siegfried offers to help King Gunther woo Brunhilde, the queen of Eisenland (Iceland).

Gunther and Siegfried are successful, but only by means of deceit and with the help of Siegfried’s “Tarnkappe,” his magical cloak of invisibility. After both couples are wed, Brunhilde discovers that she has been tricked and...

(The entire section is 801 words.)