Free «Brunhild and Gudrun» Essay Paper

Brunhild and Gudrun

Brunhild and Gudrun are two characters of an old Viking myth mainly concerning the former, and a hero, Sigurd, and their strained relationships. This article analyzes their characters by making comparisons with regard to their personalities across the books The Saga of the Volsungs and The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun. The books are hereafter referred to as the Saga and the Legend respectively. Strengths and weaknesses of the characters and their development in the stories are also compared and analyzed in this essay. A further evaluation of the relationship between Sigurd and Brunhild is subsequently provided, noting its influence on the occurrence of events in the stories.

Pronounced shifts in the core traits of both Brunhild and Gudrun are notable in both books despite variations in their backgrounds. The women are initially portrayed as seemingly genuine people whose characters dramatically shift as the stories unfold. Both women are portrayed as women of power in the Saga. Brunhild is the daughter of King Budli while Gudrun is the sister of King Gunnar. They both initially end up marrying Kings Gunnar and Sigurd respectively. The two women further share a similarity in their treachery, albeit in varying degrees. Gudrun marries the man betrothed to Brunhild, while the latter ends up having her beloved killed and taking her own life. Here, the character of Brunhild is portrayed as less treacherous compared to her depiction in the Legend.

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Brunhild is broadly recognized in the Saga as being wise and strong, qualities not attributed to Gudrun in the text. She, in her wisdom, is prominently sought after by different people including Gudrun and Sigurd for her counsel. Sigurd’s spending time with her in search for advice causes him to deeper fall in love with her. The Legend, however, skips this depiction of her wisdom. Brunhild is depicted as desiring war and with strong resolve, being dubbed ‘Shield-Maiden’ in the text. Byock (56) goes on to show her father King Budli alluding to his daughter’s pride in matters of picking a suitor for herself.

Weaknesses attributed to Brunhild are observed only later in the text as soon as envy and the need for revenge come into play. The great wise woman depicted up at the point of her betrayal by those around her transforms into a bitter vengeful individual at the point of her death in the Saga. The ultimate flaw in her character is witnessed when she experiences joy on hearing Gudrun weeping for her slain husband Sigurd:

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Then laughed Brunhild, Budli’s daughter,

Once, once only, From out her heart;

When to her bed was borne the sound

Of the sore greeting of Giuki’s daughter. (Tolkien 16)

The character of Gudrun in notably more flawed compared to Brunhild when she is introduced into the text of the Saga. Even after she approaches Brunhild for counsel on her worrying dream and learns of the events yet to unfold, she goes on to ensure the fulfillment of the dream. Brunhild clearly points out to Gudrun that her mother, Grimhild, will have a hand in her wrongfully marrying Sigurd and does nothing to try and avert the future events. Both Byock (36) and Tolkien (18) maintain the same portrayal of Gudrun throughout their texts. She is initially passive in regard to treachery and anger but gathers momentum as the events unfold. At the height of her madness, Gudrun goes on to murder her sons and eventually King Atli, as depicted by Tolkien in the second part of the Legend, ‘The New Lay of Gudrun’.

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Brunhild is initially betrothed to Sigurd by making mutual vows following his enchantment caused by her strength, wisdom and beauty. He even gives her a ring as a token of love and promises to wed her, before the two part ways (Byock 38). Brunhild is mostly impressed by his bravery and strength, and subsequently vows to marry only the man brave enough to pass through the flames she uses to seclude herself hoping it to be Sigurd. According to Tolkien (21), Brunhild made a vow to marry only the mortal slayer of the serpent foretold by seers in her land. Her requirement of Sigurd to first acquire a kingdom delays their wedding and plays a role in the eventual outcome of the events.

The two, however, never wed owing to a number of factors. Firstly, it is possible to attribute part of their problem to Fafnir’s dying words addressing Sigurd before taking his treasure: “Whoever you are that has slain me, this gold will be your ruin” (Tolkien 28). Events unfolding due to Sigurd’s acquiring this gold can be indirectly attributed to his problems and his eventual demise. Grimhild, Gudrun and Gunnar are all subsequently the individuals directly responsible for her not rightfully marrying Sigurd. In the Legend, Brunhild cautions Sigurd to steer clear of an evil-hearted woman as they part ways soon after saving her. It is evident that a threat to their love was already looming.

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At no point is Brunhild portrayed to honestly love her husband Gunnar in both books. The union is markedly half-hearted, with Brunhild confessing to Sigurd at one point: “I would most prefer to marry you, even should I choose from among all men” (Byock 45). The marriage of Brunhild to Gunnar is only the consequence of her oath to wed any man who would make his way past the flames keeping her captive. In the Saga, the union of the couple is merely the result of Grimhild’s deception, as it is in the Legend. The following excerpt by Tolkien depicts the silent frustration by Brunhild during her wedding to Gunnar:

From shrouded heart the shadows parted;

oaths were remembered, all unfulfilled.

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As stone carven, stern, unbending,

he sat unsmiling, no sign making. (29)

The relationship between Gunnar and Brunhild is notably seen to have a direct influence on the happiness of Gudrun and whether or not Sigurd lives.

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