Ring of the Nibelung

Richard Wagner

Illustrated by John Vernon Lord

Edited by Barry Millington and Stewart Spencer

Translated by Stewart Spencer

Commentaries by Barry Millington, Elizabeth Magee, Roger Hollinrake and Warren Darcy

Ring of the Nibelung unlocks the drama of Wagner’s epic cycle of gods, giants and heroes, with the acclaimed translation of the original libretto, authoritative commentaries and enchanting illustrations.


‘Perhaps the greatest genius that ever lived.’

  1. W. H. Auden

Based upon characters and storylines from Norse legend and the medieval poem Das Nibelungenlied, the Ring cycle transports the listener to a landscape of gods, giants and dwarfs, tortured heroes and enchanted treasures. In this lavish one-volume edition, The Folio Society presents Stewart Spencer’s definitive translation of Wagner’s original libretto, alongside essays and commentaries by his co-editor Barry Millington and some of the world’s most eminent Wagnerian scholars. The words are beautifully illuminated by the veteran British illustrator John Vernon Lord – himself a man with an intimate understanding of the composer’s craft. It is the essential guide to the Ring cycle, and a work that all Wagnerians will want on their bookshelf.

The scale of Wagner’s achievement is epic, with the entire cycle taking around 15 hours in performance. Spencer’s lively prose helps the listener follow every nuance of the German libretto, with its richly allusive language and layers of mysticism – making for a heightened appreciation of the complex psychological drama.

Production Details

Bound in screen-printed and blocked cloth

Set in Bembo

448 pages

17 black and white integrated illustrations with gold rules, 8 pages of black and white integrated images

Printed endpapers

Pictorial slipcase

11½˝x 8˝


‘The continued capacity of Wagner’s Ring to engage audiences and interpreters, and to excite interest and passionate controversy, is striking confirmation of the work’s universal and timeless significance.’

  1. Barry Millington, co-editor

Translators of Wagner’s Ring have been faced with a near-impossible challenge: to provide a readable, idiomatic English text that follows the original line by line, yet preserves as much as possible of the verse form and lyricism of the German libretto. On its initial publication in 1993, critics were quick to praise Stewart Spencer’s translation for its fidelity, expressiveness and poetic elegance.

However, the book is not just a translation of the Ring cycle, but a companion to it. The introductory essays by the editors and Roger Hollinrake, Elizabeth Magee and Warren Darcy cast light on every aspect of Wagner’s magnum opus – including his musical and linguistic innovations, the source texts upon which he drew, and the history of staging the dramas. A thematic guide covers all the recurring leitmotifs that permeate the cycle, and there are detailed notes on the translation, a glossary of names, and a bibliography of further reading.


‘The more I have been immersed in the Ring, the more I have been overwhelmed by all its aspects.’

  1. John Vernon Lord, illustrator

We were thrilled that John Vernon Lord – one of the most distinguished modern-day illustrators of myths, sagas and other fantastical works – agreed to illustrate the Folio edition of Ring of the Nibelung. His 17 startlingly intricate black-and-white line drawings include the Rhine gold, the apples that grant the gods their eternal youth, the hero Siegmund’s sword and hunting horn, and the final conflagration that consumes Valhalla.

Lord’s drawings provide a visual entry point to Wagner’s musical drama for the general reader, and he further contributes a written introduction that unpicks the rich symbolism of the libretto. The slipcase and binding are exquisitely designed, with motifs of the rope, spear, sword and ring that are so vital to the narrative, making the volume a beautiful object to own and cherish.

About the contributors

Warren Darcy is Professor of Music Theory at Oberlin College, Ohio. Among his many publications is Wagner’s ‘Das Rheingold’: Its Genesis and Structure (1993). Roger Hollinrake studied at Cambridge, Harvard, Oxford and Heidelberg universities and at the Royal College of Music. He has made a study of music and philosophy and written widely on Wagner and Nietzsche.

Elizabeth Magee is the author of Richard Wagner and the Nibelungs (1990) and a regular contributor to Wagner. Dr Magee studied in Vienna.

Barry Millington is the author of the Master Musicians Wagner (1984), editor of The Wagner Compendium (1992), and co-editor of Selected Letters of Richard Wagner (1987) and Wagner in Performance (1992). He writes regularly for the Guardian and contributed the Wagner article to the second edition of New Grove.

Stewart Spencer taught medieval German language and literature at London University before retiring to devote himself to writing and translating. He is co-editor, with Barry Millington, of Selected Letters of Richard Wagner (1987) and Wagner in Performance (1992). He is the author of Wagner Remembered (2000).

About John Vernon Lord

John Vernon Lord was born in Glossop, England, and studied illustration in Salford and London. His children’s books have been published widely and translated into several languages. His picture book The Giant Jam Sandwich has become a classic, having been in print for over forty years, and his Aesop’s Fables won the W. H. Smith/V&A Illustration award in 1990. He has illustrated many books on the subjects of fables, myths, legends, sagas, epics and nonsense. He was Professor of Illustration at the University of Brighton, where he is now Professor Emeritus. His most recent illustration work for The Folio Society has been for Finnegans Wake (2014) and Ulysses (2017), the latter of which won the Moira Gemmill Illustrator of the Year Prize at the V&A illustration awards in 2018. His studio has been based in Ditchling since 1971.


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