The Swan King – Christopher McIntosh

11 May

I find Ludwig II of Bavaria super interesting. From what I have read, in Germany and some parts of Europe he is revered in an almost King Arthur manner. The reason we know Wagner today is due to largely to Ludwig. He’s also responsible for building some of Germany’s most-visited landmarks. His life was chock full of mystery and not the kind Angela Lansbury would get her mitts on either. The kind that still hasn’t been solved and the kind that generates novels and movies and operas. Oh and biographies, don’t forget those.

Okay, let’s start out with his castles. The most famous one is called Neuschwanstein (Noysh-vahn-stine). The Cinderella Castle that Disney created for Disneyland and that is now the symbol for Disney internationally is based on Neuschwanstein. And I’m guessing this is because it looks like such a… castle. It was built at about the same time that the Eiffel Tower was being constructed. Ludwig loved the fairytale of being a king so he wanted the castle to match.

That’s also where Wagner comes in. At the time the composer met Ludwig, Wagner was behind on bills. Like so behind on bills that the fella had to leave town. Multiple times. That’s when Wagner decides to hunt Wagner down, not for the money he owes but to become his benefactor. You can’t write stuff this good. I know, I saw Transformers. That thing stunk. Anyway, Ludwig shells out big bucks and Wagner is now free to write and to focus on the quality of performers that he wants to have in his operas. At the time musicianship had been kind of stagnating. This is something both men wanted to focus on. They also had a joint vision of making something special for Bavaria (one of the largest German states, at the time).

The problem with Wagner was that Ludwig spent quite a bit of money on him. And Wagner didn’t hide this from the populace. Actually he flaunted it. Wagner was like a talented Paris Hilton, while not blonde or attractive. This way of life got both Wagner and Ludwig into trouble with the King’s subjects. It also started some to questioning if Ludwig should really be on the throne in the first place.

So you add the castle-building and the money for what was considered non-essentials. Then Ludwig stops attending to his royal duties. People start commenting that he might be mad. And well, he might have been. He started living at night, he started acting erratic to his servants, he slowly became completely isolated.

This is where I had to additional research outside of McIntosh’s book. See, there is a theory that Ludwig had syphilis and that this was what was causing his madness. I didn’t know much about syphilis but now that I do, let me tell you why I agree with the theory. Ludwig is also thought to have been latently homosexual. If you were a king in the nineteenth century and you had a venereal disease that changed your appearance (I do not recommend doing a Google search for syphilis like I did… especially during your snack break) doesn’t it make sense that you would start isolating? And some of the other behavior can be attributed to this disease, too. Well, according to WebMD.

Ludwig slowly loses most of his supporters and he is deposed. They take him away to be treated for madness and two days later both he and his psychiatrist are found dead in a lake not far from Neuschwanstein. See? I told you he was interesting. They still don’t have definitive evidence to determine the cause of death.

Perhaps it’s his tragic death that keeps Ludwig in people’s minds. Or maybe it was his life as the fairytale king. Or it could be his patronage of Wagner. It’s hard to know but this book was a fun read and that’s really all I’m here to decide on.


One Response to “The Swan King – Christopher McIntosh”


  1. Smurfs Up! « Trip Ahoy! - 2011/05/21

    […] last few posts on this blog have been kind of dreary.  Unless you find syphillis and the machinery of war a jolly good time, that is.  So I thought today would be a good time to […]

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