Winnie and Wolf is the story of the extraordinary friendship between Winifred Wagner and Adolf Hitler in the Years between the First and Second World Wars. The girl who would become Winifred Wagner was raised in an orphanage and married, at the age of eighteen, to the gay son of composer Richard Wagner. As heiress to the country's most august cultural legacy, she grows up in the Wagner family compound, surrounded by the philosophers and composers who would define western European culture in the mid-twentieth century. In 1923, the Wagners met the man who would be their hero and hope for the future: a wild-eyed Viennese opera fanatic named Adolf Hitler. Almost immediately Winnie and Wolf struck up an intimate friendship. In A. N. Wilson's most bold and ambitious novel yet, the world of the Weimar Republic comes to vivid life as the backdrop to this strange and powerful kinship.
At the end of the first "act" of A. N. Wilson's Winnie and Wolf, the year is 1925, and opera fanatic Adolf Hitler is in his seat in Bayreuth, entranced as only Wagnerians can be by the production of the last drama in the Ring cycle, Die Götterdämmerung. Richard Wagner's widow, Cosima, is still alive, which means that the stagings of the operas are frozen as they were first devised by the maestro himself ("the same moth-eaten furs, the same cardboard swords, the same creaking chariots and the same unconvincing Rhine waves") and that deviation from those original productions is an unpardonable blasphemy. Which means that the horse playing Grane is a living, breathing beast, even if the steed is in "no mood for four or five hours of a loud musical mediation on the nineteenth-century metaphysical crisis." What did Hitler, mesmerized by the portents and omens, think when the equine divo relieved himself during the first appearance onstage of Brünnhilde and Siegfried? Or more dastardly, during the last scene, when the animal completely lost it, leaping on the corpse of Siegfried and crushing the ribs of the tenor Rudolf Ritter, a real-life disruption of the action on the stage, just as Brünnhilde was to make her sacrifice at her husband's pyre? "That night in the sixth year of the Weimar Republic," the narrator of the story writes, "we felt dread in our stomachs. We had witnessed destruction without resolution noise rather than music; chaos come again."