Ragnarok: The End of the Gods by A. S. Byatt

Ragnarok: The End of the Gods

byA. S. Byatt

Kobo ebook | September 6, 2011

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Ragnarok retells the finale of Norse mythology. A story of the destruction of life on this planet and the end of the gods themselves: what more relevant myth could any modern writer choose? Just as Wagner used this dramatic and catastrophic struggle for the climax of his Ring Cycle, so A.S. Byatt now reinvents it in all its intensity and glory.

As the bombs of the Blitz rain down on Britain, one young girl is evacuated to the countryside. She is struggling to make sense of her new wartime life. Then she is given a copy of Asgard and the Gods - a book of ancient Norse myths - and her inner and outer worlds are transformed.

How could this child know that fifty years on many of the birds and flowers she took for granted on her walks to school would become extinct? War, natural disaster, reckless gods and the recognition of impermanence in the world are just some of the threads that A.S. Byatt weaves into this most timely of books. Linguistically stunning and imaginatively abundant, this is a landmark work of fiction from one of the world's truly great writers.

From the Hardcover edition.

Title:Ragnarok: The End of the GodsFormat:Kobo ebookPublished:September 6, 2011Publisher:Knopf CanadaLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0307401847

ISBN - 13:9780307401847

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Rated 4 out of 5 by from The End of the World as We Know It This is not exactly a novel. Not exactly fiction, not exactly autobiography, not exactly allegory. Ragnarök: The End of the Gods, A.S. Byatt’s reweaving of the Norse cycle of myths is, for such a short book, epic. Ragnarök loosely tells the story of the thin child, an otherwise unnamed waif who is a loose representation of Byatt in her childhood, sent to the English countryside during World War II. She finds a book about the Norse gods that opens up her imaginative playground and, indeed, her world view. We follow her as she traipses, book-bag in one hand and gas-mask in the other, through fields of flowers and dreamscapes of great Norse battles, puzzling out what she believes to be true about the world around her. We are given a younger avatar of the author, are seeing the world through that younger self’s eyes, and yet are being given analysis in a very adult voice. What linear narration there is belongs to the retelling of the myths, beginning with the creation of the gods’ world to the creation of this world to the inexorable destruction of it all. Byatt adopts a slightly archaic tone that is perfect for the subject matter: she sounds like she is telling myths and legends without ever sounding pretentious. This artifice is the most natural way of telling stories of one-eyed Odin and the trickster Loki, Loki’s monstrous children and dead warriors fighting forever in Valhalla and the beautiful, doomed Baldur who must fall at the hands of his fellow gods. Throughout we have the thin child’s narrative—not framing the myths so much as interweaving with them—comparing these Norse myths to the Christian myths she taught in school and church, deciding that both are stories and that she doesn’t “believe” with faith in either story cycle. Loveliness abounds in this book. Byatt’s love of words, love of shaping the story, gets full play here. As the gods create their world by naming things so too does Byatt. The thin child “liked seeing, learning, and naming things. Daisies. Day’s eyes, she learned with a frisson of pleasure…vetches and lady’s bedstraw, forgetmenots and speedwells, foxgloves, viper’s bugloss, cow parsley, deadly nightshade (wreathed in the hedges), willowherb and cranesbill, hairy bitter-cress, docks (good for wounds and stings), celan-dines, campions and ragged robin.” I can get happily lost in this ocean of lovely language. Byatt creates and recreates worlds for the thin child and for her readers to dive into. Byatt uses the myths to discuss obliquely problems of the modern world. For example, she considers the fact that our world was built from the skull—in the mind, as it were—of Ymir, and that the sun and moon are pursued across the sky each day by howling, snapping wolves. A cosmological tale to explain the movement of the heavenly bodies across the sky, certainly, but Byatt also draws upon the idea of wolves in the mind, forever causing anxiety, unrelenting in their vicious, violent pursuit. Likewise, the World-Tree, Ygdrassil, and the Sea-Tree, Rándrasill, described in such loving, interconnected detail, make for beautiful metaphors of our own planet’s ecology; their destruction speaks to the ecological havoc being wrought by us upon our world. And in the end, the gods’ own nature brings about their doom. Their inability to stop being destructive, their inability to break free of the story they have shaped for themselves, means that the always inevitable (ineluctable, as Byatt says) ending, the Ragnarök they all knew was coming, cannot but come. Byatt is not directly pointing and saying “See, humans? You are in the same position!” She is not smug or knowing, and yet there are parallels to be drawn from these stories that are apt for our times. ~*~ Like this excerpt? Read the full review, plus other book reviews, at http://editorialeyes.wordpress.com
Date published: 2011-11-07