Ragnarok : the End of the Gods Hardback
by A. S. Byatt
Part of the Myths series
Recently evacuated to the British countryside and with World War Two raging around her, one young girl is struggling to make sense of her life.
Then she is given a book of ancient Norse legends and her inner and outer worlds are transformed. Intensely autobigraphical and linguistically stunning, this book is a landmark work of fiction from one of Britain's truly great writers.
Intensely timely it is a book about how stories can give us the courage to face our own demise. The Ragnarok myth, otherwise known as the Twilight of the Gods, plays out the endgame of Norse mythology.
It is the myth in which the gods Odin, Freya and Thor die, the sun and moon are swallowed by the wolf Fenrir, the serpent Midgard eats his own tale as he crushes the world and the seas boil with poison.
It is only after such monstrous death and destruction that the world can begin anew.
This epic struggle provided the fitting climax to Wagner's Ring Cycle and just as Wagner was inspired by Norse myth so Byatt has taken this remarkable finale and used it as the underpinning of this highly personal and politically charged retelling
- Format: Hardback
- Pages: 192 pages, illustrations
- Publisher: Canongate Books Ltd
- Publication Date: 01/09/2011
- Category: Modern & contemporary fiction (post c 1945)
- ISBN: 9781847670649
Showing 1 - 5 of 11 reviews.
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Review by ianjamison
A really amazing little gem of a book. The presentation is superb - lovely paper, a really clear font, rubricated titles, and a number of lovely reproduced illustrations. I tore through this in the first hour or so of a train journey, as it was irresistible. It worked, for me, on two levels. Firstly it is a brilliant, poetical re-telling of some of the most wonderful and powerful myths. Elements of it could quite easily (and probably should) be declaimed in public like a skald, rather than read privately. The second level is that of shared experience - it is remarkably resonant with my own experience of encountering myth, particularly those of the Northern tradition, when I was young and establishing my own ideas about the language that we use to express important things.
Review by dazzyj
An evocative and verbally rich retelling of Norse myth.
Review by edwinbcn
Ragnarok. The end of the Gods. by A. S. Byatt is not a retelling. Fragments from medieval literature, such as the Arthurian romances can be retold, as they are composed of epics, and they were originally told. Ragnarok is neither an epic nor a story. It is a word that refers to a believed event in Norse mythology, and part of a huge pantheon of gods, goddesses and other mythical beings. Modern readers may have the sense that there is a story, because this wealth of material has been used by other writers, especially in the late Nineteenth Century. In its pure form, however, there is no narrative, except for the description of some events, such as "The creation of the world" or "The end of the Gods".This lack of narrative seriously hampers Byatt book. To create a sense of a narrative element, Byatt introduces the thin child. The story is that of the thin child, possibly standing for the author, reading Asgard and the Gods in her youth, a youth overshadowed by the Second World War. Throughout the book, “the child” is reading and thinking about her father, whom she believes is missed in action. The association of Ragnarok and the end of the Gods and Nazism / the German war aggression creates a peculiar tension, especially because the book the child reads is originally from Germany, and in the child’s mind these two strands become associated.A. S. Byatt lists the book, Asgard and the Gods, in the bibliography, as translated and adapted from the work of Dr. W. Wägner (1880). Since its publication, the book was very popular, and went through several editions. The full title of the 1880 and 1884 editions was Asgard and the Gods. The Tales and Traditions of Our Northern Ancestors. In the eighth edition of 1917 the subtitle was further expanded to Asgard and the Gods. The tales and traditions of our Northern ancestors, forming a complete manual of Norse mythology. The expanded subtitle increasingly well described the nature of the work, which is reflected in Byatt book. If anything, Byatt book could be regarded as a retelling of Wägner’s book, which is more like a reference work, a compendium, and almost complete “manual of Norse mythology.”Ragnarok. The end of the Gods. is a book which can only be read slowly, for two reasons. Firstly, lacking a binding narrative, the book consists of a kaleidoscopic overview of Norse Gods and Goddesses. There is an overwhelming number of them, all with estranging Germanic names, although a few are known and recur. Nonetheless, the encyclopaedic nature of the book is a bit confusing.Then, too, A. S. Byatt writing style is extremely flowery. I first noticed this extremely rich style in the short story collection Elementals. Stories of Fire and Ice, published in 1998. Beside the use of adjectives, Byatt’s descriptions of the natural world read like a complete flora or fauna, which creates an extremely full, and rich vocabulary, quite overwhelming in its own right. This lexical density makes the work very poetic, but also more difficult to read. Each story or part of the story resembles a richly decorative Art Deco tableau. While beautiful, these elaborate descriptions are also a bit over-worked, and give some passages a tiresome weightiness.
Review by imyril
Nutritious, but not very enjoyable. The framing device is ultimately intriguing, but I expect rather more blood, guts and passion in any retelling of the Norse sagas. Instead, rather dry.
Review by jen.e.moore
Lovely, beautiful and lyrical - with an afterword that spoils the whole thing. Myths do not require explanations.
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