Read Ragnarok by A.S. Byatt Online


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 autobiographical and linguistically stunning, this book is a landmark work of fiction from one of Britain's truly great wriRecently 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 autobiographical 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 tail 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...

Title : Ragnarok
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9781847670649
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 177 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

Ragnarok Reviews

  • Jaidee
    2019-04-14 14:57

    5 "Byatt speaks to me like nobody else" stars. 5th Favorite Read of 2015 Quite simply...Byatt is the reason I read.She has written the unbelievable novel "Possession" who along with Tolstoy's "Anna Karenina" are my two favorite novels and I have read each of them several times throughout my life and I feel nostalgic, like I've come home after being exiled and I can sit and commune with the wonderful characters and plots that lie therein.Ragnarok was the only Byatt I had left to read. I was trepidatious as the novel was a short one and I thought I would be dissatisfied or sad that I would only get a taste of Byatt when I sorely wanted a feast of her prose.This book transported to a few places in my life and I will jot down just a few.1. I was (and am) a very introverted child that preferred my own company to carousing with other children. I also hated the bright sunshine of humid Toronto summers. I remember purposefully misbehaving so that I could be banished to my cool heavily curtained bedroom. There I would listen to Chopin, Mozart and Beethoven and read Greek and Roman Mythology, The Secret Garden, Lives of the Saints and all of the various coloured fairy books by Lang. I was in heaven.2. In the autumn of my eleventh year falling in love with a girl one year my senior and walking through High Park eating ice cream and co-creating stories about princes, goblins, dragons and evil Queens. I also always wanted to playact "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane" with Faye Dunaway and Bette favorite movie at the time (a bit odd, I know)3. At the age of 16 being taken by my favorite aunt to see Wagner's Ring Cycle in its entirety. Norse mythology combined with opera...nothing could be finer. Also spending so much time with my aunt who had very little education but the most refined of taste.Byatt did all this and more in this most amazing little novel. The novel is the re-telling of the end of the world (Ragnarok) in Norse mythology as seen through the eyes of a little girl during the second world war in England when she and her mother leave London to live in the countryside. She infuses this book with a magic and wisdom that I cannot quite articulate in words. The little girl is precocious as she is both naïve child and wise crone and this lends her to speculate on the comparison of Norse mythology with Christian faith and bible stories. It also helps the little girl cope with her father fighting in the war as an air pilot.The retelling of the myth is so spectacular that it defies description. Each and every sentence is so carefully crafted, so gorgeous and so laden with many meanings. The stories touched not only my heart but went even deeper to my artistic soul. I would close my eyes while reading this and picture, see, hear, feel, smell and touch all that was described in three-dimensional glory.This book was short but packed with so much wonder that I will not hesitate in placing it in Jaidee's little temple of literary masterpieces.I will let Ms. Byatt have the last say:"The myths were cavernous spaces lit, in extreme colors, gloomy or dazzling, with a kind of overbright transparency about them."Simply Stunning!!

  • Riku Sayuj
    2019-04-11 14:52

    Ragnarok: The End of The Gods – A Re-vieworRagnarok: The Twilight of the ReaderWhile the others in the Cannongate series re-imagined the stories, Byatt reread it. And then told the tale of reading it. Underwhelming? To an extent, yes. But, the Norse myths are magnificent enough to come alive of themselves even when the author decides to color them distant. Byatt gives her reasoning for this approach in the end - saying that she believes myths should not be humanized and the experience of imbibing the story of a myth, of how the story permeates the life, of how myth shapes an individuals and then a society's internal life is what gives a myth its true meaning. She wanted to mythologize this process - of how a myth can shape a life. And through her Thin Child, she might have done this to an extent, though she let me down on my expectations of a fun and thrilling adventure in the frigid, intimidating and exhilarating strangeness of the Norse landscapes.

  • Cecily
    2019-04-05 13:58

    This is a remarkably good book, that I somehow failed to enjoy as much as I wanted or expected, but I think the failing is mine, rather than Byatt's, and reading my notes below, I'm puzzled that I liked and admired, rather than loved it (all-too familiar in my relationship with Byatt)."The thin child in wartime" The child is a semi-autobiographical version of Byatt herself. She is given a book of Norse legends, that she treasures. Those stories are retold through her eyes and thoughts, interspersed with snippets about her own life, told in a similar epic, mythical, Silmarillionish style, weaving occasional lines of liturgy and hymns into the prose (as myths weave into each other and ourselves). It dips in and out of myth, but the narrative pull is weak. The parallels between the thin child's life and what she reads are clear (Ragnarok is the end of the world, and WW2 seemed as if it would be too), but mostly subtle. Layers of myth and fictionalised biographyShe is a thoughtful child, with a vivid imagination and an analytical questioning mind, comparing the gods of legend with the Christian one she learns about at school and church. "In the story told in the stone church a grandfatherly figure who resented presumption had spent six delectable days making things." She notices that characters come in threes, that there are two ways to win battles ("to be surprisingly strong, or to be a gallant forlorn hope"), and rules in stories exist to be broken. She treats all myths, including Christianity, like fairy stories, "these offered the pleasure to the mind that the unreal offers when it is briefly more real than the visible world can ever be." The only thing alive in the church is the English language. She has fun with the gods' quirks, especially Loki's mischievousness: "Chaos pleased him... He would provoke turbulence to please himself and tried to understand it in order to make more of it. He was in burning columns of smoke in battlefields. He was in the fury of rivers bursting their banks, or the waterfalls of high tides throwing themselves over flood defences, bringing down ships and houses."The war brings intellectual conflict, as well as more visceral fears, especially for her fighting father: "She asked herself who were the good and wise Germans who had written 'Asgard and the Gods'" and wondered how she could trust "the storytelling voice that gripped her imagination, and tactfully suggest explanations."Byatt the storytellerIf young Byatt really thought as the thin child does, it's no wonder she became a storyteller. "Part of the delight and mystery of this book was that everything was told several times, in different orders and in different tones of voice... It is told in the present tense, a prophetic vision of the future, seen as though it was Now. The think child became an onlooker in the death of the world... It felt different from Christian accounts of the end of things... Here the gods themselves were judged and found wanting." And to show her erudition as well as her empathy, there is an essay about mythology at the back of the book.Beauty withinThe language is is rich, vivid and beautiful, especially when describing plants, animals and water ("The flung snake fell through the firmament in shifting shapes... her mane of fresh-fronds streaming back from her sharp skull, her fangs glinting."), but I expect that from Byatt. It is bound, printed and laid out with a strong eye for aesthetics. There are a few lovely pen and ink drawings to add to the images she conjures in the reader's mind. Closing thoughtsI can't fault this at any level, other than that it disappointed me, or perhaps that my reaction disappointed me. Perhaps I shouldn't try: "This is how myths work. They are things, creatures, stories, inhabiting the mind. They cannot be explained and do not explain; they are neither creeds nor allegories."Byatt and biographyByatt is a novelist who loves the academic approach to biography, applied to fiction and semi-fiction. This passion is reflected in all four of her novels I’ve now read, with varying degrees of success. (I’ve also read some short stories.)The Children's Book, 4*. See my review HERE.Possession, 3*. See my review HERE.The Biographer’s Tale, 2*. See my very old review HERE.

  • Richard Derus
    2019-04-17 12:04

    Rating: 1* of five (p41)"...Airmen were the Wild Hunt. They were dangerous. If any hunter dismounted, he crumbled to dust, the child read. It was a good story, a story with meaning, fear and danger were in it, and things out of control."I have Byatted for the last time. I love the Norse myths, and this precious twitzy-twee retelling of them through "the child"'s horrible little beady eyes made me want to Dickens up all over the place.I tried. I really tried. I read some of Possession. It was like having an estrogen drip placed directly into my testicles. I tried Angels and Insects and, horrified and repulsed, put it down (as in "down the crapper" down) even before I found out it was about brother/sister incest.I think her writing is ghastly, I dislike the stories she tells, and I won't be coerced, shamed, convinced, asked, begged, guilt-instilled, or required to pick up any damn thing else this Woman-with-a-capital-W writes in this incarnation.

  • Davide
    2019-04-08 15:52

    In tutti i libri di Antonia c'è sempre qualcuno (o più di uno) che racconta una qualche forma di fiaba crudele.In tutti i libri di Antonia ci sono sempre dei momenti di straordinaria minuziosa capacità descrittiva.In questo libro ci sono entrambi questi caratteri così suoi, ma non avviluppati con le vicende di personaggi intriganti: va da sé che la lettura ne risente.L’aggancio con Asgard è autobiografico: «C’era una bambina magra, che aveva tre anni quando scoppiò la guerra mondiale.» E subito si comprende la personale risonanza dell'incombere della distruzione finale degli dei nordici: «La bambina sapeva, senza sapere di saperlo, che gli adulti vivevano nella provvisoria paura della distruzione imminente.»(l'immagine di copertina di Kay Nielsen, tratta da un libro di Old tales from the North del 1914 - un'altra guerra! -, è bellissima)

  • Terence
    2019-04-11 16:13

    Update (8/15/12): A week or so ago I listened to the Audio CD and was impressed - again - with just how good this book is. The reader (whose name I've forgotten) does an excellent job, and I gained a better understanding of what I had read from listening to it.Update (6/6/12): I found the short story I mentioned in my review below. It's from an anthology titled Starlight 3 and called "Wolves Till the World Goes Down," by Greg Van Eekhout. (view spoiler)[It's told from Hugin's POV (Hugin is "Thought," one of the ravens who are Odin's eyes and ears in the world), and recounts how Baldr plans to permanently die and, thus, break the prophecy of Ragnarök. (hide spoiler)]In Ragnarök: The End of the Gods, A.S. Byatt recounts the Norse myth of the end of the world, and she favors the (probably) pre-Christian version where there’s no rebirth into the Field of Ida. Everything ends. Forever. The earth was Surtr’s. His flames licked the wounded branches of Yggdrasil and shrivelled the deep roots. The homes of the gods fell into the lake of fire. Grieving Frigg, on her gold throne, sat and waited as the flames licked her door sills and ate up the foundations of the house. Unmoving, she flared, shrank black, and became ash amongst the falling ash.Deep in the kelp forests Surtr’s fire boiled in the foundations of the sea. The holdfast of Rándrasill ripped loose and its lovely fronds lost colour, lost life, tossed in the seething water amongst the dead creatures it had once sheltered and sustained.After a long time, the fire too died. All there was was a flat surface of black liquid glinting in the small pale points of light that still came through the starholes. A few gold chessmen floated and bobbed on the dark ripples. (pp. 143-4)Unlike many authors in the Canongate Myth series, Byatt deliberately avoids recasting the myth to modernize it for her audience, giving the gods human emotions and motives, making them people like ourselves trying to get by or to make sense of the world. She wants, instead, to retain the mythic quality of the story. She wants Ragnarök to be unsatisfactory and tormenting. Unlike the fairy story or a modern novel, the reader shouldn’t contentedly close the cover satisfied that Good has triumphed over Evil and all live “happily ever after.” A myth should leave its reader (or hearer) puzzled and haunted by the world it presents, and humbled by incomprehensibility. (p. 161ff)Her prose is (like good poetry) precise but lush and vital as in this description of Jörmungandr as she grows into her full strength:All this time she grew. She was as long as a marching army on land. She was as wide as underwater caverns, stretching away and away into the dark. She spent more and more time in the darkest depths, where no sunlight came, where food was sparse and strangely lit with glowing reds and cobalt blues. She came across mountain ranges in the water, and belching chimneys and columns of hot gas. She sipped at the blank white shrimp down there, and picked the fringed worms from their crevices. Nothing saw her coming, for she was too vast for their senses to measure or expect. She was the size of a chain of firepeaks: her face was as large as a forest of kelp, and draped with things that clung to her fronds, skin, bones, shells, lost books and threads of snapped lines. She was heavy, very heavy. She crawled across beds of coral, rosy, green and gold, crushing the creatures, leaving in her wake a surface blanched, chalky, ghostly. (pp. 71-2)Or in the description of the thin child’s days in the countryside:The thin child fished in the pond for tadpoles and tiddlers, of which there was an endless multitude. She gathered great bunches of wild flowers, cowslips full of honey, scabious in blue cushions, dog-roses, and took them home, where they did not live long, which did not concern her, for there were always more springing up in their place. They flourished and faded and died and always came back next spring, and always would, the thin child thought, long after she herself was dead. Maybe most of all she loved the wild poppies, which made the green bank scarlet as blood. She liked to pick a bud that was fat and ready to open, green-lipped and hairy. Then with her fingers she would prise the petal-case apart, and extract the red, crumpled silk – slightly damp, she thought – and spread it out in the sunlight. She knew in her heart she should not do this. She was cutting a life short, interrupting a natural unfolding, for the pleasure of satisfied curiosity and the glimpse of the secret, scarlet, creased and frilly flower-flesh. Which wilted almost immediately between finger and thumb. But there were always more, so many more. It was all one thing, the field, the hedge, the ash tree, the tangled bank, the trodden path, the innumerable forms of life, of which the thin child, having put down her bundle and gas-mask, was only one among many. (pp. 35-6)The framework in which Byatt tells her myth is the story of “a thin child in wartime.” It’s World War 2, and families are fleeing London and other major cities in anticipation of the Blitz. The thin child, an asthmatic girl whose father is away fighting, finds herself and her mother in the English countryside. She spends her days wandering the countryside and reading Asgard and the Gods and Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress. This gives Byatt the opportunity to address a remarkable thematic range, such as the need to control and order the world (Odin and her father) vs. the darkness that lurks beyond the borders of Asgard or the walls of the garden (Loki and the world outside of the city). Another idea that resonated with me – related to the theme of order vs. chaos – is the pressure to conform. To choose security over risk, exemplified in what happens after the war ends and the thin child’s father – against all expectations – comes home and the family returns to the city:They went back home, the thin child and the family. Home was a large grey house with a precipitous garden in the steel city, which had its own atmosphere which could be perceived as a wall of opaque sulphurous cloud, as they came in from the countryside to which they had been evacuated. The thin child’s lungs tightened desperately as the fog closed in on her….The long-awaited return took the life out of the thin child’s mother…. Dailiness defeated her. She made herself lonely and slept in the afternoons, saying she was suffering from neuralgia and sick headaches. The thin child came to identify the word ‘housewife’ with the word ‘prisoner’. Fear of imprisonment haunted the thin child, although she did not quite acknowledge this….But on the other side of the closed gate was the bright black world into which she had walked in the time of her evacuation. The World-Ash and the rainbow bridge, seeming everlasting, destroyed in a twinkling of an eye. The wolf with his hackles and bloody teeth, the snake with her crown of fleshy fronds, smiling Loki with fishnet and flames, the horny ship made of dead men’s nails, the Fimbulwinter and Surtr’s conflagration, the black undifferentiated surface, under a black undifferentiated sky, at the end of things. (pp. 148-54)A third, was the need to build up defenses against loss, against futility. The gods huddle behind the walls of Asgard boasting of their prowess, feasting, and occasionally sallying forth to battle the monsters beyond the battlements. The thin child loses herself in imagining an eternal spring of poppied meadows and singing birds.A final theme that I’ll mention is the inability of gods, men or giants to conceive of any alternative to Ragnarök:They [the gods] are human because they are limited and stupid. They are greedy and enjoy fighting and playing games. They are cruel and enjoy hunting and jokes. They know Ragnarök is coming but are incapable of imagining any way to fend it off, or change the story. They know how to die gallantly but not how to make a better world. (p. 169)Based on my own readings in evolutionary science, history and economics, this last seems a particularly appropriate description of our own times (which is – as Byatt explicitly states – a reason for why she wanted to write about Ragnarök in the first place). There is a short story, a copy of which I know I have stored somewhere in the apartment, that I read about 12 years ago (and shared with the HS English class I was teaching at the time) that directly addressed this point, imagining that one of the Aesir defied Fate and did try to “make a better world.” Unfortunately, I’ve forgotten its title and author, but I’ll find it and update this review when I do because it was a very good story and deserves more attention.I originally gave Ragnarök: The End of the Gods three stars but upon reflection and rereading (at random) portions of the book in the course of writing this review, I’m persuaded to revise my initial reaction to four. I enjoyed Byatt’s writing and found a wealth of ideas to consider (or “digest,” as I mention in one of my comments below). In my case, at least, the author succeeded in leaving me puzzled and tormented (but in a good way). And there’s much more to this slim volume than what I’ve touched on here to puzzle and torment the reader, if they so wish.As the Preacher says, “vanity of vanities, all is vanity,” and it’s all too easy to become nihilistic or apathetic. But I don’t think Byatt is either. There is an underlying optimism that the reader can see in the quote above where she writes “make a better world.” And I’m reminded of Ursula Le Guin’s image of our lives as candles that burn for a time and are then snuffed out. But, oh, what we can do for that time. Or Olaf Stapledon’s Last and First Men/Star Maker, where after a billion+ years of struggle (and 18 separate but human species), Man’s sojourn ends but: “Man himself, at the very least, is music, a brave theme that makes music also of its vast accompaniment, its matrix of storms and stars. Man himself in his degree is eternally a beauty in the eternal form of things. It is very good to have been man. And so we may go forward together with laughter in our hearts, and peace, thankful for the past, and for our own courage. For we shall make after all a fair conclusion to this brief music that is man.” (p. 246)With four stars, it should go without writing that I recommend this book without reservation.

  • Ajeje Brazov
    2019-04-02 10:59

    Qualche giorno fa passavo in biblioteca, per restituire dei libri e poi per girovagare tra gli scaffali in cerca di qualcosa che mi colpisse, non che avessi problemi di libri da leggere, ne ho centinaia in attesa di lettura da me.Però ci sono momenti in cui ti perdi tra gli scaffali ed incominci a tirare su libri, quasi a caso, ed inizi a sfogliarli, magari per il titolo o la copertina, o l'autore che hai sentito tanto parlare e che non hai ancora letto niente. Ecco Ragnarok fa parte di questa ultima "fascia" di interesse. La scrittrice la sentivo nominare spesso, ma non mi sono mai deciso a leggerne qualcosa. Poi dagli scaffali esce questo titolo, appunto Ragnarok, La fine degli Dei, e come non esserne incuriosito, quale appassionato di mitologia, soprattutto quella norrena. Allora, stupidamente come molte volte mi succede, decido di prenderlo perchè piccolo, magari veloce da leggere, anche perchè ho altri libri in lettura ed altro in programma...Ma, come molte volte mi succede, ecco pescato un capolavoro, appassionante, entusiasmante, da non volerlo mai lasciare e quindi leggerlo tutto d'un fiato. La scrittura è ciò che più mi ha catturato, pochissimi dialoghi, narrazione pregna di immagini, mitiche e non e poi quella passione per la lettura che ha "la bambina magra" (la nostra protagonista), fa sì che Ragnarok entri di diritto, nell'Olimpo dei miei libri preferiti di sempre.La chicca, la ciliegina sulla torta è l'ultima parte: "Pensieri sui miti".Lo consiglio vivamente a tutti!

  • Teresa
    2019-04-19 16:04

    This book would probably be more interesting to those who know nothing, or not much, of Nordic mythology. Since I, as Byatt, read stories from this mythology as a child, I found myself looking for more, perhaps a retelling or an allegory (or more of the story of the 'thin child,' which is Byatt herself), which is exactly what Byatt says in her "Thoughts on Myths" (at the end) she didn't want to write.More than anything else, this novella is Byatt's love-letter to Asgard and the Gods, and shows how reading and rereading it informed her vision of the world. And by the very end, I decided it was an allegory -- of all the abundance (justifying her sometimes seemingly endless lists of flora, fauna, etc that populate these pages) that was once in the world and is no longer, due to the hubris of both gods and men.

  • Nikki
    2019-04-08 12:51

    I was hoping, when I read this Canongate retelling, for something more along the lines of a reinterpretation. A.S. Byatt's retelling is a fairly straight one, drawing together various different strands of the myth, through the eyes of a child during the war reading the myths and relating them to her life.I've read the myths myself -- studied them -- so reading about a child reading about them didn't really work as a way to experience them for myself. There is some beautiful language here, but that was the only thing that really interested me, aside from perhaps Byatt's vision of Loki, who is a very compelling version.Otherwise, unimpressed.

  • Steven Walle
    2019-03-22 10:11

    A. S. Byaat is an awesome linguist. The words of this book captivate you and you just can't put it down. It is a book about a young thin girl, in war time Great Brittan. She finds a book about the Norse fables of the Gods and giants and allows her to escape her own very scarey reality. I recommend this book to all ages.Enjoy and Be Blessed.Diamond

  • Chris
    2019-04-18 13:55

    I have been waiting years for this book, ever since I got my first book in the Canongate series.There is something about a well loved book. Not only can you remmeber the plot, but you can also, quite easily, remember the first time you read the book. The train, the room, the seat, the feeling. It's not every book, but those well loved books. For me they number books such as The Hero and the Crown, Wyrd Sisters, and Duncton Tales.Of course Possession is one those books.This book by Byatt starts slow, but then you realize what she is doing, you get overwhelmed not only by the stories of the Norse gods which she brillantly retells, but also by the thin girl's (a shade of Byatt herself perhaps)discovery of them. Juxaposed with this is not only the second World War but any sense of ending or destruction. Even that hollow (and hallow) feeling that one gets when reaching the end of a good book.Byatt, thankfully, did not intend and, therefore, did not make, the book into a sermon, though the afterword indicates eco-issues were on her mind when she wrote it. There are so many different levels to the story -which is simply discovery of story - that it transcends not only the myth itself, but in some ways rivals the brillance of Possession, though this book can be read in a sitting.Byatt's ability to use language is on full display, and the book is part prose poem as well as moving retelling of the Norse Gods. I wish Byatt would do a full retelling; her description of Midgard serpent is sensual, threatening, and right on target.This is one of those slow, sneaky, quietly grabs you type of a book.

  • Arun Divakar
    2019-04-08 08:02

    I cannot put a finger on what is the one factor that attracts me to Nordic mythology. When I tend to give it some thought, I feel it is the character of Odin that I find to be the most noteworthy. There is to me a certain enigma associated with this characterization of ultimate power. Wandering the world as a one eyed old man in a long & billowing cloak with a hat pulled down covering most of his face is this king of gods. I draw parallels with the hindu god Shiva here for he is shown as an entity who while at the zenith of power tends to wander the world in the quest of knowledge that seems even to elude him. Little wonder that every other story that is said or yet to be said is all part of one grand tale !The landscape here is one of violence and tempers that flare at the drop of a hat. The gods to do justice to their image all have monstrous egos & bulldoze their way into one debacle after another. The beauty of the Nordic concept of Ragnarok is one of finality, an event of extinction which not even the gods could escape. A S Byatt's retelling is very visual in its execution. It tells the story of a character named the thin child who lives in England during WWII and reading Asgard and the Godswhich through her eyes tell us of the drama in the life of all these thugs of myth. Other than the primary storyline of the gods & their inevitable end, there is very little in this book. What stands out are some of the finest imagery through words that I couldn't have enough of. The world serpentJörmungandrand her travels are poetic,apocalyptic and reflections of the inner nature of human beings. I found Loki to be an amusing portrait. Believed to be the trickster god, Byatt gives Loki the image of a curious yet wanton adventurer which fits him like a glove.There are some books which stamp images on your mind without you knowing a reason as to why they do so. This book falls in that category for me.

  • Cynthia
    2019-03-20 12:12

    I found this book uninteresting in the beginning. It took at least 20 pages or so to spark my imagination. Byatt is a writer I love though so I persisted and it paid off. The nominal narrator is referred to as the thin girl. She loves to read the old Norse tales from her mother’s many books. She’s reading them in the country where she and her mom have gone to escape the London Blitz. Her dad has been away for many years bombing the enemy’s towns. She knows he won’t come back. She reads late into the night with only a smidgen of light from a hall lamp.Ragnarok, which is an end time legend, is a great overview of the Gods and other creatures and the deeds associated with each. I’d heard some of the names, Odin, Loki, Yggdrasil, etc. but never in such a clear concise way and, let’s face it, this is Byatt writing and as always her prose adds much to the telling. What I felt was missing was a hero or heroine to hate or hope for. A human touch that would have made me more eager to read on. The thin girl helped slightly. In an epilogue Byatt explains that in her opinion faerie tales include the character’s personalities and feelings and usually the bad guy losses. Faerie tale people are much like humans. They are relatable. Here is what she writes about myths, “Myths are often unsatisfactory, even tormenting. They puzzle and haunt the mind that encounters them. They shape different parts of the world inside our heads, and they shape them not as pleasures, but as encounters with the inapprehensible.” Mythical beings are outside us and we as humans can’t understand why they act as they do. To me they feel akin to archetypes that are beyond personality and are mere function. Faerie tales, on the other hand, were created to entertain and to teach moral or life lessons. I almost wish Byatt had placed her epilogue as an introduction. Then I would have been aware that she meant to keep the myths pure by not mixing in human psychology. 3.5/5

  • Derek
    2019-03-31 16:07

    Bravo! This was a marvel in every sense of the word. It's a simple tale--a thin girl relates Asgard And The Gods plus Pilgrim's Progress to the wartime life she's inhabited. That's what's on the surface. Beneath that, this is a clever book about the end of our own world, but the beauty of it is it's not written as an allegory nor is it a sermon or full of eschatological leaning. It's a story about the power of myths, and how myths can unify a culture. In its deepest honesty this a book about humanity, and all our hopes and failings. What's coop about this is, the Asgard gods aren't in anyway humanized to make them relatable, yes they may possess traits of compassion, love, courage, wrath, but these are essentially human traits we've constructed out of our own sense of self. What the gods possess that is ultimately human, is their stupidity (The constant brawling and jesting) and their limitedness and short-sightedness (They know the Ragnarok is imminent but can't imagine a way of averting it--much like Present day Man's own failing with the Climate Change Crisis) You just have to pay attention, see how Byatt uses the Midgard Serpent as the driving motif that symbolizes Humanity in all its inherent barbarity: we kill for fun, we poison the earth because it's in our Self-destructive nature, and we continually grow beyond our ability to sustain ourselves.... Ah, I better stop here, I'm sounding a little more preachy than the book itself.

  • Gary
    2019-03-21 12:48

    I was given this book as an impromptu present (the best sort really) and hence I dislike being churlish about it, but... this is not a real story in the sense that I was expecting anyway. It's a re-telling of the Norse Myths - Odin, Thor, Loki etc. loosely set within the confines of the 'thin' girl's reflections on her own experience of the second world war. It's a very loose narrative setting at that and much of this comes from AS Byatt's own childhood I think. I have enjoyed her books previously - 'Possession' was terrific! but this disappointed me even though the re-telling is well written and informative for those of us who are only vaguely familiar with the myths in question. I think it's just that I was expecting more of a story and got more of an a history book, albeit a fantasmagorical history book. Anyway, many people may find it a book they can't put down but I didn't and so the 2 star rating. I am happy to be contradicted by those who find it stunning as I'm sure some will.

  • Marica
    2019-04-02 10:03

    La sfera di pietra sfrecciava nel vuotoAntonia Byatt ci racconta i miti norreni, che culminano col Ragnarök, la caduta degli dei. Si tratta di miti di origine danese, norvegese e islandese: mi è venuto spontaneo confrontarli con i miti olimpici della tradizione greca e romana e non potrebbero essere più diversi: alla solarità degli dei olimpici, belli, gaudenti ed eterni si contrappone un Valhalla di guerrieri che si uccidono reciprocamente e valorosamente tutti i giorni in battaglia e che la sera, risuscitati, banchettano con cinghiale (se mi invitassero, dovrei trovare un modo garbato per declinare). Alla vita umana travagliata i Vichinghi fecero corrispondere una vita divina, anche questa brutale, stupida e mortale. L’inizio della fine era la successione di 3 anni senza estate e qui traspare l’attesa struggente del sole dei popoli nordici, che si trattiene in cielo sempre più a lungo, scioglie il ghiaccio, annuncia lo spuntare delle prime foglie, restituisce la vita. Il racconto dei miti di Asgard ha anche una valenza autobiografica: l’autrice ricevette in regalo dalla madre un libro sui miti norreni quando, durante la seconda guerra mondiale, era sfollata in campagna. Forse era il suo primo libro: certamente l’atmosfera si è sedimentata profondamente in lei e riemerge nei toni gotici presenti in vari suoi libri (Il libro dei bambini, La cosa nella foresta). La sua mente fervida di bambina leggeva della fine degli dei e cercava di prepararsi all’inverno della scomparsa di suo padre in guerra. A me il racconto della caduta degli dei ha fatto pensare con un brivido alla fine del nazismo che si pasceva di queste mitologie. Byatt ne dà una lettura ben più attuale, dicendo che, come gli dei norreni sanno che verrà la fine, ma non si danno da fare per cambiare il destino, così il genere umano esprime gli scienziati che misurano l’entità dei danni fatti al pianeta Terra ma non per questo riescono a deviare i destini di estinzione e degrado della natura. Una prosa splendida : “In principio era l’albero. La sfera di pietra sfrecciava nel vuoto”.

  • Jonathan Terrington
    2019-04-19 08:05

    The stories of the Norse gods have always fascinated me for a variety of different reasons. Here in this short novella, A.S. Byatt captures the spirit of these myths with short and poetic prose. She tells these stories through the point of view of a 'thin girl' who escapes to this mythology during WWII.The events of WWII are cleverly contrasted against the horrific events of the mythology of Ragnarok and the death of the gods. At the end A.S. Byatt clarifies that she chose to use particular translations and aspects of the story in her retelling to not give a happy ending to the story. The story of Ragnarok she suggests here, in its mythic nature, is not meant to be a happy story. Unlike fairytales or any other narrative, a myth is not a story that properly defines the characters. Rather they are stories that help make sense of the undefinable universe. And it is from this perspective that A.S. Byatt weaves her tale.The one thing preventing me from enjoying this to a greater extent on a personal level was the length. I found it to be a quick thirty minute read. Adding to this the fact that I already knew the stories of the Norse gods quite well and this became a rehashing of familiar material for me. That said, it was well written and neatly constructed with an interesting narration device to show the point of view of a reader of these myths. I fully recommend anyone with a passing interest in Norse myths to read through this short tale. For more reviews like this one, and reviews of films and games please visit my website:

  • Audrey
    2019-04-15 08:59

    I received a digital ARC of this book from the publisher through Netgalley.When I saw this title, I immediately requested it because it combines two of my favorite things: Norse mythology and A.S. Byatt. After doing a little research, I discovered that this is part of Canongate's series of retold world myths by famous novelists. I'm glad I had that little bit of guidance, because I don't know that I would've known what Byatt was trying to do, otherwise.Don't get me wrong. This novella is full of beautiful writing, as is to be expected from Byatt. Many of the passages read as catalogs of glorious natural description, with images piled on top of one another in an excess of lush prose. I gathered early on that much of the story of the thin girl is autobiographical, detailing a slice of Byatt's own life as a young girl growing up in the English countryside during the Great War, reading and rereading a book on Norse mythology. These snippets of autobiography attempt to provide a way into the myths, but all too often it ends up sounding like someone telling you about a book that they read and remembered. The overall result is that, while the retellings of the myths themselves are gorgeously written, they don't meld with the thin girl's story at all. In the end, everything comes across as too disjointed and awkwardly pieced together. Unfortunately, the author's purpose really doesn't become clear until you read the included author's note; in my opinion, if an author has to tell me what s/he was trying to accomplish, rather than me being able to figure it out for myself, then the work has failed.

  • Dee at EditorialEyes
    2019-04-09 07:56

    ~*~For this review and others, visit the EditorialEyes Blog.~*~5 out of 5 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 is part of the Canongate Myth Series, which since 1999 has published retellings of famous myths by accomplished authors the world over (you might recognize Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad or Philip Pullman’s The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ from the list of Canongate titles).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 herself surrounded by flora and fauna that differs greatly from her city world, and she finds a book about the Norse gods, written by a meticulous German scholar, 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.As this isn’t a traditional novel but rather a retelling of a myth cycle, there is no plot to speak of. And yet the book is dense. Not unlike Michael Ondaatje’s The Cat’s Table, 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. This isn’t told in the singsong tones of a ten-year-old narrator; this is Byatt-as-Storyteller narrating what the thin child thought and how she was changed by the war and the countryside and the book of myths. As the thin child delves further into the myth cycle, we get to see the myths retold. What linear narration there is belongs to the stories of the gods, beginning with the creation of the gods’ world to the creation of this world from the body of the dead giant Ymir to the inexorable destruction of it all. Byatt tells of the coming of the Frost Giants, the gods’ world Asgard and the rainbow bridge Bifröst, the pursuits of all the gods, the inevitable capture and imprisonment of Loki and his children, and finally, finally of the destruction: Ragnarök.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. The thin child loves that the “proper” ending for these myths is truly the end: unrelenting, undifferentiated darkness. The gods destroy themselves and the world, and there is no promise of rebirth, no Christian resurrection, and in this she finds awful beauty. The thin child ponders the meanings of the war going on around her, what might seem like a possible end of days for herself and her country, through the lens of her myths. In a true bit of loveliness, these myths that become all important to the thin child have been catalogued, translated, and analyzed by a “careful German editor,” a voice from the country that is attacking the thin child’s home, a voice that is nothing like the propaganda she hears elsewhere.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.” Likewise within the telling of the myths themselves, we are given sentences to sink into such as, “Filter-feeding sponges sucked at the thicket of stipes; sea-anemones clung to the clinging weed, and opened and closed their fringed fleshy mouths. Horn-coated, clawed creatures, shrimp and spiny lobster, brittle-stars and featherstars supped.” 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, just as the gods create the world from the body of Ymir.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.For those who are new to Byatt, this is a great first read: packed full of ideas and beautiful language, but accessible and not arduously long. For Byatt fans, Ragnarök offers a chance to peek into the author’s mind. It reads both like a prequel and a summation of her body of writing, her interests, and some of her major themes. As the thin child explores questions of religion, particularly the Judeo-Christian cosmogony as juxtaposed against the Norse, you can see where the roots of Byatt’s interest in the Fabian Society and the Theosophical Society may have begun. In reading, as a child, about the great, female, serpent Jörmungandr who wraps herself around the earth, perhaps the adult Byatt found the creative spark to write Christabel LaMotte in Possession, whose works focused on Melusina, the half-serpent fairy, the good mother/bad serpent archetype.Dense and bright, full of wonder and the wistfulness of passing time, Ragnarök is a myth cycle for the modern era. When I finished I turned to the beginning and read it again, to spend a bit more time with the thin child, and with mottled Hel and mourning Frigg, sly Fenris and brawny Thor, and their universe, which seems as though it will go on forever—their universe, which is always informed by the understanding that the end of the gods, Ragnarök, must one day come.

  • Tom
    2019-04-04 07:51

    More complete and profound a retelling of Norse myths and their power than other less accomplished authors have recently published. Framed by the story of 'a thin child in wartime', Byatt's work illuminates both myth and the tottering world in which we now dwell.

  • Audra (Unabridged Chick)
    2019-04-10 12:58

    This skinny book is really a novella, closed with a brief essay. And in that way Byatt does so well, this small book on Norse mythology also tells a story of marriage and motherhood, war, loss, escapism, violence. Insidious, along the edges of the larger story, what seems to be a straight-forward retelling of some aspects of Norse mythology actually tells us a story of World War II, Byatt-as-a-child, and the way a good story can help us escape our reality.Unlike some of the other Canongate Myth pieces, Byatt doesn't twist or warp or reinvent the myth she's chosen. Norse mythology has never been a big passion of mine so I didn't have that immediate connection with the story that I've had with other books but Byatt's (possibly?) autobiographical 'thin girl' and the World War II setting pulled me in. I might not have connected with the story of Ragnarok, but I immediately understood the magic of reading, the absorption of a compelling, alternative world on a lonely imagination.Byatt's thin girl reads a volume of Norse mythology, an English edition that extols rather warmly the impact of Old German on the myth cycle. The play of the 'good Germans' from the book and the 'bad Germans' of WWII was interesting ("Who were these old Germans, as opposed to the ones overhead, now dealing death out of the night sky", p17) and poignant: enemies and friends are so easily made and unmade.Unsurprisingly, the language is gorgeous but simple, poetical and lyrical and moving. ("Baldur went, but he did not come back. The thin child sorted in her new mind things that went and came back, and things that went and did not come back. Her father with his flaming hair was flying under the hot sun in Africa, and she knew in her soul that he would not come back.", p86) Byatt's narrative reads like a collection of myths, myth-of-the-thin-girl and myth of Ragnarok, and every page invites rereading.Byatt's closing essay was interesting -- about why she chose to tell the story as she did, what she had hoped to do, what she didn't do -- but I wish it hadn't been included. I made the mistake of reading it immediately upon finishing, and it took some of the warmth away from the story as I chewed over her analysis rather than the feelings she provoked in me.

  • Nick
    2019-03-25 16:09

    The Norse tales have always seemed to me the most powerful of the old mythologies that have come down to us in anything approaching a coherent body of work. Unlike the Graeco-Roman corpus, we have not been overexposed to them through Hollywood and cliche (with the exception of Thor, who is relatively uninteresting). The figure of Odin seems to me particularly compelling, the wandering riddler and seeker of wisdom; the Voluspo, the ancient poem in which he resurrects and questions a dead witch about the coming end of his world has always struck me as gripping. (I am not alone; it is among the old Norse poems that Auden helped translate). Then there is Loki, the shapeshifter par excellence, and Baldr, the beautiful, doomed god that his blind brother Hodr is tricked into killing. (Like any corpus of myths, the Norse tales have their weaknesses, principally the lack of compelling goddesses -- no Diana of the Hunt or tricky Athena here -- and the violent association with the Nazis). What captured my imagination was, above all, the tragedy of the looming Ragnarok -- the end of the world. A.S. Byatt took up this material as part of the Canongate series of myths retold. She brings a modern feel to the stories, linking this tale of the end of an old mythic world to modern environmental degradation, and, more consistently and successfully, to an England during the Blitz where a "thin child" reads the stories. There is not much new here for someone who knows the myths well, but they are retold with vigor, skill, lucid prose, and the ability to make everything from the world-tree Yggdrasil to the gods themselves fresh again.

  • Sookie
    2019-04-09 15:00

    Byatt re-read this book as a part of Canongate myth series and managed to make Norse mythology boring - which I thought wasn't possible. A semi-biographical narration goes only so far when the repetitive "that thin child" description becomes irritating. For most part of non-mythological story, I kept thinking, "Why is Byatt referencing to her childhood self as "thin child". Why not the child? Why not anything else?" There isn't a reason unless it was a giant metaphor for war ridden, alienated, lonely and hungry child. I had trouble seeing Byatt's transliteration of Norse mythology on Christianity. As this entire narration is that from a child's perspective, it is understandable. Children tend to see the world with clear sets of rights and wrongs and their comparative arguments could be quite limited. But these don't make the book boring. What makes this book an underwhelming experience involving Norse mythology is the detachment with which it is written. The enriching culture is downplayed to a caricature that belongs on the big screen than on paper. This isn't a book that should be read as an introduction to Byatt.

  • Jane
    2019-03-20 12:01

    3.5/5. Limpid, flowing telling of Norse myths, using as a frame story "the thin child in wartime", who is reading Asgard and the Gods, periodically relating her experiences and thoughts to the book, e.g., the wolves pursuing the chariots of sun and moon and that of Baldur's death suggest to her that her father won't be coming back from the war. The author's analysis of myth, comparison of the Norse gods to us in their stupidity and greed, and how we are hurtling towards a Ragnarok of our own [with or without a "new earth"] was weak and brought down my rating. Still, highly recommended for the myths themselves.

  • Charly
    2019-03-22 14:55

    My first read of anything by Byatt and I was impressed by the telling of the story using her child-self as a foil for reviewing the rise and eventual fall of the gods. Her discussion of myth was also very interesting. The gods in this book are vengeful, some nasty, and bring about their own demise. Not exactly fairy tale, which is a point she makes. that in some cultures the myths of the gods have been brought down to fairy tale level to make the hard lessons and actions more palatable, such is not the case here.

  • Ana Rînceanu
    2019-04-06 16:03

    The writing was beautiful, but it would have impacted me more had I known more about Norse mythology before reading this book. There are simply too many gods to care about and it's a testament to the writer that I became invested in the outcome of the girl as much as the outcome of Ragnarok itself.

  • Noelia Alonso
    2019-04-05 11:59

    I picked it up believing this was going to be Byatt's take on Ragnarok but the blurb had nothing to do with what was within the pages. Basically, this is more a textbook than anything else. And yes, I do love Norse mythology but it wasn't even written in an engaging manner. All in all, a dull and unsubstantial book.

  • Dvd (polemologico e pantoclastico)
    2019-04-08 14:10

    Soddisfatto a metà da questo romanzo.La prosa è molto raffinata e immaginifica, certamente non banale e si vede la mano d'una grande scrittrice.Sull'ambientazione il giudizio è duplice: lo sfondo è quello dell'Inghilterra avvolta nell'incubo della II guerra mondiale, raccontata con gli occhi di una bambina magra in tempo di guerra , che altri non è se non l'autrice stessa durante la sua infanzia da sfollata nella campagna inglese. La bambina vive quegli anni difficili accompagnandosi con un libro di saghe norrene, Asgard e gli dei - che è scritto da un tedesco, in una sorta di contrappasso che fa riflettere la bambina di come i nemici non siano sempre e tutti necessariamente cattivi.Agli (scarni) resoconti di vita vissuta dalla bambina, si alternano i miti che legge, e che immagina, e che la voce narrante racconta in una sorta di flusso di coscienza che si intreccia con l'idea del mondo - e degli uomini - che la bambina comincia a crearsi. Così si racconta di come il mondo venne creato a partire dalle spoglie del gigante Ymir, del regno dei giganti di Muspelheim, del dominio degli dei di Asgard su Midgard (la terra di mezzo degli uomini), del ponte arcobaleno che collega i due mondi, di Odino che sacrifica un occhio alla conoscenza e per lo stesso motivo rimane impiccato per 9 giorni, di Thor, e del suo martello, di Frigg e della pietosa preghiera al creato per garantire l'immortalità del figlio Baldur.In tutto questo racconto mitico la Byatt stacca chiaramente la figura di Loki, il dio degli inganni, né buono né malvagio, il trasformista fraudolento a cui tuttavia gli dei si rivolgono per risolvere problemi (è un pò il mr. Wolf di Asgard). Loki in effetti è una figura affascinante: un pò Prometeo, un pò Lucifero egli rappresenta il caos deflagratore e nello stesso tempo rigenerante, colui che briga continuamente per rompere l'equilibrio fisso e eterno che altrimenti gli dei imporrebbero, così da portare tramite la disgregazione, la creazione di qualcosa di nuovo e vivo. Nell'immobilità c'è solo la morte, in sostanza ci dice il mito, occorre ogni tanto muovere l'acqua per vedere l'effetto che le onde produrranno.Sia Loki che Odino sanno che il loro mondo finirà, ma solo il primo muove le pedine che porteranno alla fine, ossia al Ragnarok (quello che Wagner tradurrà impropriamente come il Crepuscolo degli Dei): genera tre figli mostruosi - Hel, che sarà la dea degli Inferi; Jormungand, il serpente cosmico lungo come la Terra; infine, Fenrir, il lupo. Sarà proprio quest'ultimo che divorerà Odino nella battaglia finale dei campi di Vigrid, mentre il serpente ucciderà e verrà ucciso da Thor; Loki stesso morirà, così come tutti gli altri dei.Qui la Byatt interrompe la narrazione: al Ragnarok, alla fine di tutto, non segue nessuna resurrezione, nessun lieto fine, solo eterna desolazione. Ci dice, d'accordo con la critica, che la rinascita probabilmente nel mito originario non c'era e che venne aggiunta solo in seguito sotto l'influenza del Cristianesimo e della sua Apocalisse redentrice, dalla quale Cristo risorgerà giudicando i vivi e i morti. Nessuna salvezza, insomma.Alla bambina del romanzo va meglio, e siamo felici per lei: la guerra finisce (il Ragnarok in questo mondo è ancora di là da venire), il padre torna illeso, la famiglia torna in città più o meno felice. Tutto molto bello, ma senza voler male alla storia della Byatt, la parte mitologica è di gran lunga più interessante e molto, molto più coinvolgente.E' incredibile pensare cosa la mente umana, lavorando di pura poesia e fantasia, sia riuscita a creare per giustificare il mondo reale - e i suoi fenomeni fisici e visibili: mitologie straordinarie, racconti vivi, potentissimi, avvincenti e - anche nella sostanziale inesistenza di un unico racconto cosmogonico e mitologico che sia anche del tutto coerente - di impressionante vividezza e intelligenza.Cose che noi uomini figli della tecnologia e della scienza non saremo assolutamente più in grado di replicare con tanta grandezza (né, forse, nemmeno di capire a pieno).Cinque stelle ai miti norreni, tre tirate al racconto della bambina magra in tempo di guerra : d'altra parte, la lotta era davvero impari. Rimane comunque consigliato per chi, come me, desideri qualche nozione sull'affascinante mondo della mitologia norrena.

  • Steffi
    2019-03-24 10:03

    Ich bin dankbar, dass ich mich an dem Tisch mit herabgesetzten Büchern letztlich doch für dieses Werk entschieden habe. Ich kannte Byatt schon (Besessen habe ich sehr gemocht. Die The Matisse Stories auch, Morpho Eugenia hat mich leider gelangweilt, Das Buch Der Kinder wartet im Regal noch darauf gelesen zu werden) und war überwiegend positiv gestimmt, aber Ragnarök? Ich habe keine Ahnung von nordischer Mythologie und jeder Versuch mich dieser zu nähern (wie bei so ziemlich jedem Mythenkreis) war ernüchternd und ermüdend. Viele, insbesondere Fantasy-Fans, werden mir widersprechen, aber Mythen, Legenden, Sagen, Märchen inhaliert man als Kind und sie werden zu einem lebenslangen Begleiter - was an der wiederholten Lektüre (oder Erzählt bekommen) liegt und daran, dass man weniger mit dem Kopf als mit Bauch und Herz liest. Heute stehen mir meine Ungeduld (was das vielfache Lesen desselben angeht) und mein Verstehen wollen, dieses im Gehirn abspeichern wollen, im Weg. Auf diese ‚erwachsene‘ Lesart verleibt man sich diese Art von Geschichten aber nicht ein, ich vergesse gleich wieder die Figuren und die Konflikte, und bin dann bekümmert, weil mir klar wird, dass mir diese Geschichten immer fremd bleiben werden.Aber dieses Buch vereint so viele Ebenen, dass es mich packt. Da ist diese kleine „dünne Mädchen“, dass irgendwo in England den Zweiten Weltkrieg erlebt (Ebene 1), es flieht in die nordischen Mythen (ausgerechnet aufgeschrieben von einem Deutschen) und findet Zuflucht in dieser grausamen Götterwelt (Ebene 2), aber gleichzeitig spiegelt diese Mythenwelt auch die reale Welt. Da wird zum Beispiel geschrieben/gedacht: „Wer waren diese alten Germanen, im Gegensatz zu den Deutschen oben in der Luft, die in dieser Zeit Tod und Verderben aus dem Nachthimmel schickten?“ Man stelle sich den Satz im englischen Original vor, wenn vermutlich ‚German‘ und ‚Germanics‘ nebeneinander stehen.Und dann lässt sich auch schnell erschließen, dass autobiografische Elemente einflossen (Ebene 3; Byatt, geboren 1936 in Sheffield, erlebte dort den Luftkrieg, was die Familie zum Umzug nach York veranlasste).Die Querverbindungen zwischen diesen Ebenen, die wunderbar poetische Sprache machen den Reiz des Buches aus, und dabei stört es mich kaum, dass ich mal wieder die Namen all der mythologischen Erscheinungen nicht im Gedächtnis behalte.Nein, nicht ganz. An Loki habe ich Gefallen gefunden. Dieser Außenseiter und Verwandte Lucifers findet auch das Interesse des Mädchens, aus dessen Sicht erzählt wird: „Das dünne Mädchen, das diese Geschichten immer wieder las, empfand weder Liebe noch Hass den Personen gegenüber, die sie bevölkerten; es waren keine ‚Charaktere‘, deren Taten es mit der eigenen Phantasie beleben konnte. [...] Doch bei Loki machte es eine Ausnahme. Unter all diesen Wesen hatte er Humor und Witz. Seine wandelbaren Gestalten waren verführerisch, seine Schlauheit hatte Charme. Er bereitete der Leserin Unbehagen, aber ihm gegenüber hatte sie Gefühle.“Es geht schließlich auch um den Verlust von Mythen, den Abschied von den Mythen – beim Erwachsenwerden und im (Nachkriegs-)Alltag.Gibt es etwas, was mir an dem Buch nicht gefiel? Ja, ich hätte gerne noch mehr aus der Sicht des Mädchens gelesen und weniger nordische Mythen. Aber das kann ich dem Buch kaum zum Vorwurf machen, ist es doch in einer Reihe erschienen, die sich der Neuinterpretation von Mythen verschrieben hat. Der von mir empfundene Mangel liegt wohl in meiner oben beschriebenen Distanz zu Mythen überhaupt begründet und ist rein subjektiv.

  • Mike
    2019-04-14 11:59

    I’ve always felt that the majority of people tend to gravitate towards classical mythology as there stories of choice. The place of the classical epics has been firmly cemented in our educational system for so long now that this shouldn’t really surpise anyone. While I certainly have respected and enjoyed stories grounded in classical myth my heart has always been more firmly entrenched in the cold, harsh world of Norse myth. Where the threat of annihilation weighs heavy on the hearts of the gods, where Odin was pinned to a tree by his own spear in order to gain knowledge, where a great serpent coiled around the Earth, and where sword weilding maidens wait to claim the souls of the valiant fallen. So when Booker award winning author A. S. Byatt penned a book loosely retelling the story of Ragnarok I was completely on board.Despite its sparse page count Byatt’s rendition of Ragnarok is a powerful piece of prose. Some of that comes from the strength of the story; a tale whose gravitas and power has not been lessened by the inexorable crawl of time. However the beuaty and strength of Byatt’s rendition also comes from her own command of prose as well as her deft interweaving of the Norse Gods’ fall with the loss and fear experienced by a small child during the height of the Second World War. With a disturbing and painful sense of ease Byatt is able both use the story of Ragnarok experienced by the child as both allegory and escape. Ayatt writes in the opening chapter: “The thin child knew, and did not know that she knew, that her elders lived in provisional fear of iminent destruction. They faced the end of the world they knew.”In the book the thin child experience the Norse myths through a book called Asgard and the Gods (a real late 19th German translation of the norse myths). Moreover it is in those myths that the thin child finds the spark to her own creativity “The stone giants made her want to write, and a sense of familiarity “She saw their unformed faces, peering at herself from behind the snout of her gas-mask, during air-raid drill.” In many ways, and by the narrators own admission these myths reflect her experiences far better than the Christian religion of her forbears and the darkness, bleak outlook, magic, and mystery of the old Norse stories fuel her imagination and her maker her feel more alive than the religion of her parents. Thus the thin child, with the wisdom that only a child can exhibit, rejects what dulls her sense of life and clings to that which makes her feel more alive and connected to the world around her.One of the criticisms leveled at some fiction today is that of escapism. “Escapist” literature is often viewed with derision and the notion persists that it serves no valuable role in society. Tolkein argued in his essay “On Fairy Stories” that escapism provides a valuable and essential balm to the trials and pains of the real world; that without this escape our ability to face the world around would be far more difficult than it is. In a similar way Byatt’s Ragnarok looks at myth, at a rejection of the conventional during a time of great fear, the willingness to embrace imagination and creativity and reveals them not just as being important but as an essential aspect of survival.At the same time Ragnarok embraces a notion of wistfulness and sadness. The novel asks, and answers, the question of what happens when the source of that fear goes away? What happens to that place of creativity, imagination, and refuge when the source of the fear disappears? In her afterward Byatt discusses that Ragnarok and its antagonist (Loki) is an examination of Chaos and its unspotabble nature and not a true allegory. However, I think it might be safer to say that Ragnarok isn’t quite the allegory we think it is. Sure the novel draws paralells between World War II and Ragnarok but World War II is ancillary to the story Byatt’s novel tells. It isn’t about World War II it’s about childhood’s end.