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

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

“Ragnarok:  The End of the Gods” by A. S. ByattRagnarok: The End of the Gods by A.S. Byatt
Series: Canongate Myths #17
Published: 2011 by Canongate
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 177
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
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I received a review copy of A. S. Byatt’s “Ragnarok:  The End of the Gods” from the publisher through Netgalley.  It is the most recent installment of the Canongate Myth Series, which features reinterpretations of legends and myths by contemporary authors.

A loosely autobiographical tale, “Ragnarok” tells the story of a thin girl in wartime who reads Asgard and the Gods.  She imagines the figures of Norse mythology as she frolicks through fields of flowers.  The grimness of Norse mythology parallels elements of the thin girl’s life.  She realizes that her father is never coming home from the war, and she has nightmares of Germans hiding under her bed.  In such a world, she finds the tales of Loki, Baldur, and Odin to be more satisfying and relevant than the stories she learns in Church.

One of the things that makes this book unique as a retelling of myth is the way that Byatt doesn’t try to give the characters modern personalities, but rather gives them the same attributes by which they are characterized in the original legends.  Loki was my favorite, as he delights in the forces of chaos.

Chaos pleased him.  He liked things to get more and more furious, more wild, more ungraspable, he was at home in turbulence.  He would provide 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.

With Loki’s character, Byatt captures that odd sense of satisfaction derived from wildness and disorder.

The story of Ragnarok is a story of destruction, and of the fallibility of even the gods.  The ending is inevitable and grim, and yet the story itself is beautiful.  The thin child clings to the stories as she begins to understand the pressures of the adult world and to realize the fallibility and humanity of her own parents.

I enjoyed this story tremendously, although I do wish that the author would have italicized the handful of quotes from Asgard.  Byatt’s poetic language made me happy, although it might not suit readers who become frustrated by long descriptions of nature.  Up until this point, I had not read much Norse mythology.  This book served as a good introduction.

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As many of you know, I’m a bit obsessed with Ursula K. Le Guin.  She also wrote a review of “Ragnarok:  The End of the Gods,” which can be found here.

Comments make me happy! Please feel free to leave a reply.

11 comments

    1. You’re welcome! It was my first real introduction to Norse mythology, and I loved it! Generally I don’t go for books where I know that the ending is going to involve lots of people dying (which is also the reason why I couldn’t stand the movie “Titanic”), but this one was different, and was far more epic.

    1. Norse mythology is fascinating, and I loved Byatt’s poetic language. It was also neat to learn how many books/games/etc. that I’ve read have referenced the Scandinavian legends. 😀

  1. I’d really like to read this as I have enjoyed the Canongate myth series so far. I was a bit apprehensive as I know nothing about the mythology, but if it serves as a good introduction I think I’ll be OK 🙂

    1. This is the first one that I’ve read in the series, and I’m quite impressed. I didn’t know much of anything about Norse mythology, but this book is written in such a way that you don’t have to know anything beforehand. In fact, it’s made me more interested in Norse mythology as a whole, and I spent a good deal of time on Wikipedia after I read it to learn more. 😀

  2. I haven’t had good luck with Byatt in the past, but I have with the Canongate Myths, so I might have to read this at some point and see if it will win me over to Byatt…

    1. This is the only book that I’ve read by Byatt or in the Canongate Myth series, but I kind of want to read more of the myths now. I was looking online and saw that there was one about Baba Yaga, which sounds intriguing since I like Russian-related books.