Ragnarok: The End of the Gods
A. S. Byatt
Grove Press, 2012
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.”