Ragnarok: The End of the Gods (Myths)
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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 AS 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.
War, natural disaster, reckless gods and the recognition of impermanence in the world are just some of the threads that AS Byatt weaves into this most timely of books. Linguistically stunning and imaginatively abundant, this is a landmark.
of Midgard, living and lifeless, warm blood, cold blood, sap and stone, that they should weep Baldur out of Hel’s power. Dark Hödur wept in his forest lair. Cattle and sheep stood stolid and bellowed and snorted and wept. Howling monkeys and rambling bears brushed tears from their eyes; vipers and rattlers hissed and were still while the tears welled. Stalactites and stalagmites dripped; geysirs mingled warm tears in the boiling steam; the surfaces of boulders and outcrops sweated tearwater, as
wind and broke into the house through all four doors. They looked around: the trickster was not there. One observed that he had recently been there, for the hearth, and the ashes in it, were warm. A very clever god, Kvasir, who was known for making poetry, stepped forward and studied the hot ashes. They were made of wooden logs and bracken tufts, which still held the grey ghosts of their shapes, though when they were touched they would fall into shapelessness. Lying over these burned plants was
accounts of the end of things, with the undead god returning to judge the quick and the dead. Here the gods themselves were judged and found wanting. Who judged? What brought Ragnarök about? Loki, waiting to be found, waiting to be trapped, waiting to be bound, was described as knowing that his torment was the beginning of the time of Ragnarök. He would be tortured until Ragnarök came. No one, the thin child thought to herself, had any doubt that Ragnarök was coming, neither the gods, nor the
geysirs – which still spouted hot – came a louder howl of wolves, wolves in the wood, wolves padding over the snow, wolves with blood on their fangs, wolves in the mind. Wind Time, Wolf Time, before the World breaks up. That was the time they were in. In Asgard the sheen on the gold was dulled, but the magic boar could still be eaten at night and reborn for the next feast. Yggdrasil was shaking all over, leaves were falling, branches were wilting, but the tree still stood. Odin went down to
like to thank Jamie Byng for his enthusiasm for this project and Francis Bickmore for editorial wisdom and patience. And I should like to thank Norah Perkins. My friend Jenny Uglow has shared ideas and a passion for the Norse stories. I am particularly indebted to my Danish translator, Claus Bech, who gave me Villy Sørensen’s Ragnarok in both Danish and English, and shared Danish names for fish. My German translator, Melanie Walz, also helped with German versions of the myths. My agent Deborah