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Ragnarok: the End of the Gods (Myths) [Hardcover]

A. S. Byatt
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
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Book Description

1 Sep 2011 Myths
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

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Canongate Books Ltd (1 Sep 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1847670644
  • ISBN-13: 978-1847670649
  • Product Dimensions: 14.7 x 21.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 234,938 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

A.S. Byatt is internationally known as a novelist, short-story writer and critic. Her novels include Possession (winner of the Booker Prize in 1990), and the quartet of The Virgin in the Garden, Still Life, Babel Tower and A Whistling Woman, as well as The Shadow of the Sun, The Game and The Biographer's Tale. Her latest novel, The Children's Book, is shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2009. She is also the author of two novellas, published together as Angels and Insects, and four collections of stories, and has co-edited Memory: An Anthology.

Educated at York and Newnham College, Cambridge, she taught at the Central School of Art and Design, and was Senior Lecturer in English at University College, London, before becoming a full-time writer in 1983. She was appointed CBE in 1990 and DBE in 1999.

Product Description


Byatt peels back the cover of the book that the girl reads and takes us deep inside it as she delights in reimagining the twilight of the gods and the destruction of the world. ... Like Wagner before her, [she] dares to dream how the world might end ... this rewriting of the Ragnarok is a story for our time of overpopulation and anthropomorphic climate change, and of all time. --Financial Times

Surely among the most beautiful and incisive [pages] Byatt has ever written. --Independent

Byatt's retelling of Ragnarok is permeated with the loving familiarity of long acquaintance. Her language is lapidary. The terrible archness that can infest the narratives of sophisticated writers who attempt to master myth is resoundingly absent ... It is pleasant to imagine some lonely, bookish child discovering it and becoming entranced. --Evening Standard

A brilliant, highly intelligent, fiercely personal rendition of the Scandinavian mythology...a gorgeous enrichment and interpretation. --Ursula K. Le Guin, Literary Review

Byatt's writing, impassioned and liberated from the strictures of the novel, has never been so beautiful. --Telegraph

Byatt's prose is majestic, the lush descriptive passages - jewelled one minute, gory the next - a pleasure to get lost in. --Sunday Telegraph

Byatt paints beautiful and fantastic word-pictures, glittering verbal special effects. --Scotsman

Colour and sensation flood Byatt's writing . . . One of the most brilliant minds and speakers of our generation. --Independent

Byatt's prose, compact and lyrical, treats [the gods] with dignity...Ragnarok is a clever, lucid, lovely book. --Guardian

Thanks to a rare fusion of imagination and intellect, sensual poetry and cerebral prose, youthful joy and elderly wisdom [,Byatt has made]...an entire world, compressed but energetically alive in all its details. When we have artists like this, who needs gods? --Observer

Energy and power drip from Byatt's writing ... There are too many glittering sentences to quote here in full.
--New Humanist

Book Description

<b>From the author of </b><b><i>Possession</i></b><i></i><b> and </b><b><i>The Children's Book</i></b><i></i><b> comes an extraordinary tale, inspired by the myth of Ragnarok</b> --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A myth for today 29 Jan 2012
This is a powerful re-telling of an ancient myth through the eyes and mind of a child reading about the Norse gods during the Second World War. The child, evacuated to the countryside, roams in woods and fields and takes delight in the beauty of the natural world. She gathers armfuls of flowers, knowing there will always be more to replace them. She visualizes the bombing raids over London as the Wild Hunt of Woden.

The book does not speak directly of our current environmental crisis, and yet there is an underlying feeling throughout that this is a myth for our time. It tells of a world that was created, that was abundant and full of life, and then was destroyed. Already the English landscape we inhabit is very different to that of the 1940s and immeasurably less diverse. This ancient myth offers no solutions, only warning - and what a terrifying end of the world it shows, as the people wait for a spring that never comes, wolves swallow the moon and sun, and the stars fall "like spent candles" from the sky.
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36 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A beautiful retelling 10 Aug 2011
By Nicki J
Format:Kindle Edition
When I first saw this title was available on NetGalley, I was so excited and requested it at once. I've loved everything I've read by Byatt and this story was of particular interest to me as I adore mythology.

I devoured this book in one sitting and loved every minute of it. The story of Ragnarok is told here as seen through the eyes of a young girl, reading the mythology from a book while she lives in the country during the war. I loved the way the child related the story to her own experiences of war and religion.

This book shifts between the child's thoughts and the Ragnarok story, but it never feels fragmented as Byatt manages to balance the two elements perfectly. The prose is beautiful and descriptive yet not overly 'flowery' and it is a real pleasure to read it and lose yourself in the words.

I enjoyed the note from Byatt at the end, discussing the approach she'd used, as that really helped bind the piece together.

It's been a while since I last did any reading on Northern myth, but I now feel inspired to grab up my copies of the Edda and the Kalevala again. This is definitely a book that I will be buying myself a print copy of so that I can keep it in my library and reread it in the future. Highly recommended to both lovers of literary fiction and those interested in mythology.

I received this book as a free ebook ARC from NetGalley.
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21 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful introduction to Norse myth 14 Aug 2011
By Curiosity Killed The Bookworm TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Kindle Edition
Ragnarök is the latest edition to Canongate's excellent Myths series, all standalone novels by a variety of the world's finest writers. Written by A.S. Byatt of The Children's Book fame, it tells the Nordic story of the Judgement of the Gods or the end of the world.

Told through the eyes of a girl in wartime Britain, known only as the thin child, Ragnarök is a good introduction to Nordic myths. The thin child finds a book entitled Asgard and the Gods in the house she is evacuated to and she shares those myths with the reader. With her father fighting in the war, the thin girl is going through her very own Ragnarök, knowing that the end of her world must surely be coming.

The novel is not really about the thin girl though, it is more a collection of myths that lead up to Ragnarök. From the creation story of Yggdrasil, a great tree whose ecosystem was the world, to the tale of the great serpent Jörmungandr, who encircled the world. Like the thin child, Loki has always been my favourite player in the Nordic myths and this mischevious demi-god plays a big part in most of them.

Reading this, you will get the feeling of familiarity, even if you don't know the myths themselves. It really does emphasis that myths are borrowed and adapted throughout cultures. The Nordic Hel will have shaped the Christianity's Hell of eternal torment much more then the Greek underworld would have, where the Elysian fields were the reward of heroes.

The author's thoughts on myths are also included and are well worth a read. My copy (a proof not the Kindle edition) had place markers for the illustrations so I can't comment on those but am excited the see how it is illustrated. The bibliography is full of interesting titles if you wish to read more.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ragnarok 8 Nov 2012
By paulw
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Straight retelling of myth can be extremely dull - like reading an old schoolbook. This avoided that pitfall by linking the Asgard stories to the writers wartime childhood in a way that I found both subtle and convincing. Beautifully written - I liked the way alliteration in the prose gave it a Norse feel.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Reimagining the myth of the end of the gods 6 May 2012
"[The gods] know Ragnarok 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."

Who better than AS Byatt, one of the most formidable writers of our time, to tackle the Norse Armageddon, Ragnarok, the fate of the gods. Above this most final of battlefields "the wolves tore apart sun and moon, day and night, drank their blood and swallowed them ... the stars ... fell like spent candles" whilst the gods fought against giants and creatures beyond imagination to a final black doom. There is to be no panacea here though, the chance for eternal life is rejected in Byatt's revision--as "Homo homini deus est"--the fall of the gods will be the fall of humanity.

We live in a time of unprecedented awareness of "our own extinction" (Byatt furnishes several examples just in case you are in any doubt) and tells us that no modern writer could fail to see how this idea haunts Ragnarok. Yet, she insists the myth must be told on its own terms, as she herself ("the thin child" of this tale) "discovered it", without a sense of prophesy or preaching. It's difficult to know if this works, partly because the reader (like the writer) cannot help but draw parallels, and partly because Byatt herself is so insistent on pointing them out. Only a child perhaps, unmindful of our modern condition, could ever rediscover this myth in such a way.

Having said that, Byatt's reimagining is sumptuously written and arguably all the more immediate for being read as a parable. The tree of life, Yggdrasil "fed and ... fed on" is a metaphor for the earth's ecosystem and the interconnectedness of life: "[i]t held the world together, in the air, in the earth ... in the mind.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars easy read, beautifully complex simplicity
I was originally sceptical about reading this due to the one or two star reviews but I now believe these reviewers to be overly critical. Read more
Published 25 days ago by SKP
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful book
Superb descriptions and an interesting take on the Norse legends. A wonderful book. Some not very subtle environmental comment, though.
Published 6 months ago by Robert G
3.0 out of 5 stars MYTHICAL WORK
I can't really rate this, as I bought it for somone else; but she is very pleased with it!

Published 7 months ago by Mr. Ian Gravestock
1.0 out of 5 stars Very disappointing
I found this book disappointing, smothered in pomposity, very hard to swallow, and there was a palpable sense of relief to finish it. Read more
Published 11 months ago by Ayli Carper
4.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully told
The Norse myth of Ragnarok retold in exquisite prose. Byatt uses the device of a precocious, 20th century child-reader, so the book is laced with the child's thoughts and... Read more
Published 13 months ago by Geoffrey Gudgion
3.0 out of 5 stars An Enjoyable Re-Telling
I had been looking forward to reading Ragnarok: The End of the Gods for quite some time. Not only because of my love for ancient myths, but also because of the Norse links to my... Read more
Published 18 months ago by Dan Thompson
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent
I enjoyed the poetic use of language and the traditional story telling approach. Ok, yes it is a tad pretentious but a beautiful read.
Published 19 months ago by Verena
4.0 out of 5 stars Twilight of the Gods
I think it is probably helpful to have read the stories of the Norse Gods before starting this book. Read more
Published 20 months ago by Sarah
5.0 out of 5 stars The power of myth
What a glorious read - one of those rare books where you revel in the author's joy of words, the visceral qualities having an almost physical impact on my reading experience. Read more
Published 20 months ago by Pensato
4.0 out of 5 stars Good story
This book starts with a young girl in WW2 and tells of her love for Norse mythology, Byatt uses this character to recount the Norse myths. Read more
Published 21 months ago by Ms. K. Thomas
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